National Museum presents Jose Joya retrospective

The splendor of Jose T. Joya’s paintings, sketches, lithographs, and ceramic art are appreciated even by Filipinos who were born after 1995, the year the Philippines’ pioneering abstract painter and cutting-edge multimedia artist of his generation died.

On the three different occasions that I viewed the “Joya: Balik-tanaw Bilang Panimula ng Joya Festival 2011" exhibit at the National Museum, it was heartening to observe elementary and high school students squatting on the floor as they quietly gazed, seemingly entranced, at certain Joya pieces.

Even college students, obviously on a date one Sunday afternoon and wise enough to skip a trip to a mall, were taken by Joya (1931-1995), who was crowned national artist for visual arts in 2003.

Portions of Joya’s citation as national artist describe his art as "an important landmark in the development of Philippine modern art."

It adds: "His legacy is a large body of work of consistent excellence which has won the admiration of artists both in the local and international scenes."

The “Balik-tanaw" exhibit, which runs until Sept. 4 at the 4th floor North Wing Gallery of the Museum of the Filipino, is one of the planned Joya retrospectives until the end of the year. Other Joya exhibits will be mounted at the Metropolitan Museum, Ayala Museum, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

As a painter, Joya is worthy of emulation by young Filipino artists. He did not only excel in his art, but was also academically exacting and intellectually rigorous.

In 1953, he made history by becoming the first graduate of the UP School of Fine Arts to finish a bachelor’s degree as magna cum laude. At the time the dean was the vanguard of classicism in the Philippines, painter Fernando Amorsolo. Joya was also mentored by Guillermo Tolentino, Ireneo Miranda, Dominador Castañeda, and Virginia Agbayani -- all giants of Philippine arts.

Joya himself became dean of his alma mater from 1970 to 1978. He and academic-art historian Rod Paras Perez revised the art education curriculum at UP Diliman to include a strong liberal arts program and units on the history of art.

Like Amorsolo and the painters of his generation, the young Joya packed his bags to study painting in Madrid from 1954 to 1955 through a grant from the Spanish government’s Instituto de Cultura Hispanica. He also went to Michigan’s Cranbook School of Art under a Fulbright Smith-Mundt scholarship in 1956 to complete his master’s degree in painting.

Around the time, he was exposed to Jackson Pollock and the New York abstract expressionism movement’s spontaneous and energetic interpretation of non-figurative works. In a bid to ensure that his art works are not dismissed as copycats, Joya appropriated but recast the style on his own terms, slipped in new techniques, and explored new materials.

Joya did not only use traditional canvas; the multimedia artist in him also painted and sketched on plates and ceramic vessels, while simultaneously busying himself in graphic arts, notably in printmaking. He experimented with unusual and mundane materials, such as sketching using felt-tip pens. In 1967-1969, he studied at the Pratt Graphic Art Center in New York.

In the “Balik-tanaw" exhibit, the National Museum and the Jose T. Joya Family Collection strive to show the national artist’s works as “evidence of Joya’s creation of a characteristic idiom that both encompassed and transcended foreign abstract art."

The exhibit is composed of 85 artworks, plus two oil portraits of Joya painted by Filipino artists. It is presented chronologically, showing the evolution of Joya as an artist: from his early works, life drawings, portraits, art-making abroad and in the regions, abstract art, and on to ceramic art.

The National Museum said the cataloguing “is but an interim classification on which to organize the artists’ profound range of works beginning with the foundations of his work as a young artist."

The works on display and his public murals such as the ones at the CCP and Philippine International Convention Center “validate Joya’s principle in life that he and his works are gifts to which the nation is entitled to." For instance, Joya’s “Pagdiriwang" (Celebration) is widely recognized in the local arts circles as the “largest abstract painting in the Philippines," measuring 5 meters by 8 meters.

One of the earliest works featured in the exhibit is “Ligawan," a 1948 oil painting on canvas, showing the strong impact of classical and conservative art movements on a young Joya at the time. “Ligawan" features a lady clad in an ornate Maria Clara and a gentleman in a western suit, their hands nervously intertwined on top of a table while three house guests slyly observe their flirtations.

“Hidalgo Studies," a 1951 graphite on paper sketch, is another piece from the early years of Joya when most of his works were figurative. Among those clustered under the “life drawings" and “portraits" sections are the “Portrait of a Lady," (1952), “Back of A Young Man," (1952), “Venetian Female Model," (1952), “Middle-aged Man," (1952), “Seated Shirtless Man," (1956), and “Three Graces" (1957). The works in these sections reflected Joya’s years of academic training and classes that included drawing subjects where male and female models posed in the nude. The correct and proportional human forms and anatomies echo works from his early years.

Joya’s gradual transition to abstract painting can be gleaned from the “Space Transfiguration" (1959), “Ang Pipit," (1956), “Karate," (1965), “Red Song," (1966), “Ang Tutubi," (1967), “Cityscape," (1972), “Warm Afternoon," (1974), “Lanterns of Enlightenment,’ (1977), “Global Warming," (1990), “Mountain Façade," (1991), “Spirit of Season," (1992), and “Mountain Trail," (1995).

Joya used ceramics to create forward-looking arts as represented in this exhibit by “Voyage," (1975), “Blue Oblong," (1975), “Abstract Tile Slab," (1976), “Mother and Child," (1976), “Sweet Corn," (1976), “Fish," (1982), and “Camia,’ (1982).

Thousands of sapped souls in this rambling metropolis of ours should pause and see the “Balik-tanaw" exhibit to reinvigorate themselves spiritually. - YA, GMA News