After taking a nap one day in 2006, L. De Guzman woke up to discover he couldn’t see, among other frightening things. He had an attack of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a severe allergic reaction to medication that causes skin to die and shed.
“The skin of my eyelids fused with my eyeballs,” he says. “My corneas now had scars, my vision had blotches and it felt like there was something covering my sight.”
After three months of recovery, he got involved with developmental work with a non-government organization.
“It was hard because I had to get used to sunlight and the glare of a computer monitor. My skin was super sensitive because some layers hadn’t grown back. Paperwork was difficult because my fingernails hadn’t grown back yet. My fingertips were still stubs back then.”
He’s been working and living a normal a life as possible since then. Unfortunately, in February this year, his eyes stopped producing tears.
“I was blind from around March to April—not blind because it was dark, like what happened after I got SJS, but blind because of all the light entering my eyes because I had no tears.”
He has to put artificial tears in his eyes every half-hour, but only because doctors plugged implants into his tear drainage system. Prior to that, he had to put artificial tears every five minutes.
“I can’t see when the temperature’s hot, when it’s windy, when the eyedrops dry up, etc. When the weather is nice and I’ve just put my drops in, I can see, but my view is like a Holga Lomo camera. There are shadows on the sides and it’s all blurry.”
“I’m locked most of the time inside the house because that’s the only place where I can control these factors.”
“The implants and medication made my vision manageable. I was able to paint again starting June. Amazingly, when I paint, my eyes can focus on the parts I’m working on.”
De Guzman will have his first solo exhibit, “A Tale of Muses and Dreams,” featuring 23 pieces, at PenPen’s Restaurant.
“It was my idea to have an exhibit. I wanted to help my family with my me-dical bills and to live a normal life. I was at Cubao Expo and my college friend Ping Medina saw me and offered the use of his restaurant for the show.”
Born and raised in Manila by his grandparents, De Guzman’s love for painting began when his grandmother gave him a watercolor set at the age of four. He’s self-taught, inspired by paintings from the Renaissance and Post-Impressionist periods, as well as by ukiyo-e masters.
“The subject of the pieces revolves around my dreams. The muses were inside my head from the early part of this year, when my eyesight deteriorated, with me cooped up in darkness at home. I had no choice but to sleep and sleep because I couldn’t do anything else.”
“I was so depressed. I was seriously contemplating suicide. I really wished I had died back in 2006. I thought that life with a broken body like this is a life not worth living.”
“With painting, I saw that I could still do something I loved. When I paint, I forget all my bodily aches, I feel at peace with myself, my situation and my Creator. I look at my painting as a form of prayer. I can see that there is still something to life. And it branches out into appreciation for other things, like the love of my family, my friends.”
“One time, I tried to look at the morning sky with my naked eyes, without sunglasses and eyedrops, and I saw the most beautiful sky and I wished I could see more. Life began to have meaning again. I didn’t want to give up.”
“I can paint at my own pace. Sometimes I don’t paint when I’m having a bad day, when my body is out of sorts. But when I get the chance of feeling particularly good on a day, I paint.”
“I do a lot of Asian-inspired water-colors, crafts, like Japanese masks. But the bulk are flower paintings in acrylic. Flower paintings helped me get through this phase when my body started feeling weak again.
All pieces are done in acrylic, a gentle medium because it doesn’t have too much fumes that hurt my eyes.”
“I hope people will like ‘my babies.’ I poured my energy, time, emotions and desires into these works.”
“It’s rare for people to go through what I’m going through and for them to realize what I’ve realized,” De Guzman adds. “I want my paintings to show that, given this harsh reality of life, people should stop with all their selfishness and negativity, and try to regain focus of their inner voice. They should take another look at what’s really inside. They’ll see beauty, truth, love—the basic things that make life worth living, the things that make us truly human.”
“A Tale of Muses and Dreams” runs Nov. 5-25 at PenPen’s Restaurant, Cubao Expo, Araneta Center, Quezon City. Call 0916-6002419. Visit ldeguzman.wordpress.com.