In “Convergence” at Provenance Gallery at Shangri-La at the Fort, painters Betsy Westendorp, Cesar Caballero and Ramon Diaz converge to tackle nature, but in their own particular idioms and styles.
Westendorp may be better known for her society portraits and floral subjects, but in the exhibit, she shows her famous impressions of Manila Bay skies, a series that dates back to the 1970s.
In the last half of the 20th century, Westendorp was living at the penthouse of Excelsior Building on Roxas Boulevard. The skies and horizon inspired her to create her most stunning works. She described the moments when sunlight sliced the clouds on an overcast late afternoon, the silhouettes of boats docked on the harbor with their reflections cast on the water, the skies signaling the approach of a typhoon.
Her earliest work in the show, done in 1973, shows the ships berthing on the waterfront against pink and orange skies. In some works, the colors are extreme shades of red, rust and yellow to deep shades of blue, bordering on black.
In “Bliss,” the scene consists of orange clouds against the blue skies, hovering over the dark sea. As an element of surprise, the tiny sun is an impasto of white paint that breaks off the evenness of the canvas’ surface.
Westendorp has since moved to Makati. The Manila Bay waterfront she used to know has become a reclaimed area. Today, she paints from her memories, photographs and notes.
Turning 90 in December, Westendorp is sprightly, her mind sharp as a tack. She swims and paints every day.
Laughing off ageist questions, she said, “People ask me why I don’t have a yaya. They are surprised that I still drive. They must think I’m old. They haven’t asked, are you still alive?’”
A medical test revealed that her metabolic age is 72.
Westendorp considers painting her breath of life.
“I’ve been able to endure many hardships because I paint,” she says.
Three days before the exhibit opening, she received news of her daughter’s death in Spain. Isabel Brias, 65, died of complications from sepsis. Nonetheless, Westendorp didn’t cry, but was grateful that her daughter had moved on to a different journey.
She said she was busy with a commission to paint carp in a lotus pond and a portrait of J. Amado Araneta, the founder of Cubao commercial center, for the boardroom of Jorge Araneta.
Comparing portraiture to scenery, she explains that portraiture requires discipline in maintaining the likeness and personality of the subject. Sunsets allow her to explore colors and moods. “There is freedom in painting sunsets. You can have all the colors.”
In Caballero’s paintings, doe-eyed mermaids and fish come alive with bold colors and strong outlines against a background of cool blue.
The tranquil painting of a pearl diver in the depths of the ocean represents introspection. Two paintings show four-eyed mermaids, the first pair of eyes representing childlike innocence and the second pair, the jaded adult eyes. The faces feature a bindu, a red dot on the forehead, a mystical symbol of the soul.
One painting depicts fishes circling a doe-eyed woman.
Caballero explained that the movement and counter-movement of the fish create a dynamic rhythm that is an imagery of the pulse of life. “It’s like a life cycle,” he said.
Central to Caballero’s Expressionist style is the medium, which emphasizes that the process is as important as the picture. He layered the canvas with linen and jute. A scrap from his wife’s dress added dimension to an image of a floating sake bottle.
Blue paint was lavishly layered on jute. With a palette knife, he scraped off the paint for a distressed finish. He said the surface imperfection added beauty. Moreover, the palette knife technique beckoned the viewer to come closer to the canvas and be part of the “conversation.”
Caballero travels the world to work on large-scale commissions for parks, theaters and conventions.
One of his most rewarding projects was painting a wall together with victims of super typhoon Yolanda in Leyte. “They (the survivors) were happy, and I felt like a Superman to them,” he said.
Ramon Diaz has been known for his fascination with Oriental subjects such as Tang horses and Sumo wrestlers. “Convergence” focuses on his most enduring subject, the koi fish.
Although he studied arts in Europe, he worked as a supplier of paper and printing equipment and materials to support his family. During the Asian crisis in 1997, he chucked the business world to become a full-time artist. He became interested in koi when he saw a student painting at Harvard.
Diaz himself collects koi. Champion koi can fetch as much as P2 million. He studies the aesthetics of the perfect koi, the rules of color that run from the head to the tails, and the colors under the fins.
Set against a black or white background, the koi seem to jump out. He emphasizes the perfection of their body symmetry, the equal sizing of the fins, the silky quality of their skin and their arresting colors. To make them animated, he shows in his paintings the tiny air bubbles that koi make.
Diaz said he had been using the palette knife, whose marks lent a different effect to the works.
“It adds definition,” explained Caballero. “When you look at his painting of koi against an even white background, the fish seem to be floating in infinity. The black backgrounds with knife marks show passion.” The uneven finish provided a human element to the art.
“I want my paintings to lighten up people’s day,” said Diaz. “They wake up to see beautiful details and vivid colors. When they look closely at the details, they are reminded of the glory of nature.”—CONTRIBUTED