The jeepney is a recurring image in the art of Edwin Wilwayco, who in previous exhibitions, has devoted entire shows on the subject. To be sure, the artist is aware that the subject, like the barong-barong or squatter shanties, has also been a staple in other artists such as Antonio Austria, Vicente Manansala and Cesar Legaspi: It has already been invested with iconic status in Philippine iconography.
But once in the driver’s seat, so to say, Wilwayco, true to his own stylistic temperament, takes the jeepney on a spin.
Just exactly what is it that makes the jeepney a continuing fascination for artists? In the early part of the 20th century, there emerged in Turin, Italy, a movement called Futurism, with the proclaimed aim of liberating the country from the from burden of the past. Futurism promoted a vision of tomorrow propelled by the spirit of modernity and the power of technology. The driving impetus were movement and speed, dynamism and energy. All these qualities were to be embodied by the machine. Thus their favored subjects were automobiles and trains and racing cyclists.
“We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed,” the Futurist manifesto by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti declared. “A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”
Clearly the Pinoy jeepney played up to this exalted notion of a new kind of beauty. Filipino artists were quick to recognize the aesthetic potential right in their midst.
And so, to the jeepney was ascribed all the exciting virtues of the modern day; in fact, becoming the perfect vehicle for the Pinoy’s aesthetic and decorative fervor, its carapace sporting a fiesta fever of colorful plastic tassels and bunting, miniature twinkling candles around the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, with a phalanx of stainless steel horses placed triumphantly on the hood, the steed glinting in the noonday sun, as the jeepneys careened their way, bumper to bumper, on Manila’s hotly steamy and congested, asphalted roads. No less of an attention-getter—besides being so readable —are their painted pop slogans: “Katas ng Saudi,” “Driver Sweet Lover” and “God Knows Hudas Not Pay.”
Unfortunately, the jeepney has been buffeted lately by so much aspersion and derogation. Viewed in comparison with the MRT and LRT (never mind that their trains and operations keep breaking down!), the jeepney now presents a less glorious image, tarnished and desperate for redemption, and may just in fact ground to a halt. The Chief Executive of the land seems bent on enforcing his will.
All these feelings and sentiments come rushing in when viewing this rather large suite (39 at last count) of Wilwayco’s latest prolific production line of painterly jeepneys. They are all executed in the artist’s vaunted bravura style of painting, his technical mastery once again in full throttle, and leaving no doubt that Wilwayco is today’s superlative practitioner of this type of painting in the country.
All the works feature the jeepney from a side view, with its distinctive shape of body and roof, and only the detached whirling wheels send the vehicle spinning off in pictorial space, presided over by Wilwayco’s trademark brush strokes, a rich application of glistening oil pigments, and a profusion of graphic marks and drippings.
To this latest series, Wilwayco ascribes the word “sinfonia.” Does it refer to the symphony of the streets, which is in fact… cacophony? But to some, who knows, all that honking and beeping may be music to the ears… We know that the artist is wont to paint with classical music in the background, a stimulant to the other senses. We know, too, that Wilayco has created other series of works which are hommages to specific composers such as Vivaldi and Dvorak, or to musical forms such as scherzo. Certainly, this is laudable, much aligned to Kandinsky’s equivalence of abstraction to music, thus his works titled Compositions and Improvisations.
Finally, these paintings ask to be judged as paintings, not as exercises in nostalgia, not as relics of a cultural icon, should the day come when the jeepney will no longer be in sight… vanished and gone the way of the dodo. With the continuing demonization of the jeepney, who knows what its fate may be?–CONTRIBUTED
“Jeepney Sinfonia” opens
with a reception on April 20,
6 p.m., at Manila House, 8/F,
Net Park Bldg., Taguig City.