Rafael Cusi’s songs of water
Nothing can make more clearly manifest the qualities of watercolor than to compare it with another medium depicting the very same subject. And no more positive proof is there than the book “The Philippine Coral Reefs,” which features the watercolors of Rafael “Popoy” Cusi and the underwater photography of Scott D. Tuason.
Without diminishing the value of photography, which in terms of pure documentation cannot be matched in stark realism, what surfaces luminously are the virtues of watercolor, of which the commonplace judgment refers to its demanding nature.
To quote the artist David Hockney: “A photograph takes a split second, at the most a few minutes, and describes so little time. Whereas a painting can take months.”
What a feast, therefore, to be presented with Cusi’s latest opus, both in their magisterial scale and the pop novelty of exhibiting at Bonifacio Global City’s showroom of the classic car, the Mini.
To be sure, the pairing is curious, certainly out-of-the-box, definitely out-of-the-gallery. But regard the tandem simply as the auspicious artistic joyride of two in their fields.
Landscapes and seascapes are familiar enough terrain, accessible to all either in actuality or their artistic renditions.
Artworks, however, depicting the underwater world partake of an element of voyeurism, of peering into a universe on which most mortals have never set foot. The experience may, therefore, be equated with staring at an aquarium or an ocean park.
Rafael Cusi is unique as an artist since, growing up in Mindoro, not only was he surrounded by water, he has actually gone deep into the sea’s hidden caverns. Thus, when he paints his underwater masterpieces, it is not a vicarious experience but, indeed, a reliving of his childhood and adolescence.
Eventually, when the artist comes up for air, as it were, he presents us with oceanic still lifes that he has actually beheld, and not merely imagined: such works as “Azure,” “Blue Stillness,” “Coral Eden,” “Sea of Serenity,” “Reef Sanctuary,” “Dreaming of Tubbataha.”
Witty and humorous titles are like a knowing wink at the viewer: “Scuba-do-bi-doo,” “Seascapade” and “Fishing for Compliment.”
Cusi wields a variety of brushstrokes, from gentle and serene to wildly gestural and swaggering, eliciting surprising impressions of corals, shells, planktons, sea anemones.
The “Oceanic Symphony” series, so aptly titled, partakes of the sweeping grandeur of a monumental musical theme as though the artist himself were standing on a podium, conducting all the equivalents of orchestral team: strings, bass, drums and trumpets.
Mankind’s favorite color
Just for their sheer ambitiousness of scale in the watercolor medium the “Oceanic Symphony” works are already differentiated apart from the typical modest size of most watercolors.
Consider merely the fact that a regular brush can only absorb so much watery pigment, and no more. For the artist to stop, as it were, midstream, he would leave a demarcated spot where the paintbrush exhausted itself, thus destroying the momentum, both visually and emotionally, of the artist’s creation and the viewer’s appreciation.
In these large-scale works, the space is inundated, irradiated with the color blue, which is the color of sea and sky. Blue is the color of the spirit, thus evoking the mysterious expanse of the oceanic depths as well as the exhilaration of infinite skies. No wonder blue has been chosen as mankind’s favorite color.
Like a true master of the medium, Cusi celebrates the density and transparency of his subject: the underwater world.
Unquestionably these are works of the first water.
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