Monday, October 31, 2011

The Crucible of the Idols

[Part 4 of the "Daemons" series]

TWO BEDEWED FLOWERS blossomed from the rubble, their delicate but bright yellow petals bobbing against a backdrop of dust and grey. The surviving wall staggered at an obtuse angle as it weathered the early morning light and the curtain of September mist that spread throughout the city. Fragments of old concrete littered a short stretch of the sidewalk, some reaching as far as the other side of Dimasalang Street. A pedestrian momentarily stopped to glance at the little hills of debris, and then continued to walk away from the vacant lot where my art gallery once stood.

With the way things have been, the land owner had more than enough cash to finance his European itinerary for six months while the archdiocese now had the space to build its sixth shop for the kind of art that praises the heavens more than anything else. Before the year ended, the new building was already three floors closer to god, leaving no trace of the dreams and nightmares born and martyred in that same earthen spot. In its immaculate whiteness, the mint structure was the immediate succor for pious art enthusiasts who always find reasons to celebrate the mysteries of their faith, wine glass on one hand, unleavened bread on the other, and a little sin in the pocket.

I sold some of the paintings at generous bargains and gave most of the framed sketches to friends and a few relatives who were willing enough to let my art grace or disgrace their walls like scars on porcelain skin. Either way, I had to find them a new home. Where I live during weekdays, there is just enough legroom for eight paint canisters, nine frames, four canvases, a rundown mattress waiting for the retirement it deserves after more than a decade of service, three biographies—Vincent Van Gogh, Ernesto Guevara, and Robert Johnson—two Orwellian novels, the King James Bible, a small collection of copper wires, and the wheel of a Volkswagen I stole almost six years ago after downing thirteen bottles of beer during an art exhibit. There was not much. On weekends, I stay at the art gallery. Unfortunately, I will never be there again.

Clara was already in Manila when she learned about the demolition. Her first few days in college were beyond trite. Breathing alone was already a challenge for someone enrolled in a university where students and professors find refuge and sustenance in prayers during scheduled hours of the day, fencing their selves with the grace of something regal and divine against anything noxious to their faith, and where everything fell under the censorship and blessing of the friars who, for reasons known only to them, thoroughly believed in their own illusions of impenetrable grandeur and all things supposedly worthy of the Eucharist. Her art, personal and impassioned as it has been ever since, was her only oxygen. But even that almost escaped her had it not been for her choice to overturn the impasse of indecision by pursuing her real interest.

Although Clara took business administration, it only lasted for a while. By second year, Father Pio could no longer rein her in with his words. The tirades kept coming, letters sent one after the next, each dispatch an annotation of the one that preceded it, longer and less diplomatic, but they failed to sway her. Maybe they were only efficient during Sundays in church before a flock of strangers thirsting for the promise of salvation premised on a prophecy. They were not as efficient a thousand miles away where all the noises of urban existence silence the voices of angels and saints suddenly finding their way in reveries, in pulpits, and in letters unanswered and left to stale in the drawers. With her firm resolve in tow, Clara transferred to the college of fine arts.

Even if he knew that he may have already lost Clara, Father Pio thought he still had the blessing of Rome. And he still had. At fifty-five, he was decreed archbishop. Some of the pious art enthusiasts were present in the celebration, yet again wine glass on one hand, unleavened bread on the other, and a little sin on the pocket. His brothers in the order who lobbied in his favor probably saw in him the spirit of someone eager to receive all the flak without sacrificing his pride before the surge of indignation. The year was 1988 and he had little time to waste.

Religious art began to flourish under the watch of the new archbishop. The church has found its contemporary apostle for the monuments of saints and the colorful murals and paintings in the person of Father Pio, ageing but now drawn more than ever to the lure of visual aesthetics. He had commissioned the finest artists in the archdiocese to refurbish the face of the church, even going to the fringe by ensuring the flamboyant inauguration of five museums solely dedicated to clarify the religious roots of Nueva Caceres. He became more than a vanguard of the art of the church. He was its visionary and chief patron. Too preoccupied with his ambition, Father Pio was unaware that Clara refused to finish her degree. The letters stopped coming. But whatever she lacked in the academe she made up for her artistic exploits far beyond the guarantees of a college diploma.

Since her last exhibit somewhere in Makati City, I have not heard from her in three years. But by thirty, she turned her self into a piece of the same art she has created. By then, her metamorphosis was complete, like pollens becoming two bedewed flowers that have blossomed from the rubble.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5


jason said...

cool po ang blog nyu... sana mag sulat pa kayo ng marami.. =)

SPLICE said...

Maraming salamat! :)