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Of Scapes, Gates & Interiors

By Margot Baterina 1976

Twenty-seven oil and watercolor paintings and pastel drawings make up the collection which painter Sym (for Sofronio Y. Mendoza) has for his 5th one-man art exhibit now on view at the ABC Gallery on Harrison Plaza. The art show continues till November 17.

The works portray a variety of subjects common to a representational painter like Sym who has always painted in this manner since he first made the Manila scene in 1969 with an initial one-man show. Thus one sees the usual fare in this show: landscapes, skyscrapes, riverscapes, house interiors, market scenes, nudes and portraits of mothers and children. Although the paintings are simple projections of what he sees I life and nature and its

man-made surroundings, Sym's works, however, posses superimposed levels of visual meanings relevant to the Filipino's cultural values and experiences. A potent use of color, which he developed through the years in art school and under the tutelage of the Cebuano master Martino Abellana, has enabled Sym to create an "authentic Filipino quality" in his work as one critic-painter once said of him. Aside from color as an outstanding element of his works, Sym's impressionistic touch to the compositions transforms colors, lines and forms into meaningful designs so that a viewer can relate himself to the works at once. Other realistic-impressionist painters who work with the same medium and subjects like him create works with a more European than Philippine atmosphere.

His colors in verdant greens, radiant yellow and sunshine orange are often viewed as "Filipino" in contrast to the muted, classical colors of the masters. Any exuberance of light filters through the lines and forms of his compositions thus achieving for the artist the luminosity that is always present in nature-in the Philippine setting.

A repetition of subject in most of the present works certainly reminds the viewer of Sym's past collections. It was he and his fellow painters of the Dimasalang Group, for instance, who started painting house facades and street scenes in small canvases. (The painter's group's name is an inspiration from the street corner painting shop where the artists-painters and writers who painted-met and worked.)

Sym's facades and streets are still incorporated in a number of the present works but the addition of his "gate series" is indeed a new subject. Far removed from the small street corners of Dimasalang, Sym now paints his new surroundings in the vast and open fields of Novaliches in Quezon City. The rustic landscapes of the new location offer him all the colors and light he needs for his paintings. Thus at various hours of the day, the gate of his new house becomes a
fascinating subject each time the sun changes its position.

The gabi plant, clusters of bananas and papayas growing wild around his house are part of the interesting subjects that he captures on congas. The effect of light on various hues of greens on these plants has afforded the artist a better color sense in order to render his works closer to nature.

Oftentimes referred to as "the father of Dimasalang Group," Sym has not, however, completely dissociated himself from his fellow artists. He still devotes part of his time to go on location painting with them: back to Dimasalang on weekdays for familiar street scenes, in a hotel's top floor for a view of the Pasig river on other days to some old Binondo house for its interiors on weekends.

In his portraits-mostly mother-and-child series and nudes, Sym maintains a commitment to details and specifics of his models. He strives for the likeness of his models, as that of his pregnant wife, capturing not only the anatomy in pastel but the expression an movements as well. Will Sym limit himself to representational painting considering the trend of many local artists toward the abstract-expressionism? Time is the only factor that will determine the transition says the Cebuano artist. In the meantime, he strives to make a personal artistic commitment come true: painting for the man in the street and not for the exclusive delights and taste of the art elite (if such a group now exists.)