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Artist with Promise

By Abdulmari A. Imao 1971

A few months ago, an art student from the University of the East School of Music and Art, Sym had his first one-man show at the National Library. At the opening of his art show some people were wondering who Sym was. Sym is his encronym for Sofronio Y. Mendoza. Sym however is not new in the art scene, for he is the winner of 12 prized and numerous citations for his paintings. His works are among the possessions of many local prominent art collectors and patrons of art and has won several first prizes in art competitions. In fact, it was in 1967 when he won the 1st prize in the prestigious annual Shell Art Competition. Even before such recognition he was already an established artist in his own right, for he is not only prolific but he is one of the most productive young artists of today, considered as one of the top representational artist of this country. He has a mission to accomplish according to him and this ambition has kept him well as a representative artist. He wants to continue to paint genre and portraits in the tradition of Fernando Amorsolo who happens to be his idol. He believes that by continuing to portray Philippine life and scene, he can truly help preserve the artistic cultural identity of this country. It is in the field of representational art that he feels he could best promote the love for Philippine tradition.

Contrary to impressions, Sym also goes for the so-called "avant garde" of modern art. This author has seen his lessons as the U.E School of Music and Arts. It is easy for him to shift to modernistic design, but then he prefers realism or impressionism. "An artist," he says, "must be sincere in his works. One does not paint only for the sake of following the so-called artistic trend or fad. However," he further explains "artist are free to experiment and find out for himself what style suits him best."

Sym admires the works of other will known Filipino artists like Vicente Mananzala, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, Mauro Malang-Santos, Carlos Francisco, Fabian Dela Rosa, Carlos Valino and Maguel Galvez. It was at the gallery of Miguel G. Galvez where he first exhibited his paintings in Manila, here, Sym attracted the attention of Aguilar Cruz who actually discovered him as a talented artist.

Sym was born in 1934 in Cebu City. His early influence in representational painting came from the famous Cebuano painter, Martino Avellana, dubbed as the Amorsolo of the Visayas. Avellana even provide him with a one-year free private tutorship. He attended the Colegio de San Jose at Cebu City and through the years he has been a self-supporting student until he decided to some to Manila to find his fortune. Having matured early in life because of the many financial difficulties he encountered, he nevertheless enrolled at the U.S.T College of Fine Arts for two years, but later transferred to the U.E School of Fine Arts where the time element was more convenient for him considering his busy schedule of trying to be an artist as well as trying hard to eek out for his life. He surmounted all these difficulties. But he recalled he had only a few clothes on his back. It must have been this -up background that has sustained him today and has lead him to the appreciation of the simple things he portrays in his paintings. Julie Yap Daza of the Daily Mirror Magazine in her column "Medium Rare" describes his works as "familiar, homey and sentimental." He chooses landscape, seascapes, cityscape and the interiors of home in the countryside and suburbia - the green expanse of the "Tanawin" in Novaliches, the gleaming traffic light of " Takipsilim sa Dimasalang." What ever it is he paints, Sym does it with the strength of sincerity.

He is one painter who has not gone abroad to learn how to paint, and he probably will never need to, but it is precisely the warmth and homey-ness, the nostalgia and the love of Philippine things, not to say the provincialism and the loving naivettee of his expression that makes him such a sought-after among the artists and writers group.

To top it all, Sym is his own frame maker, In his shop in Dimasalang, he carves out his own frames of unpolished wood, a quality which gives his paintings that certain old feeling. Rody Y. Ragodon of the Sunday Times Magazine in his pictorial "The Hand Meets the Eye" has this comment: " Many Filipino connoisseurs of art would consider Mendoza's style as conservative. But Mendoza's work must gain acceptance in the present milieu of modern art. Representational and non-objective must develop side by side in our present society."

Indeed, the nationalism is eminent in all his paintings. He has the nationalistic spirit of Amorsolo and Carlos "Botong" Francisco. E will not be surprised if Sym's struggle will be rewarded with equal success like his idols. Sym dresses simple and humbly. He understands his works well and coupled to this are his even greater capacity and empathy towards his associated and fellow artists. He works hard with a rabid dedication. He is calm, patient, and very far from the so called temperamental artist.

At his studio in 1430 Dela Fuente, Dimasalang, he spends most of his time painting and making designs for his-home-made frames.

He is married to the former Elena P. Villanueva, daughter of his former benefactor. He has two children: Symele - 1 ½ yrs old and Vilmen -2 months old. His wife and children are his greatest inspiration in life. Thus, is the portrait of Sym, one of our country's most promising and outstanding young artists in the making.