Dong de los Reyes
It is a brief spell wedged between daylight and dark, as one photographer
called it. As dusk is driven out be slow trickles of dawn's light,
the horizon unfurls the most delicate of hues soaking the rising
mantle of mist and dew; there's the magic to it. Colors held in
sweeping hands of time, rushing slowly like quicksilver when clutched
at, leaving no trace of the splendor that broke into buds and
fleeting of flowering.
It is not the decisive moment flickered at the stored with the
whiplash of a photojournalist's camera shutter-where urgency holds
That magic moment is a sweet aching, echoed by the natural scientist
Loren Eiseley to define reality: "Our identity is a dream.
We are a process, not reality, is s an illusion of the daylight
- the light of our particular day."
Painter Sofronio Y. Mendoza (who signs his works in initials "Sym")
has sought out that moment when magic weaves its spell in the
last 25 years to churn out time-bound paintings in oil and watercolor.
His works have been called impressionist, after the major movement
in painting which grew up in France in the 19th century.
Impressionists attempted to capture fleeting moments of visual
reality in terms of pure light, but Sym, tackles his visual essay
in realism in a subtle departure from the 19th century movement.
It is realism with a difference.
The key to an impressionist's visual rendition in light - for
color is not an inherent property of an object. Light is what
strikes the eye as color is but light reflected from an object.
And so impressionists spell out - in their works - the transience
of color in an object. Or what Eiseley called "reality as
an illusion of the daylight."
Doesn't the impressionist mode speak of holding time in a tenuous
flux, in a crucible so febrile as canvass is? Or does it not whisper
of the otherworldly genesis of the Hindu god Vishnu, conceived
in terms of light alone, "light penetrating the entirety
of the universe" as early Vedic texts would have it?
Sym recalls an anecdote when he headed the Dimasalang group of
artists sometime in the 60s - he mounted his easel and canvass
atop a garbage heap that has clogged an artery of Binondo's Canal
de la Reina, unmindful of the stench, his brush possessed with
the glow of dusk melting into dawn, his eyes soaking in the ebb
and rise of elusive hues… until a beat patrolman passing by got
curious and tried shaking him off and out of his concentration.
Or as time-tied as he was, sans a time piece to keep time with
save a near-their-home gas station's malfunctioning clock, he
traveled with his artist boardmate in the dead of the night to
catch the magic moment in the wharf of a backwater town. And in
holding vigil for light's sigil, they would up sleeping atop one
of the tombs in the town cemetery.
It has always been a vigil for a light's sigil.
Not unlike what the protagonist in the Ibong Adarna corridor went
through as he was bruising himself, drawing blood, intensifying
the pain be rubbing lime on his self-inflicted wounds - all this
to behold and later, hold, the object of his quest. It was a bird
with siren song and of ever changing plumage.
Doesn't the impressionist behold, then, holds its objects of
quest? Sym's chosen idiom may be time-bound. And he wants to bide
time noting that before the turn of this decade, the country's
art schools took preference to non-representational idioms, almost
burning the "bridge that connects Amorsolo to the contemporary
masters" while caught in the throes of transition from the
classical to the modernist.
Philippine nonrepresentational art would have been more potent,
he says, had it been firmly rooted and drawn sustenance form representational
art, however humble its beginnings. The gaps in between or transitional
phases for development had been left out in that jump towards
Sym's mode may be another vein off the lode mined by Maestro
Amorsolo but just the same, he brings out nuggets to show as his
recent harvest of oils and watercolors can bear out. And he feels
comfortable finding his place in that transitional phase between
the old-fashioned and the avant-garde.
The obsession with light has remained - light which can be as
delicate as miasma-filtered shafts echoed in canvass. Light as
catalyst of nourishment in life-bearing protoplasm or blade-like
concentration of photons cutting through steel as laser beam.
The obsession with light may be a longing lodged in the recesses
of an artist's psyche. Physics testifies that the speed of light
- 186,000 miles per second - is "the physical perimeter of
human existence." Jets break the sound barrier but any vessel
racing at the speed of light would automatically equal in density
that mass of the entire universe. And surpassing that speed means
reaching infinity… to be bathed in radiance, to be Vishnu-like,
conceived in light.
The impressionist mode is time-bound, as poetic proof to what
physicist Max Planck holds - time as the arbiter of light. And
perhaps, of all perceptual reality. Perhaps, that's what impressionism
is all about which doors with palette, pigments and easel to capture,
time and again, that "magic moment."
Unlike the Daliesque rebuttal of time, suggested by wax-like
melting of watch faces in the 1931 work Persistence of Memory,
the impressionist in Sym lies in wait, perhaps, in ambush, keeping
And content to rediscover whatever wealth of meanings the impressionist
idiom still holds in secret.
"As an artist, I had longed to go international, to establish
an image as a Filipino painter in the world. It's an ambition
that many artists share…
"I had this feeling that to make a name in international
art, I should be based in another country. Canada proved to be
the best place for me. If I stayed here and continued painting,
I wouldn't have a chance to make a name abroad.
"Painting, in a way, is like boxing. You have to compete
in the international ring to make a name internationally.
"I used one color as a starting point - I call it a radiating
composition' although the viewer will only take it as an ordinary
scene - and work with the pattern, light and other elements that
I find necessary or interesting to the whole composition.
"As I compose, I consider the harmony of all these elements,
recomposing what I see in real life whenever necessary. "In
the process of creation, I also infuse my artistic philosophy
using the impressionist technique. I believe I express the Filipino
soul. The works in the exhibit are bolder in concept, the brushworks
have remained - after all, brushwork is more of facility with
"No, I think my works are not under the shadows of European
impressionists using the so-called rainbow palette. The water
lilies are incidental - not an indirect reference to Claude Monet's
paintings. There's a lotus pond near where I live in Richmond,
a Vancouver suburb in Canada. Our place is also near a fisherman's
wharf and an expanse of wildflower-grown land. I don't have to
go far to paint on the spot out of doors. My children and our
neighbors' children serve as my models.
"When I paint, I have to prepare myself physically for the
task. I want to have always a fresh outlook on what I paint. I
have to sharpen me senses, my feelings, my reactions. Because
that's what painting is -- to sense, to feel, to react - after
fusing hand and eye, heart and mind."
Claude Monet, considered as the Patriarch of Impressionism evolved
massive walls of light" deepening to an eerie, nocturnal
glow in his renditions of water lilies after discovering the quaint
of tropic daylight during the Algerian campaign; he was once a
The acknowledged founding father of the Dimasalang Group which
fostered Pinoy Impressionism had been weaned from the intense
tropic daylight of Cebu where as old-timers swear, "the sun shines
so differently." Perhaps, tropic light had a transmuting quality
making "shadows become realities, substance become pure space"
and particles of form appear as shards of vessels coalescing,
held in orbit by the keen perception. Physical distance from the
painting waves the magic spell, the illusion of shards coalescing
into vessels, into forms. Call it the artist's sharing of the
magic moments he knew, with the viewer.
Sym defines these form particles in what appears as random strokes,
impastoed crust-like layers and painterly executed mini-spaces.