Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Exhibition 2016

Exhibition Flyer

Earlier this year, I was contacted via email to submit an application and some samples of my work for consideration for an art exhibition to celebrate the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May 2016. The show is sponsored by the Chicago Public Library. I was reluctant to enter since I was still in Australia at the time and would be there for another three months so I would not have time to prepare. And then, there is always the underlying angst about my works not being good enough. I was encouraged to enter anyway and to my surprise my initial submission was accepted and I am going to be one of 11 artists that will be showing at the exhibition. The artwork  I submitted were those from my series of watercolors featuring the indigenous people of the Philippines, particularly those from the Cordillera Administrative Region in Northern Luzon which includes the Ifugaos and Kalingas.

Here are samples of my watercolors submitted for consideration for the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Exhibition:

I was very excited to be chosen to show at this art exhibition but I also quickly realized that I do not have enough works to display so I had some catch up painting to do. I also needed to see the amount of space I was allocated at the library to determine how much more watercolors I have to paint. Apparently, each artist was assigned to show at one of the public libraries in Chicago. I was designate to exhibit at the Sulzer Regional Library at the Lincoln Square neighborhood on the Northside of Chicago, the second largest and second busiest library in Chicago. The Harold Washington Library downtown is the largest and busiest. Thankfully, the wall space allocated was not that big and I only needed to augment my current paintings with just a few pieces.

I decided that I would feature my paintings of the Kalingas and Ifugaos as well as the T'boli tribe from South Cotabato in Southern Mindanao in the exhibit. I am particularly fascinated by these indigenous groups because of the woven fabrics they use in their costumes. This is one of the aspects I tried to highlight in these collection of paintings.

I had less than two months to prepare for the exhibition and between jet lag and bouts with various infections, I really needed to concentrate on painting. And, of course, there is that dreaded artist's block that creeps up when you are in a panic and on a deadline. There were days that no matter what I do, I can not think of what to paint or my paintings just turn out downright mediocre.

I eventually got out of my doldrums and rallied. All the paintings are done and I just need to get them framed and matted. Here is a preview of some of the other paintings for the exhibition.

Ano ang kahihinatnan mo, anak? (What will be your future, child?) -2016
Watercolor on watercolor paper
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Tattooed Kalinga Mother and Child (2016)
Watercolor on watercolor paper
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Installing the Igorot Exhibit
The Igorot Exhibit

The T'Boli Paintings Exhibit
The T'Boli Paintings Exhibit

 Note: You will notice some glare in the photos. The paintings are behind locked glass cases.

Here is the official news release on the exhibition from the Chicago Public Library:


Hope to see you there.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Icon of the Virgin Orans

I am the handmaid of the Lord (2016)
Watercolor on paper
by jojo sabalvaro tan

I painted this icon during a visit to Australia and  dedicate it to the Filipinos from the Campbletown area of New South Wales, Australia, especially the members of the Filipino Catholic Mass Committee and Choir, whose strong faith and Christian fellowship are a revelation and rarity. We are thankful to bask in their kindness, community and comradeship especially at a time of difficulty for our family. We will always be eternally grateful.

This Madonna and Child painting was influenced by three main elements. The first one is the icon of the Virgin Orans or Our Lady of the Sign, an icon of the Virgin Mary that has been depicted since the 4th century. The Virgin Mary is portrayed facing the viewer directly with her arms raised towards heaven in a prayerful position and the image Jesus as a child shown in a round or oval opening upon her breast.

Our Lady of the Sign (18th century, iconostasis of the Transfiguration church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia).
From Wikipedia

The second influence is a passage from the scriptures from  Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel

and Luke 1:38 during the Annunciation when the
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Fra Filippo Lippi's Annunciation

I found this last passage to be a testament of an extreme act of faith, bravery and trust in God on the part of the Virgin Mary,  virtues we all try to aspire to but fail many times.

The third influence is the work of Viennese artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and his decorative ornamentation in his paintings. I tried to use the same type of ornamentation in this painting but a little less ostentatious.

The Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Watercolor Travel Journal - Bali High -Part 2

For being a small island (90 km at its widest and 50km lengthwise), Bali is very densely populated especially in the south, near the capital city of Denpasar. Traffic can sometimes feel like you are in NYC or Chicago at rush hour. We did not notice any public transportation though our guide told us there are public mini buses called Bemo  - if they were around, they may not be readily accessible. We did see loads of scooters, motorcycles and bicycles. The easiest way to get around is by taxi but the taxi drivers are notoriously dishonest. We made sure to use the Bluebird taxi company since they are said to be the most reliable. Be careful though in flagging down a cab on the street, many cab companies have copied Bluebird's colors and logo so you would mistake them for  the real Bluebird cab.

Bali has maintained its Hindu religion since the 5th century but mixed it with Buddhism and local rituals resulting in a unique style of worship and ceremony. Ninety percent of the Balinese  practice this hybrid form of Hinduism. Ancestor worship is very important to the Balinese so each household has a sanggah or merajan  - a family temple (which is always located in the East) where they  venerate their ancestors and other deities. Anywhere in Bali, we saw these temples in varying sizes and all are well maintained with offerings given daily.
Balinese woman offering flowers at sanggah
From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
Feb 2016

In the early morning hours, we found little beautiful pallets of plaited palm leaves that served as containers for the kanang-sari, the Balinese morning thanksgiving offerings to the gods, which include flowers, rice and incense, artfully and lovingly created daily. They are placed strategically all over the house, in stores and on the sidewalks and streets, a job usually relegated to a woman. They are so predominant in Bali that it can sometimes be difficult to walk around and avoid stepping on them.  I really love this practice of kanang-sari since it is so beautiful and feels so uniquely Balinese.


Kanang-sari (morning offering) found on the pavement
From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
Feb 2016
There are many Hindu Temples in Bali referred to as Puras. We visited some of the ones that are considered the holiest places in Bali for their role in providing spiritual balance in Bali. There are village temples which are located in the center of town like the Batuan Temple  and also very  large family temples owned by Balinese royalty. The Puras are open air places of worship enclosed by a wall with a series of compounds connected by intricately decorated gates. Each compound has several towers, pavilions and shrines (merus). To enter most of these Puras, one has to wear a sarong and a sash which are normally available at the entrance for free or a small donation.

Established in the 10th century, Pura Luhur Uluwatu, one of the key temples in Bali is situated on the tip of  a coral reef steep cliff about 262 ft. above sea level, overlooking impressive views of the Indian Ocean. The name comes from the word  'ulu' meaning head and 'watu' meaning stone. The temple complex is one of the largest we saw. Sacred monkeys, inhabiting the forest and temples, are found roaming the compound freely.

Gate and shrine at Pura Luhur Uluwatu, Badung
From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
Feb 2016

Pura Taman Ayun in Mengwi village is a family temple built in 1634 by the Raja of Mengwi to honor the ancestors of the Raja Dynasty of Mengwi and other important gods. It is surrounded by broad canals and its layout and silhouette reminded us of Ankor Wat in Cambodia. Walking through a couple of gated courtyards, one ends up at the third courtyard, jaba jero, where the most important and holy shrines are found, including several merus up to 11 tiers high. This temple is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. It is my favorite Balinese temple because, to me, the impressive architecture appears to be the truest manifestation of Balinese culture.

The Jaba Jero at Pura Taman Ayun , Mengwi
From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
Feb 2016
Located in Tabanan, Pura Tanah Lot is another of Bali's sea temples and one of the holiest. Our guide tells us it is the most visited site in all of Bali and once you are there you can see why. The placement of the temple is breathtaking due to its offshore location. The temple is propped on a rock with waves crashing constantly. During high tide, when the waves cross the causeway making it  impossible to cross to the temple, the rock is almost like a small island much like Mont Saint Michel in France. During low tide people can cross to view the rock base where the legendary sea snakes, who are believed to be protectors of the temple dwell. You can receive blessings from a priest who sprinkles you with holy water that comes  from a natural water spout. Surprisingly, this water is fresh despite its source being the salty sea waters.  If you have not done your souvenir shopping yet, this may be a spot for you to shop. Bring your best bargaining skills! The restaurants on the hill provide good respite, refreshments and magnificent views of the temple and the Indian Ocean, especially at sunset.

Pura Tanah Lot, Tabanan
From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
Feb 2016
Today's Bali is said to be created for tourism. In the 1960's, the Indonesian government determined that the tourist revenues would be a great source of income for the country so they made sure Bali remained a picture of paradise. After decades of academic and travel writing and tourist promotion, the romantic image of Bali has become almost indisputable and has even seeped into Balinese consciousness.  The Balinese are charming, artistic, in harmony with nature, community-spirited, hospitable and proud of their island.
Some Bali travel tips:
  • Get a local guide/driver. It is the safest and easiest way to get around Bali and not that expensive. Our guide Didi Suprapta was from a site called Withlocals and at the end of the trip, we ended up as friends. He also operates his own Bali tours company called Baliadventours
  • Wear a hat and sunblock. Being so close to the equator, Bali's sunlight is very intense.
  • When shopping- bargain! bargain! bargain! I was quoted 240,000 rupiah ($24) for a bag and I was able to bargain it down to 40,000 rupiah ($4)
  • Learn about the Balinese culture. Beaches pretty much look the same everywhere but Bali's culture is so unique and rich.
  • Be flexible when departing Bali. Flights are often cancelled or rescheduled due to volcanic ash or for any other reason, which may mean spending another night or two in Bali or sleeping on the floor at the airport. Our flight which was supposed to leave at 9pm kept getting delayed. We ended up departing 2am. We found it funny that airport and airline personnel went around all the gates looking for their passengers who may be asleep when the flight was ready to board.

Like many who come to Bali, we left with a sigh of regret and for as long as we live, we will never forget. Terima kasih.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Watercolor Travel Journal - Bali HIgh - Part 1

When my husband and I were in Australia this winter, we had to make a visa-run in order to avoid staying in Australia for more than 90 days straight. It was actually a no brainer that we would choose to go to Bali. It was inexpensive, a short plane ride from Sydney and we have never been there.  Plus, Bali has been on our bucket list for a long time now. Somehow, I have such an affinity for this enchanted  island which has been billed as 'the last paradise' and 'the morning of the world.'  I am not beckoned by the beaches nor the tropical climate. It is its rich cultural heritage and exotic artistry that calls me. Arriving at the brand new Denpasar Airport, we were surprised at how large and modern it is, with touches of traditional Bali found everywhere. We took a cab to our hotel in Seminyak and the hot, humid air assaulted us with the same force as its colors, smells and sounds. At the hotel, we were ensconced into our one bedroom villa with a tantalizingly cool private swimming pool. Bali must really inspire creativity since even being there for just a a few hours, I already started designing our own Bali-style villa.

Because our stay was short (4 days and 3 nights), my husband and I decided that we would skip the beaches and concentrate on seeing Bali's cultural offerings. We hired a private guide/driver to take us around the main sites in the island as well as the 'real' Bali. Our first stop was a Barong Kris Dance presentation  in Batubalan. This is a play  about the fight between the good (the mythological animal Barong) and evil (Rangda) spirits. It was a good introduction to Balinese culture since you are able to appreciate the artistry in the costume and masks, Balinese dancing and gamelan orchestra music. At one point in the play, I got confused since the Prince was played by a woman. I asked our guide about it and he said that the Prince is a weakling so a woman had to depict the role.
Gamelan Musician playing the drums
From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
Feb 2016

Balinese Dancer
From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
Feb 2016
After the play, we headed towards Batuan Temple.  On our way there, we passed by what seems like  endless gold and silver workshops in the village of Celuk, where gold and silver crafting is an art form. Here you will find intricately crafted jewelry. Before reaching the temple, we stopped  by a typical Balinese house. The entrance is barred by a low wall to avoid going straight into the property. This is supposedly to ward off any evil spirits. The walled-in property consist of several post, beam and lintel wood and stone buildings - a kitchen (always located on the south), a couple of family sleeping quarters (one appropriated for the head of the household), a family or community structure where celebrations and observances are held and the family temple.

Typical Balinese Kitchen
From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
February 2016

The Batuan Temple was founded in 1020 AD and is probably the oldest existing temple in Bali. Batuan comes from the root word 'batu' meaning stone and is a nod to the community's megalithic tradition of using upright stones as a site of worship and meetings. The Batuan temple is filled with Balinese carved ornamentation in every building including scenes from the Ramayana epic which reminded us of the bas relief found at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, One thing we learned here is that the temple and all other temples as well as public spaces in Bali are mostly voluntarily cared for by the villagers..  It might have started years ago as a requirement but now the citizens (young and old) find this voluntary work as a natural and important part of their lives. It is seen as a civic duty and community affair.

Ancient Stone Ornamentation at Batuan Temple
From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
February 2016
Ubud was our favorite town in Bali. It is filled with artisans and craftsmen,   the number of artists concentrated in one place is mind-boggling. Both sides of the road are filled with store after store featuring all manner of arts and crafts such as stone and wood sculptures, paintings, baskets and almost anything you can think of. I noticed there were a number of shops selling birdhouses. Our guide said this is the craft du jour. A few months ago, it was beaded jewelry and months before that something else. If you take away the shops, the real Bali is revealed. Verdant rice paddies, dense forests, steep ravines, farms and horticultural centers. And the weather is definitely more pleasant than in Denpasar or Seminyak. If we ever get a chance to come back, we will definitely stay in Ubud. One of the sites we visited is Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest where long tailed monkeys roam free and are considered guardians of the temple. Just be careful with any food or loose items you are carrying as these cute little guys are quick to approach and grab them from you.

A Family of Monkeys at Ubud Monkey Forest
From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
February 2016
We stopped for a coffee break in one of the many Kopi Luwak coffee places.  This coffee is produced from partly digested coffee cherries eaten and then defecated by the Asian palm civet, a process which is said to improve the flavor profiles of the coffee beans. We were shown the civets and the process of making luwak coffee then were treated to a taste test of the different coffee and tea flavors made with the luwak beans while seated overlooking  folks working in  the rice terraces of Ubud. Our guide told us that he likes to take his visitors trekking the rice fields, a popular adventure for tourist but even more popular is trekking the volcanoes of Bali. An idea for our next visit.


Sampling Luwak Coffee and Tea
From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
February 2016
I cannot be in Bali and not see how Batik and Ikat fabrics are made. We visited the Bidabari Batik Shop in Tohpati, a village known for their Batik artists. There were artisans there that took you through the process of making wax-resist batiks and as well as working the ikat looms. While the batiks in the store are probably more expensive than outside Tohpati, you are guaranteed authentic made-in-Bali  fabric. In the age where most items you buy all over the world are made in China, Bali is a good place to shop for items made by local artisans.
Balinese Artisan applying wax designs to cloth in preparation for the dyeing process
 From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
February 2016
Next: Watercolor Travel Journal - Bali High -Part 2