JAIME ZOBEL:  LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTUALIZATION

MANILA, December 1, 2005 (STAR) ARTMAGEDDON By Igan D’bayan - A philosopher once wove a parable about a wise guru who bellows to his overzealous followers, "One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil. Lose me and find yourselves. Only when you have denied me will I return to you… You must become who you are."

That’s what Jaime Zobel de Ayala – chairman of Ayala Corporation, philanthropist, photographer, art patron and an artist himself – has been doing for the past 28 years: attempting to "actualize his being" and to capture with his trusty camera nature and all its ephemeral glories. ("Photography teaches me not only to see and remember, but also to reconcile myself with my finitude, and let go," he says.) As well as to apply the techniques (in terms of color, composition and form) he learned from his uncle Fernando Zobel, and to create something new altogether.

Zobel considers the late great Filipino-Spanish artist his mentor and inspiration for the style he calls his own. "He didn’t teach me how to paint; he taught me how to see," he sagely says, adding that he used to attend art appreciation classes taught by his uncle at the Ateneo in the ’50s and had long talks and correspondences with him about art, the greatest of all deliriums.

"(I learned from him how) to do away with the incidentals and simply concentrate on the essentials," he quips.

Zobel’s latest exhibit is called "Journeys With Light: A Tribute to Fernando Zobel," which opens on Dec. 1 at the third floor gallery of the Ayala Museum. The opening of the exhibition will coincide with the launch of a similarly titled book, a collaboration involving Zobel and Philippine STAR columnist Jose "Butch" Dalisay.

The book compiles the photographer’s most memorable pictures, including early black-and-white portraits, images of nature, collages of flowers, pictures of seas and oceans, as well as various abstract compositions. (Journeys With Light is available at Filipinas Heritage Library and the Ayala Museum.)

A Light That Never Goes Out

When Fernando passed away at the age of 60, Jaime Zobel de Ayala tried to figure out how he could pay homage to his strongest influence. "When we constructed the Ayala Museum, we thought what a wonderful opportunity it is to be able to display Fernando’s works on a permanent basis. But that was just part one."

Part two came by way of the "Journeys With Light" homage, which features 20 photographic artworks. The idea was to present the synchronicities between Jaime’s works (culled from the past 10 years or so) and Fernando’s. He explains, "Having made a general selection with a panel, we zeroed in on specific themes. Surprisingly, it was the very first time my works were put side by side with Fernando’s. I didn’t want to present just the similarities. I want (viewers) to see the transitions – this is Fernando’s influence, and this is (what I created)."

Some of the works include Zobel’s experiments with photography in glass. One of them is "At Night The Cranes Go Home To Sleep," a three-paneled piece depicting gracefully floating objects that remind Zobel of the gangly birds he spotted with a telephoto lens in his Batangas farm – like a visual haiku. "The imagery doesn’t relate directly to Fernando’s work. (The influence) is subliminal – whatever you see could relate to his style."

Another work titled "Games of War" shows a strikingly somber abstract surface divided by a red line, which creates tremendous tension. "There are lots of red lines in Fernando’s paintings – especially during the time he was heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese art. After talking with some artists, I came to the conclusion that the red line is like a statement." Like one of Ares’ cruel arrows.

If the exhibit deals with similarities (Jaime’s "White Series No. 11" bears a resemblance to a painting by Fernando), it also dwells on how the younger Zobel has created his oeuvre. "I learned from him, and now this is what I’m doing. This is purely me."

Thus, the exhibit is a sort of homecoming and a departure at the same time.

"I will never cease in creating works as I get inspired. (People from) galleries tell me, ‘We just want to know what your direction is.’ I can’t answer that. There is no goal. There is no purpose. I just want to create," he shares.

Zobel’s artistic path teems with cycles. As he wrote in the foreword to Journeys With Light, "The drift of living – at least while there is God-given time – continues." And what a strange and beautiful trip it has been for his art.

The photographer has explored phases like a traveler stopping from station to station in search of that one elusive epiphany. The riot of colors and monolithic petals in "Flores y Formas." The intuitively arranged dissections and collages in "The Spectrum of a Flower" and "Seasons of the Mind." (Zobel makes use of a technique that recalls Beat writer William S. Burroughs’ cut-up-method: "When you cut word lines, the future leaks out.") The surrealist juxtapositions in "Layers, Levels and Light." (Which is my favorite phase in Zobel’s body of work.) The Zen-masterly arrangement of shells and spaces in "Zobel and Zen." The cryptic shapes in "Symbols." Not to mention his poignant odes to light. Butch Dalisay was right on the money when he said that Zobel has elevated photography to the level of philosophy, or brought philosophy down to the level of the concrete.

"Everything starts from a photograph, and then it goes beyond the photo," says Zobel. "If I take pictures of a wall, by the time I’m finished with (the artwork), it has nothing to do with a wall. It’s something totally different."

One time, Zobel tried to take a photograph of a flower, but his eyes started to wander to the left of the subject, and then he saw peripheral shadows, colors, and forms. He completely forgot about the flower, and ended up focusing on the "things happening around it."

Yes, intuition and serendipity play key roles in his art. The same way chance, accidents and little quirks of the universe influenced the works of artists like John Cage or Jackson Pollock. But if their art communicated chaos and entropy, Zobel’s works exude quietude and simplicity. An escape from the fast-paced life he leads? He reveals, "I can never completely be detached from business – since my whole life has been dedicated to it. But art is my means of self-expression. Some people say these two aspects form a dichotomy. On the contrary, they’re complementary."

The juggling act, the journey to self-actualization, the seeking and the finding continue. Before one sets out for the road, one must become the road.

For wide-eyed wanderers like Zobel, there is no telling what images will pop into the existential lens.

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Jaime Zobel de Ayala’s "Journeys With Light: A Tribute to Fernando Zobel," opens on Dec. 1 at the third floor gallery of the Ayala Museum. The Ayala Museum is at the corner of Makati Ave. and Dela Rosa St., Makati City. It is open from Tuesdays to Fridays (from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Saturdays and Sundays (from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.). For information, call 757-7117 to 21, or visit www.ayalamuseum.com.

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For comments, suggestions, curses and invocations, e-mail iganja_ys@yahoo.com.


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