He is not bearded or bemoustached, neither does he grow a goatee.
He does not have temperamental fits such as other artists have.
He is not what you call 'gaunt', slim or sensuous looking at all.
He does not sport a 'starved' 'hungry' far-away look, nor is he
ever stern, esoteric or smart. He is not prone to prattle about
his achievements not does he dwell on the glory of his successes.
Sofronio Y. Mendoza or 'Sym' to you and me still looks like a
peasant. Feels like a peasant and no one or nothing can ever take
away this 'peasant' from him.
Sym is squat, heavy-set with short stubby fingers and owns a
pair of smiling, chinky eyes. He is neat, simple empty of all
superficialities and affectations. Despite the citations, the
plaques, the laurels heaped on his lap, he hasn't changed a bit.
And he is glad that he hasn't. Over a cup of coffee, he asks,
"What do you think would have happened to me if I merely
stayed in Carcar?" Carcar is a sleepy town by the sea in
the province of Cebu.
Well, we could have told him, he would have painted the seascapes
and the landscapes, the sunsets and the moonsets, the fishermen
and the farmers, the women and the children, got married, raised
children, planted comote and lived happily ever after. Of to be
sure, he would have grown grapes to sell, dug up some ancient
burial sites for artifacts, became and expert seaman perhaps,
climbed its jagged mountainsides, explored its numerous caves
or sailed in its placid waters in search of fulfillment. He would
still be an artist without a name. He would have died first before
being 'discovered.' He would have been plain and simple Sofronio
Mendoza. A peasant to the letter.
'It is true that Abellana, Cebu's Amorsolo, taught me the basics
of painting, and I am thankful indeed for the foresight of my
father-in-law who sent me to school, but I wouldn't know where
I'd be if it were not for Abe Aguilar Cruz' Sym is always quick
to admit that it was Abe and Abellana who gave him much of his
stature as an impressionist.
Sym came to Manila in the early '60s when the modernists were
having a heyday and abstract art was the thing to hang and talk
about. He went around the galleries and marveled at the works
of H.R Ocampo, Zobel, Joya, Luz, Lee Aguinaldo, Legaspi and all
their contemporaries and felt humbled at the presence of so much
genius before him, Bt unable to grasp the significance of abstracted
art, he stayed on with the traditional style he woke up to, hoping
that one day, people would come back to appreciate it again.
Soon after Sym net Abe Aguilar Cruz, he found that there were
other young artists painting in the Amorsolo style and in the
sophisticated manner of impressionists and once he got into the
swing of things, he found himself and active member of the Dimasalang
Group, a small but prolific set of painters composed of Ibarra
de la Rosa, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Romulo Galicano (his brother-in-law)
and Abe Aguilar Cruz himself, who sort of headed it.
Thence started a regular series of Sunday outings to Marikina,
to Malabon to Montalban, and farther out into the outskirts of
the big metropolis to capture on paper and canvas what there was
left of nature before 'progress' crept in. When they got tired
of painting pastoral scenes, they stayed in the city and explored
its ancient streets, and here, Sym found much to his delight,
vast material for his canvases. He was and painted facades of
old, crumbling houses, poked at their antique interiors paused
at makeshift windows made gay and colorful with flower pots, tracked
down the pasillos and small passageways of Blumentritt and Binondo,
stopped at some sari-sari stores and came out with hundred of
sketches, drawings and paintings projecting Manila's old, ignored
and forgotten atmosphere. He also painted landmarks, historical
monuments, imposing buildings and bridges, but his hand really
went kinetic for folksy places and things.
By this time, the Dimasalang painters were making a breakthrough
in the art scene. Collectors and enthusiasts now shifted their
gaze to the stirrings of their own culture. They saw scenes and
vistas of their childhood, gaped a t the beauty of crumbling walls
and gates, marveled at the interiors of churches and houses, at
the seascapes and the landscapes that may not be there anymore
in the years to come. They saw all of these captured in a style
they readily and easily understood. And they liked what they saw.
The impressionists now threatened to displace the modernists.
The Dimasalang Group was now suddenly 'in.'
Sym sold several paintings but deep within him lurked the seed
of adventure. He wanted to see for himself the seat of great art
and soon, just a s portrayed in his dreams, an art collector came
by, bought all of his paintings and with enough money for travel,
Sym immediately left for Europe.
There, he roamed around 'with the eyes', said another writer,
'of a child devouring everything in sight…' He went to Amsterdam,
on to Rome and Venice and saw the miracles wrought by Michelangelo.
He went farther on, sinking himself in the summer warmth of Florence
and Paris where hi visited the Louvre six times. In the afternoons
he would wander by the riverbanks, sketching all there were to
sketch, watched the sunsets 'whose beauty', he says with nostalgia,
'is really nothing compared to ours'. (Where else in the world
can one find sunsets of purple, red, orange and gold converging?)
Sym brought home 24 oils, innumerable sketches and drawings,
some of them on paper napkins and theater tickets, and they were
bought immediately as soon as he displayed them.
'One of them lapped up eighteen of them all at once', Sym said
with amusement. Then came a series of one-man shoes, all of which
were sell-outs, and at the moment, after a long break from the
galleries, Sym is exhibiting 40 paintings at the Galerie Bleue,
some of which are already marked 'Sold'.
We predict more sellouts in the days to come but for Sym, this
in only a beginning.