Monday, October 24, 2011

The Virgin at the Gallery

[Part 2 of the "Daemons" series]

AS YOUNG AS ELEVEN, Clara already had this vague idea that there was something spectacular about the marriage between religion and art. She thought that, once consummated, it necessarily gives birth to eclecticism. To her mind, the two were equally divine, the yin and yang in the cosmic world of pious Catholics. Nothing was far more perfect than having both in one corpus.

Where she was born and raised, wooden sculptures and marble statues of saints occupied the vacant spaces beside the trellis. Portraits of the Last Supper, of Madonna and the Child graced the corridors, and colorful murals depicting heaven decorated the concrete walls and ceilings. Her more tender years were shaped inside that world where charity was certain to find its cradle any given day, Sunday most of all when Father Pio would celebrate mass and share the body and blood of Christ with his brethren. The great unwashed, he would often describe them in his private quarters during his evening retreat for spiritual contemplation.

It was in high school when Clara first chanced upon an unflattering fusion of art and religious icons. She was out for lunch on her first day as a freshman in an exclusive school for girls run by nuns since the 1950s or as far as I can remember. Some of the students were starting to make their exit from the first gate of Saint Agnes College, perhaps excited to explore the peripheries of Dimasalang Street. My small art gallery was barely ten meters ahead on the opposite side of the road. It was hard to miss, especially for one whose young age of twelve was betrayed by how ahead of her time her mind was.

“Wow!” That was her first remark, which sounded like an inaugural slip of the tongue, as she stood by the door, her feet immobilized by whatever it is that she saw before stepping inside the shop. Her apparent curiosity got the most of her at that moment.

“Hello there young lady, come in,” I said, waving my hand in the air not so much to ward off a new face, although I thought about it at that time. At first, she hesitated to approach.

“Did you make all of them, sir?” She briefly surveyed the plethora of paintings and sketches as she walked inside. “They’re all beautiful.”

“More than half of all the artworks that you see here are mine.” I followed her as I would follow patrons and enthusiasts who visit. It was instinctive rather than habitual. “The others were made by my friends,” I told her.

“The religious paintings and sketches look strange.”

“What do you mean?”

“There is not one that illustrates the traditional image of Christ.”

I took a deep breath. “What does Christ look like?”

“Not like any one of the faces you have here…”

“That may be true.”

“…except your portrait over there.” She was pointing at the small framed sketch gathering dust near the corner. She was right, it was my portrait — a pseudo self portrait. I drew it about two years ago and left it there to age in its own ferment of narcissism. I felt ashamed again.

“Ah, yes. That one,” I finally said.

“The hair, the beard, the mustache, the crown of thorns and the crimson from the wounds — everything screams Jesus,” she paused, “well, except for the nose. It’s very — Filipino.”

“I swear that is very uplifting for you to say.” My voice had its vigorous enthusiasm suddenly amputated from the rest of my ego.

“You are welcome,” she said, rubbing more sarcasm than what she must have first intended.

That was how we first met. In the weeks that followed, she would visit more often during lunch. She would ask many things about art, and I would answer, oftentimes much to my chagrin. I think I learned more from her than she learned anything from me.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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