This piece was written in June of 2008. It was written for the purpose of having an overview for Cuevas’s paintings. He loved it himself, the reason why he increased my pay. This took place in Cebu before I went back to my hometown.
Though a lover of art like music and literature, I have never been fascinated with the beauty of paintings until I met Sir Cuevas. An idle chat one day at a bakery nearby the neighborhood in Maria Cristina, Cebu, resulted to an invitation. Since I told him that I have been in the field of Literature, he offered me to write about his paintings. This piece is the result of my observation.
When I entered his house it was like magic. Hung on the wall just near the door was a painting of Mother and Child. At first glance you would really tell it was a portrait of Mama Mary and Baby Jesus. He told me it was what they called “Iconographies,” a product of contemporary incorporation of religious influence.
Along the Mother-and-Child painting were all abstract paintings hung in line. They looked like paintings in an exhibit or museum. I asked what kind of methods or techniques he used in painting them. He said it was just a series of process. He said had done them on sketches, spontaneous strokes of fingers.
He told me his inspiration was just simply how he felt about a particular day, whether he is joyful or frustrated. That was the time I had begun to admire him. But when he showed me the countless paintings kept in a wooden cabinet, I was astonished. They were all abstracts, of course, as most Sir Cuevas’s paintings were. I noticed his abstract paintings were all full of combination of different colors. I would describe them full of emotions, so chaotic, so mysterious.
There was one painting I liked which was framed and hung on another wall. This one is called Night Call, he said. I like the blending of violet and purple mixed together to produce a color of the night sky beyond an ominous moonlight. I found Night Call attractive, strong texture by its appeal and appearance.
In a little while he brought me into his Studio at the back of his house. Here I saw antique furniture, antique boxes with decorative carvings pushed against the middle walls. Some are crammed in the corners. Just near the screen door were stones and whiskey bottles with paintings on it, placed on top of a table in the corner. I have finally learned Sir Cuevas was also an art collector. Although the stone paintings and whiskey bottles were all products of his creation, the antique furniture, Chinese porcelains and some paintings were all purchased from an art store.
Just a few steps from the door he showed me several of his self-portrait paintings. These paintings would have been named Moment After, as he would have wanted them to be called; faces of himself that show expression after finishing a painting. There were faces of joy and satisfaction. There were also expression of frustration and dissatisfaction. He said they were all his faces aftermath. I was amazed how Sir Cuevas would have looked like after finishing a painting and knowing it.
Just near the stand where he placed his canvass, brushes, and paint, I saw a different kind of art. It wasn’t actually a painting, although apparently there was gold paint on it. On it was a sepia photograph of a Filipina taken in 1929 surrounded by Philippine flag stamps. I admired Sir Cuevas more at this point. He said it was his one way of paying tribute to overseas Filipina workers.
Near the window was a wooden art with some old texts engraved on it called Alibata, a writing system that was once used in the Philippines. He also called it Iconography. He said the texts are the integral part of an Iconography. Under the Alibata was a religious portrait painted golden yellow. That art was just incorporated out of a plain wood. That art reminded me of something I used to appreciate when I was still a little kid. I had a neighbor in Davao who sells lampshades which bases are tree branches. There were different forms and shapes. There was one that shaped like a human which one leg raised to look like a man kicking something. There were also shapes of a naked men and women.
Cuevas’s studio–which was also his guest room–was about twenty-years-old. There was on the ceiling that looked like an electric light. A light made up of decorative Capiz shells. But there wasn’t any electrical above there. He called it Sky light, which light came from the sun and passed the Capiz shells all the way to the room. Perfect place for a Studio. Perfect place for Sir Cuevas.
I have seen all these by surprise. Even though few people I know personally are painters, I haven’t met as passionate and enduring as Sir Cuevas. Even with our public knowledge about our own National Artists like Juan Luna and Amorsolo, Sir Cuevas is no different from them.
As an artist too I’ve learned a lot about that visit. I’ve asked him a few questions about his art, his life, and some information about him. He told me that his art now, apart from his passion, was a part of his empirical experiences from the corporate world. Since he used to be a manager of Philippine Airlines in his younger years, his working attitude as a manager is now used on his passion for paintings.
He told me about how to make use of his time, how to manage the time well. He wouldn’t allow his time be put into waste by doing nothing. And that’s rare for old people (He’s Seventy-Years-Old). Old people could easily be contented with the simplicities of life, the simplicity of just by existing in the world. But he didn’t act old. He spoke with great enthusiasm and energy. His words and ideas are interesting, yet profound.
Sir Cuevas has his own idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. He said it’s not just the passion that matters but the discipline. Indolence is not an excuse not to do something you love to do and ought to do. Time matters most. Courage and strong willpower are the secrets to create a good art. He said, “The busiest people in the world are the ones busy doing nothing.”
That is how Sir Cuevas does his art. That is the art of Wenceslao Cuevas Jr.
Cuevas sells his works for 20,000 to 50,000 Pesos each. You could find his paintings at his residence in Maria Cristina Street Capitol Site, Cebu City.
UPDATE: May 20, 2012 – 3:09 PM
I notice these past few days the keyword “Wenceslao Cuevas Jr,” keep appearing on my Google Analytics search queries. This post was published in March of 2010 and why this query appears only now?
Some minutes ago I found out that he’s already dead. He died some time in March this year. I also discovered several blogs, including Philstar, published the news about his death. I didn’t realize he was an icon in Cebu, pertaining to abstract art.
According to Philstar, his colleagues consider him as “Father of Abstract Expressionism in Cebu.” I don’t know if this recognition was given even before he died, or only now that he’s dead. A time when most artists’ works are appreciated–even praised–such as Picasso’s and Van Gogh’s.
Anyway, an exhibit has been going on since April 27 until June 10, 2012 by Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. Culture and Heritage Unit and the Alternative Contemporary Arts Studio in cooperation with Cultural and Historical Affairs Commission, also in partnership with the Cebu City government and Contemporary iscurated. The exhibit is held in Casa Gorordo Museum.
So, if you’re in Cebu come to Casa Gororodo Museum and see for yourself Cuevas’s paintings. You will discover and understand what I was talking about in the piece I wrote above.
Rest in peace Sir Tito! Long live your art!
[Image grabbed from Fine art gallery Cebu]