Juvenal Sanso: Painting Memories

To say that Juvenal Sanso lived a colorful life is an understatement. An example of adventure, strength and difficulty, his life reads like an epic; an epic where, as the hero, his obstacles seemed insurmountable and his struggles simply heart wrenching. Yet at the end of the road, he stands triumphant alongside the many characters he had met on his journey. And it is these very characters, whether they be friendships born from train stations or the people who are an example of cruelty in war, that have colored his works, making his paintings as vibrant, emotional and adventurous as the life he leads.

With the treasure trove of stories that the delightful painter enthusiastically shares, it is easy to say that he goes beyond countries. Juvenal Sanso is a citizen of the world. And now, the globe trotting, brush-wielding storyteller celebrates his 83rd birthday and his 50 years of genius in the art scene with an exhibit entitled, ''Paintings of a New Day.'' Opened last November 27 his most recent show was hosted by Gallery Joaquin at SM Megamall's Art Center.

''These were not done carrying an easel in my bag,'' he says regarding his current collection. ''No. I have a very good memory for images and I'm sure someone from that part would say it doesn't look like that. I'm not trying to illustrate my travelling. I'm painting. My purpose is not to sell a travel magazine, because there is composition. If you just copy, then you just copy.''

Showcasing about 40 pieces of enchanting landscapes and rock formations, this is a collection born from imagination coupled with recollection. Every painting is quilted together from his memories of his travels to Brittany, Iran, Northern Italy, Spain and other parts of Europe. It is not one place; it is every place and no place, all at once. It is a product of Sanso's travels, and his dream, a dream materializing through memories of beauty.

''I like to travel, I never disconnected with the Philippines,'' says Juvenal Sanso. ''I'm in and out. My first steps in art were in the Philippines.'' With his long list of accomplishments and the admiration of his peers not only for his talent but also for his integrity and discipline, it is evident that he has come a long way since those very first steps. However, his heart has always been divided between his birth country, and the country he and his family call home. ''My father never went back to Spain, my mother several times, but my father loved the Philippines. We all did. We all do.''

Thus the Philippines became witness to the beginnings of this celebrated painter's illustrious career. His desire to explore began early, setting his sights as a student of the arts towards the birthplace of many great masters.

''Who knew me in Paris?'' asks Sanso. ''I was just a student and I didn't know the language. I was crazy enough, but I think I did something very strong. I said I'm going to go to Italy and I'm going to go to France. I went to Rome first and the professor was speaking with someone from the same school and they were looking at a painting of mine of this blind beggar with his hand out. And they said if he can paint hands this well, like this beggar, he could learn Italian. Same thing in France.''

His dedication to learn was relentless, taking evening classes for language even after long days painting. Fluent in six languages he now speaks, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, English and Tagalog. ''And they say 'lucky me','' he says of those who are in awe of his multi-lingual skills. ''I say, 'what do you mean lucky me? I worked to learn this'.''

As a young student in Europe, language was not the only difficulty he had to overcome. Living modestly, he was innovative in finding ways to survive. It was around this time that he created abstract works. Opening a large yellowing folder, he graciously shares his beautiful artworks of varying shapes, colors and textures one after another, lines and shapes coming together to form beautiful patterns. Though it was merely experimentation on techniques and colors that were of interest to him, it had inadvertently landed him work designing textiles for notable design houses such as Balenciaga.

Despite his practicality leading him to many successful business ventures as well over the years, painting will always be Juvenal Sanso's one and only love.

''I paint everyday if circumstances allow,'' says Sanso. ''I start five or six in the morning, then I go on sometimes till midnight. It's hard work. Sometimes, they think you're dancing around the painting; you're not. Walang patawad yun. Really, it is a passion ''

Indeed it is a passion that had graced the world with countless products of artistic brilliance.