Thursday, August 10, 2023

Confessions of an Artist

Art is a revolt against fate.
- ANDRÉ MALRAUX, Voices of Silence -

All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
- OSCAR WILDE, The Picture of Dorian Gray -

The appreciation of art should not be considered as merely a pleasurable pastime. 
To apprehend beauty is to work for it. 
It is a mighty and an entrancing effort, 
and the enjoyment of a picture is not only the pleasure it inspires, 
but in the comprehension of the new order of construction used in its making.
- ROBERT HENRI, The Art Spirit -

THE INSPIRATION I DERIVE from art can bring me to greater heights. It is something that makes me live, keeps me alive. I cannot imagine myself breathing life without the guidance of art. Art for me is Life! Art is my one reason for surviving in this life full of trials and sufferings. My passion for art is so deep that crushing it can fracture my bones, cut my throat and curtail my spirit altogether.

I can easily get inspired by a brilliant idea about art shown/ heard on tv, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc. Whenever I see a possible birthing of an idea, I try my best for it  not to escape my mind until it takes form – if I can muster enough courage and confidence to do it.

In 1990, a cultural magazine show aired on ABS-CBN Channel 2 on Saturday evenings - “Tatak Pilipino.” It was hosted by Jim Paredes and Gel Santos-Relos, directed by Laurenti Dyogi and Leo Katigbak. Being the first of its kind of program that showed the richness of our Filipino culture and heritage, it was  highly enjoyed by many viewers. Unfortunately it only lasted until 1995 due to lack of support from sponsors. I had learned a lot from it. It was in that same year perhaps that an episode caught the artistic appreciation and consciousness in me. 

Paredes and Relos featured the kind of art the late Pacita Abad made with her hands. Abad was known for her abstract designs brimming with thousands of colors and circle designs. She had been living in Singapore since the ‘90s until her death from breast cancer in 2004.

Pacita Abad and her masterpiece

I was in first year high school then and was fascinated by her works because it was my first time to see trapunto, the art of combining painting and sewing. I didn’t know what it was called until I got into college. Abad would, for example, paint first on a big thick canvas cloth filled with circles of different kinds, sizes, thickness, texture and colors. Then, with her containers and boxes of buttons, she would stitch on hundreds or even thousands of buttons, also of different kinds, sizes and colors. It is a kind of mixed-media art, also called assemblage.

When I saw how the artist underwent the process of creating her art, I told myself that I would also want to try it out myself and try to come up with my own style if I could. I loved the idea of merging painting and stitching in a work of art. I was really not into sewing or stitching but doing it was something that would make my creativity take flight, or so I thought.

My parents built a small sari-sari store next to our house in Parañaque. We would buy almost all our items then from Divisoria – from candies, chips, biscuits, canned goods, noodles, toiletries to sacks of rice, sugar, etc. One day, in 1990, I told my mom that I would need some buttons. She said to just get some from the drawer of our antique manual Singer sewing machine which had two small drawers each on the left and on the right. I said I needed a lot. Mama asked how many I would need, what kind of buttons I needed and what I would do with them. I felt exhilarated when Mama suggested that I go with her to Divisoria that weekend for my art project. 


At Divisoria, we moved from one stall to another, checking on the most elegant button designs and the cheapest price there was. I really couldn’t decide as to how many pieces I would really need for each kind. I was simply excited to embark on my new journey called “trapunto.” All I could remember was that I bought around five to ten pieces of each kind of button that caught my fancy. I learned that some buttons really cost a lot. So I was very deliberate in my selection so as not to regret and waste anything. 

I carried with me the small plastic bag with a few buttons in it – roughly around seventy various kinds of buttons. Then in the fifth stall, while I was looking at the glass display where buttons were neatly placed in compartments, square containers and trays, my mom talked to the stall owner or sales lady scorning me in front of the other customers and passersby. She said the reason I needed buttons was that I was going to sew and that I was gay. Both of them were laughing boisterously at me. 

I felt my blood rushing through my body up to my face. I couldn’t concentrate on my choosing anymore. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I was furious about it. Even if I wanted to smash the containers and trays, I tried to control myself. In the middle of their laughter, my mom asked me, “O, ilan ba ang bibilhin natin?” (How many are we getting then?).“Di na! Ayoko na!” (No, I'm not interested anymore!), I hollered. Then, due to my uncontrollable anger, I tore out the plastic bag and threw its contents onto the floor and the glass display.

It was already past 5:00 p.m. and we still had a lot of items to buy for our store stocks. But I felt broken already, and I didn’t have the energy anymore to eat merienda and go around the market. I was devastated! The human spirit in me got crushed into tiny pieces. It felt like death for me at that very moment.

ALL THE BOXES of goods and sacks of store items were placed inside our old 1974 model Isuzu jeepney. On our way home, I lay down my body sideways on the seat, but couldn’t appease myself as I was raging within me. In darkness I covered my face with a towel. Our helper was seated right next to me. There weren’t tears from my eyes, I remember – but wondered. My chest was full of negative emotions. It was difficult to let go and soak in tears. I just felt a thick thorn pierced through my heart.

Image credit: Jonathan Cellona

Expectedly, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic at Divisoria all the way to Roxas Boulevard (Manila-Pasay-Parañaque) but beyond 9:00 p.m., when we approached the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and Duty-Free Supermarket, traffic had subsided. Our driver was driving our jeepney in serious speed. Casino Filipino was not yet built at NAIA Road (near the airport) at that time. The light posts near the area of Multinational Village going to the Parañaque Central Post Office were defective so it was very dark. We were all exhausted, so by then we were all asleep, except for Roger, our driver. He needed to be wide awake. My mother was seated in front, on the passenger seat, sleeping with her right forearm on top of the door, her elbows out. 

The dark road almost consumed the beam of our headlights. Our Isuzu jeepney was still running at over 85 kilometers per hour when abruptly a scream wrestled with the sound of the cars and  jeepneys on the road – a scream coming from inside and outside our vehicle. My mother was awakened and burst into tears, bounded in fear and drenched in anguish. 

Suddenly, I turned my head to check the back as far as my eyes could see, yet my eyes only saw the sharp light from the car behind us. It was a moment that shocked us. Something unfolded before our very eyes. Mama panicked. She felt an agonizing sensation on her right arm all the way to the tip of her right fingers. Cecille, our helper, asked my mom: Ate, ano hong nangyari sa inyo? (Ma'am, what happened to you?), trying to comfort her but my mom couldn’t explain why. All she clamored for was for us to bring her to the hospital, BUT bring her first to the house. “Dali! Bilisan mo!” (Hurry please!), mom implored our driver.

While the jeepney was still in motion, Mama started to throw up. She tried to vomit out the window but the flow was sparring strongly with the wind. There was a splatter of blood on the right side of the windshield and blood was strewn onto her face and t-shirt. Roger didn’t want to stop driving. Mama was ranting that she felt something hit her arm and elbow. “Parang katawan ng tao yun! Parang katawan ng tao!!!” (Is it a human body? Is it a human body?), she shouted. Cecille was helping my Mom clean the mess from her face, neck, arm, t-shirt and pants from her vomit. 

A few minutes later, Roger confessed, while still driving in fright: “Ate, nakabangga po ako. Tumilapon po yung mama at yun po ata ang tumama sa inyo. Patay po ata!” (Ma'am, I hit someone accidentally. The man was tossed, and I think his body was the one that hit you. He might have been dead!). Hearing those words, Mama became more hysterical: “Bakit?! Anong ginawa mo? Bakit di ka nag-ingat! Pa’no yan, nakapatay tayo!” (Why? What have you done? Why were you not careful? What now, have we killed someone?).

Nobody knew. I was the one who had been hit by our jeepney. It was like my body that wandered that night on the street going nowhere because I really didn’t know where to go – either to die or to continue living. Unfortunately, the former had happened. Both of my parents never cared about what I was doing in school, in what subjects I was doing both well and poorly, what I wanted to become and what passions in life I had. A big part of me had died a forceful death.

When we got to the house, Mama kept vomiting all the way to her room. We couldn’t understand her situation but she sensed that her elbow joint got fractured. She couldn’t move her arm. “Paralisado na ako! Wala akong maramdaman sa kanang braso ko!” (I'm paralyzed! I can't feel anything on my right arm!), she frantically announced. We assisted her in moving her forearm and arm but she was in excruciating pain. We could feel her anguish. Papa was apathetic as he barked disturbing words blaming Mama for the mess she had done to our floorings and their bed sheet. Mama couldn’t defend herself as she was laboring through her pain. I felt pity for her but my tears were under restrain. The pain she had inflicted on me was still fresh like a newly plucked flower from the garden. My sisters sympathized with her by weeping, revealing their seemingly pinkish nose.

Paranaque Medical Center

We brought Mama to the nearest hospital, Medical Center of Parañaque. The nurse in-charge of the emergency room had her X-rayed. The pain had not yet receded. The doctor who interpreted mom’s x-ray film said that she broke the humerus bone in her right forearm. The doctor expressed his deepest apologies for they didn’t have the facility for the surgery my mom would need. So we moved quickly to Makati Medical Center. The nurses helped her to calm down and administered different tests like getting her blood pressure before they finally performed the surgery. Mama had to take in food and water since her stomach had been emptied due to her unceasing vomiting.

Makati Medical Center
Mama remained in the hospital for about a week with her right forearm and arm in a plaster cast. 

I could never fully comprehend what was going on in my mind then. I never shed a tear for what had befallen my mom. I never imagined something horrible as that would happen. I was just immensely upset and angry with her. That’s all. But I felt very sad of everything that happened. I wished nothing that would harm my mother. 

ALMOST EVERY WEEKEND in my younger years, there’s nothing worthwhile to do in the house. I wasn’t hooked into reading, not exposed to listening to the radio, didn’t have toys to play with. I just stayed home and watched cartoons, kiddie shows and soap operas, even those with boring story lines. I nevertheless enjoyed it then. My parents didn’t provide for me things that would later on develop my intelligences and creativity, and stretch my imagination. 

I could recall only three small storybooks I owned in my kinder and early elementary years: Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltzkin and The Three Little Pigs, which was my all-time favorite. And only one Lego® set (Model code number: 6364; 1982 copyright) for my toy, which I received as a present from my parents for my fifth birthday. It was I think the second to the smallest pack. 

A catalogue was included in my Lego box where there were colored pictures of other available models, printed with their corresponding descriptions and code numbers. I placed some numbers in parentheses, using a blue ballpen, to which I wished my mom would eventually say yes for these were the cheapest models. 

My parents knew how I loved putting things together, building and creating something. Maybe I was wrong. It was only I who thought they knew. I pleaded with them to purchase another set for me, even the cheaper one, but to no avail. I never demanded for too much. All I ever wanted was to create – to create a world where I could be free to express the art in me. I pitied myself playing with my one and only Lego set over and over again – for years – assembling and disassembling the pieces!  

I liked the repetitive language rhythm in The Three Little Pigs when the fox challenged each of the pigs with: “Or I’ll huff and I’ll puff till I blow your house down.” But later it was like someone’s voice that kept telling me, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff till I break your (he)art spirit.” I would read that story in my room when I felt alone and lonely because I found those pig drawings very cute and adorable. I related well to the first and the second little pigs when the straw and the stick houses were blown off by the fox and they died. I wondered, when would I become like the third pig who would not let the fox blow down his house made of bricks?

When I got bored with my usual weekends at home, I would gather up things that I knew I would be able to use for my art. I usually stored up leftover materials from my school projects such as strings, strips of wood, styro, cartons, sequince, beads, art papers, construction papers, seeds, ribbons, cellophanes, glitters, etc. Practically anything I could gather and recycle for my art pursuits. Then I would use a squared flat styrofoam or carton as my canvas. I would just create any image based on the available materials I had gathered, assembling them using glue. When I was satisfied with my work, I would cover it with plastic and hang it anywhere in the house.

When I was in fourth year high school (1993-94), I recognized my penchant to pursue a college course in the arts. I applied for General Humanities in the Center for Research & Communication (CRC; now known as University of Asia & the Pacific, or UA&P); Architecture/ Advertising in University of Sto. Tomas (UST); Architecture in Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT); Architecture/ BS Math in Adamson University, and Humanities/ Psychology in De La Salle University (DLSU) – except in Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) where I applied for Legal Management. 

I had really wanted to be an architect but some friends dissuaded me from pursuing it because according to them, students would have sleepless nights doing their drawing plates. I also heard that the course would need expensive materials. I thought that my parents would not be willing to support me in that endeavor, had I followed that dream. So I chose to take General Humanities in CRC after receiving my acceptance letter. I believed that the most inexpensive way to study art is to opt for the Humanities. But then, CRC had one of the highest tuition fees in Metro Manila during that time.

I took the Pre-College Course (PCC) in CRC in the summer of 1994. CRC is located at Pearl Drive in Ortigas Pasig, just a few blocks away from SM Megamall. PCC was compulsory for all incoming freshmen in the said college and it was made up of three subjects: English, Math, and Study Skills & Time Management. No freshman could ever be accepted in school for June without completing the PCC. I believed that I got perfect in Math in the entrance exams and my grades in two Math subjects in fourth year high school, as seen in my report card, were quite good. In effect, I was exempted from taking the Math course. I felt elated because it not only saved me time but also money for the tuition.

De La Salle University (Manila)

Two weeks were left for me to complete the PCC when I decided to transfer to DLSU. I got accepted in DLSU for both Humanities and Psychology as my first and second choices. We didn’t pay for the non-refundable reservation fee of two thousand pesos to guarantee a slot. It was way past the deadline for payment so Mama and I got really worried that I might not be able to transfer from CRC. We went to the Admissions Office three days before our scheduled freshmen orientation to inquire about available slots. Fortunately, I got in.

In my college years, I felt that something was missing in my life and that I wanted to take up Fine Arts. Money was again the problem. It wasn’t that easy to tell my parents that I really wanted to be a successful artist. Dreaming was everything I had. Whenever I would ask Mama to buy me art materials, I knew that I had to work for it by helping in the household chores. My ideas for/in art could not be contained. 

After that tormenting incident at Divisoria, it was difficult for me to pick myself up once again. It took a long process for the pain to heal. And it took years – putting back the pieces of my puzzle together gradually, to see the picture. That picture was me. 

Mama poured her whole heart and soul to working for the store. She was doing an amazing job at sustaining our business from opening to closing time. She may not have had the time to know what I did in school and at work (mostly teaching), but Mama was a great provider for our family. And I'm so immensely proud of her at that.

Mama had suffered a lot in her life, including battling sickness during the pandemic. I lost Papa on November 7, 2014 due to stomach cancer. In 2021, Mama was diagnosed having stage 3A breast cancer. Our visit to the hospital and diagnostic clinics had been so frequent since then. Mama underwent surgery in July 2021, and another one in August 2022, when she was already diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Mama was always forever grateful that I gave her all of my time for her needs. It was very difficult for us, with the expenses all piling up. The hospital had been Mama's second home and we never liked it. Mama passed away on February 12, 2023 fighting for her life at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in the hospital for 10 days. Her passing was the most painful, most devastating death I have experienced. It is unbearable even up to this day. 

I KNOW SOME people believe that there’s not much money in art, but my joy breathes in it. Art is not a priority of our society, much less our government. However, artists struggle for their art because they believe that life is meaningless without it. Freedom is best attained in our pursuit for art and truth. We grow as our understanding and consciousness expand. We have to nurture our creative spirit if we want art to live. Otherwise, we will all be prisoners of our own neglect and ignorance. We must not allow people to judge us for what we can do and for what we can create because they don’t understand the meaning of art. 

I found my partial fulfillment in art by being an art teacher to elementary kids in two Alabang schools over two decades ago, and teaching Humanities/ Art Appreciation and Literature for college. I taught drawing, painting and crafts among others. Then I also organized the Calligrapher’s Club where I trained budding calligraphers doing their strokes of the different Roman, Gothic and Text letterforms using a variety of media. But due to the trauma that my mom had caused when I was thirteen years of age, I didn’t go back to trapunto art anymore up to this very day. I have forgiven Mama a long time ago because I love her so much, and I care a lot for her. Seeing all her hardwork and sacrifices for our family is more than enough reason for me to love her more deeply. I was not blessed with many books then, but I already have thousands of amazing books of my own library at home now. 

As an adult, I have collected several children’s books, which I hope I could pass on to my children in the future. Lego sets, though not as popular as before, cost in the thousands now, and I’m way past my age to still play with them. Yes, I still draw and paint sometimes. I would like to redeem myself by having a one-man art show in the near future, which still remains as a dream. I wish that Papa & Mama are still with us now so they could experience and enjoy the wonderful life that I want for them. Whatever I do and pursue in life, whatever successes I attain, I offer all of them to God and to my parents. I miss Papa & Mama every single day. My love for them is eternal. 


This story is an entry to COMCO Mundo’s “UNMASKED: The COMCO Mundo Write to Ignite Season 3”. The initiative aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities. “UNMASKED” aims to explore how each mask is a person brimming with hope and wonders to share with others, as well as why it is important to tell their inspiring journeys in life. The “Write to Ignite” Season 3 is made possible by COMCO Mundo League of Enterprises, with airasia, Babyflo, PHILUSA Corporation, Century Tuna, Licealiz, Lamoiyan Corporation, Rémy Martin, and Uratex Monoblock as brand partners.


Lakan Choi said...


Seraphimsnotes said...

Wow, thank you for sharing your journey and your dreams to be an artist. Your so courageous to unmasked yourself thru writing. Continue to live your dreams, its not too late.

Richard Mamuyac said...

I am also a fan of Tatak Filipino

Rc said...

I agree... as the saying goes "art is life, and life is art".

Coolman0304 said...

I agree on this. Nice article

Coolman0304 said...

I agree on this! Nice article

Legacy View Post said...

Very interesting and informative and inspiring

Gus Cabredo said...

It was enjoyable to read. I can feel your artistic talent even through your words. It's like I'm reading a novel that's vividly written. You excel in Math and Art, two subjects in which I fall short and I feel so envious. I'd love to see your artworks someday.

Parent Sage said...

I can sense the pain you've experienced as I read this. I hope you have overcome the negative experiences from your youth, and I also hope you continue pursuing your "art." It has the potential to bring healing to you in some way.

mheannesison said...

Wow so beautiful & inspiring childhood memories. Thank you for sharing your journey. Hope & pray that you will continue & pursue your dream.

Raymond said...

It's sad when your passion is discouraged and stifled by a single utterance, more so when it comes from family. Fortunately, you were able to rise and continue your artistic pursuits. True, life is meanigless without art. I can not imagine how mediocre life would be if I hadn't ventured into acting, photography, writing,, and music. Keep on going. Looking forward to seeing your first film!

Armi Paz Pineda said...

You have a very inspiring story. People are unique and not everyone has talent in Arts. You are blessed with intelligence and talent. Continue to develop your talent hindi mawawala yan. They say there is no money in Arts..there is you just have to enhance it and show what you can do.

features/rosie said...

Your stories are light to us. Thank you for sharing yourself and the artist in you. You have always been great; always good...more to go... Congratulations Arvin and God bless you and your wishes!

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