Eternal ring of fire

Published April 9, 2018, 12:05 AM


By Filipina Lippi

Portrait by Pinggot Zulueta

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Expressionist painter Jaime de Guzman, known in the ’70s for his large canvases that depicted his country’s pain and crucifixion —as if they were his own angst and hell in a post-colonial era—is now focused on landscapes of Banahaw, a mystical fold for divine-seeking pilgrims; a fortress for anti-Spanish peasant-religious revolutionaries in 1830; an active volcano; and a “ring of fire” in southern Luzon.

In a private show of his Banahaw series in a brick and nipa-hut studio in North Malabanban, Candelaria, Quezon, de Guzman says, “My landscapes are always autobiographical. They are places that have shaped my soul and spirit. I’m using more greens now. I paint from memory.”

Trained by muralist David Siquieros in Mexico in the ’70s, de Guzman has challenged himself to paint the 10,901 hectare Mount Banahaw-San Cristobal stratovolcano complex on 2’ x 3’ canvases. The volcano’s peaks: the 7,302-foot Banahaw (also called Banahaw de Dolores and Banahaw de Tayabas); the 6,358-foot Banahaw de Lucban; and the 4,998-foot San Cristobal are broad abstract outlines on his canvases.

Impressionistic brushworks pulsate with light orange clouds and pale blue mist at Banahaw’s summit; they conjure mossy ferns, lichens, and orchids that light up with green spaces. Banahaw’s famous montane forest—tree trunks twisted in cool terrains—is not depicted. Sparingly rendered are towering trees and shrubs—a dipterocarp forest that has evolved 350 million years, at Banahaw’s lower slopes. Wash brushstrokes reveal small coconut and fruit trees, a pale horse, shadows of houses and people climbing at Banahaw’s lowest slopes—they dart into the mountain’s mysterious belly. A waterfall adorns another canvas. One has a terrain and the sea above Banahaw’s summit.

Folks say San Cristobal is the “Devil’s Mountain,” Banahaw, the “Holy Mountain.” “It’s a mountain! I’ve been with it since I was a kid. I was born in Liliw. But I haven’t climbed Banahaw since the mid-‘70s,” says de Guzman.

Folk hero Apolinario de la Cruz, alias Hermano Pule, (1815-1941) is part of Banahaw’s lore. His dismembered remains, his head in a cage, were paraded on Majayjay’s road after he died in clashes with Spanish forces in 1841. He founded Cofradía de San José in 1833—with “Filipino only” policy because Manila’s Order of Preachers had rejected his application for priesthood in 1931. Cofriada members joined the Colorums – anti-Spanish peasant-religious movements.  They inspired Catholic priests Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez, and Jacinto Zamora who fought for Filipinization, but were executed for alleged participation in an uprising at Fort San Felipe, Cavite in 1872. Watawat ng Lahi and other peasant-religious groups also sprouted in Calamba in 1936; and in Quezon. They believe that Jose Rizal—who died by a firing squad in 1896, after publishing two anti-Spanish novels in 1887 and 1891—is Christ’s reincarnation who will return in Banahaw, the New Jerusalem.

These stories have inflamed and intensified de Guzman’s creative process. His Metamorphosis, (three 7’ x 14’ panels), a Cultural Center of the Philippines’ collection, are powerful socio-historical stations-of-the cross. Metamorphosis I shows a crucified man and a giant bird; Metamorphosis II, has a robed skeleton, a white eagle on an outstretched arm; Metamorphosis III, depicts a crucified figure with split belly and sex organ, a big white bird overhead, and a naked couple on their knees. Historical Allegory, depicts Christ, his finger on his heart of thorns, his hand with a sword. Rizal; the priests Gomez, Burgos, Zamora; religious leaders; politicians; the Statue of Liberty; the artist’s one-year old son Fausto and wife Anne, then pregnant with son Orlando, are in the mural. De Guzman unifies the past and the present in a historical mural to show a cancerous colonial malady.

Banahaw has spawned folk mysticism (it asserts pre-Hispanic spirituality) and folk revolution (it rejects oppression from below). Quezon has nurtured leftist university students in the’70s (their grafted ideology, a contrast to the neo-liberal global economy). These alchemies have empowered Guzman’s expressionism—in which the artist is part and embodiment of, not alienated from, the will and suffering of aspirational characters (Christ-like, crucified, healer, overcomer, stargazer) he has brought to life on canvas.

In comparison, the murals of Carlos Francisco (1912-1969) are dance-like, folk, and lyrical; the big works of social realists in the late ’70s up to now are angry, instructive, and preachy with socio-historical dichotomy—their call to action has alienating discourse.