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Call it the Magic Moment

Dong de los Reyes 1987

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 away.

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 modernism.

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 time.

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 technique.

"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 soldier.

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.