ARTS & CULTURE
Words by Anna Canlas| Photography by Colin Dancel
Congratulations are in order for Nice Buenaventura and Jo Tanierla, who both won art awards this year, though that’s not why I want to write about them.
I want to write about them because among other talents they are both very good at drawing: Nice did those meditative, shaded grids, and Jo, more realistic depictions of the physical and fictional worlds.
It’s something I’ve wanted to learn to be good at, cause it’s so damn relaxing to get abstract thoughts that I can’t find words for, out of my head and onto paper. It’s effective for the notation of a dream you can’t shake.
Recently, the desire reactivated when I talked to an artist friend who messages me perfectly formed sentences when I have writer’s block, when I’m feeling lonely: Do you still Instagram?
One of his epigrams: Drawing is looking, he said. He used to etch Mama Marys on transfer mediums in the print studio by the Folk Arts Theater where we would drink pale pilsens and have Angel’s spinach pizza. Now he is holding up fingers sticky with dough under the awning in Karrivin Plaza, smiling like a dope in a black t-shirt that says West Philippine Sea, with Chinese characters on top of that. It makes him look like a pirate. He is on hiatus after getting cancelled in some circles but tells me about seeking forgiveness for before from people, and now, for the loaves that have not risen, from his new boss in his next act as stagiaire. This boss is full of patience, he says. Proof that the best lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity, and that we can be both.
About a year ago, we went to Jo’s show together at the Vargas Museum, where I was drawn to a breakfast scene with pandesal, and another graphite drawing of waves, caught not at the point of shore, crashing, but in the middle of the ocean, which is where I feel my atoms were waiting before the pagan gods decided I could be a girl. I was sure Jo said it took him really long to draw that. I vaguely remember him saying he drew it after an image from La Union.
For Jo, drawing is painfully slow. He tells the writer Oliver Emocling (my favorite when it comes to interviewing artists):
Jo’s setup is a clean room, with a lamp at night, his desktop to his left, pencils and erasers on the desk, “Ano’ng Kwento Natin” by Glenn Diaz and Edgar Samar on speaker, unfinished drawings around him on an easel and atop the old CPU.
It reminds me of something in a copy of an Introduction to Drawing that I picked up at Art Bar: Copy the ellipses at the top and bottom of transparent objects, says an exercise showing a vase. I love that “practice” aspect to still life — copying objects so you can understand their essence, their line. Of course, drawing can also be used to visualize
objects that don’t exist yet, like the sketches of the design journalist-turned-architect Lina Bo Bardi’s bowl chair, in felt-tip markers the color of Skittles. Dubbed “a womb-like” “cuddle bowl” by *Interiors* Magazine (1953), the conceit was: an upholstered shell propped on a metal stand of four legs, cupping the sitter. A simple idea, that she brought to market first. And that started with getting the glimmer out of her eye and onto the sketchpad.
That is: nine manual seismograms, like legends of her drawing hand vibrating. Nice dedicated a “disproportionate amount of time... to the act” per Itos Ledesma in the now-archived project statement. In the CNN interview, she mentioned picking up the pencil from a young age. Jo, too: When he saw a page from Aladdin, he touched Genie’s cheeks to check if they were flat.
“Siguro, sa pagkamanghang ‘yon nagsimula ang hilig ko sa pagguhit. Nagkaroon ng consciousness sa form, sa technique, kahit wala pa’ko noong pantawag sa kanila. Kaya rin noong makopya ko ‘yung Iron Man drawing ng kaklase ko sa Grade 1, sobrang saya ko, at halos inaraw-araw ko nang mag-drawing ng mga tauhan mula sa anime: sina Raizen, Eugene, Goku, pati mga Gundam.”
[Maybe in my amazement, my love for drawing started. I became conscious of form and technique, even if I didn’t know what to call them yet. And when I was able to copy my classmate’s drawing of Iron Man in Grade 1, I was so happy, and I drew almost everyday characters from anime: the likes of Raizen, Eugene, Goku, even Gundam.]
More melancholy, about drawing:
“The day Hitler attacked Poland,” Mary Gabriel wrote in Ninth Street Women, “a group of artists met at Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture studio on 12th Street... As a child, Gorky had lived through war. He knew what the events unfolding in Europe would mean for those caught up in them. Together the artists at Noguchi’s studio drew until dawn, expressing ‘their heart out’, one of them said, as their lines in pencil, charcoal, and coloured pastels looped and slashed across each other until the paper was thick with coal, chalk and graphite. They drew as if they were afraid to stop.”
In the present day: When Filipino artist Cian Dayrit invites children from conflicted areas to draw maps to their homes, they include the schools shut down by soldiers and the paramilitary.
Only precariously related: people’s weird dreams in quarantine. My own involves the painter Archie Oclos threatening me in a Chinese restaurant with a pair of chopsticks to the throat.
What am I trying to say?
We all experience the choke.
Notation of a dream on October 29: Standing up in the middle of a test and getting distracted by a journey that I come back to it later, unfinished, cause I think I tried to find answers by going out into the world. The teacher is helpful, offering me a make-up test just as I propose it. I confess: I keep losing my train of thought.
I drew something from the dream. Either it was in my cubbyhole or from the journey: a Kurkdjian perfume bottle but the cap was replaced by a plastic atomizer. In real life, this is impossible. You can’t remove a Kurkdjian cap. I know, because my friend tried when we went Dutch to buy someone’s unloved Aqua Universalis. He ended up Youtubing how to do it, and it involved spraying the perfume directly into another atomizer, which he now keeps his in. Meanwhile, I got to keep the original bottle, and it was actually on my desk as a reference when I drew the one from my dream. And I remembered what an Introduction to Drawing said, to look for the shapes within the shape. It made me realize why that bottle is so pretty: Where the planes meet each other are faceted, pooling the light and the liquid inside. I’ve always thought of that bottle as the epitome of right angles, but there were no right angles. Proof that hard things can be soft, soft things can hold, and that we can be both.