His Only Son
February 17 – 21, 2016
Art Fair Philippines 2016 – The Best in Philippine Modern and Contemporary –
Art Cube Gallery, The Link, Makati Avenue corner Parkway Drive,
Makati City, Philippines
7 Deadly Sins
Beatitudes of Jesus
Sculptures in Virina
Vigil, Candleholders and Cross
FAITH CAN MOVE METALS
By Cid Reyes
In last year’s Art Fair Philippines, a metal sculptor took the art scene by storm, as it were, with his sculptural renditions of a most unexpected, but thrilling and yes, curious, subject, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The show was titled “Curiouser and Curiouser”, a phrase uttered by Alice herself : “she was so much surprised that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English.” Not surprisingly, it was among the most visited booths, with crowds of visitors lingering in front of the pieces, literally ogling each work with extreme delight and fascination: Alice’s skirt transformed into a whirling lacey table groaning with teatime appurtenances and petits fours. Or Alice encased in a seeming infinity of mirrors and reflections. And, indeed, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the Duchess, the Gryphone, the Dormouse, the Dodo, et al, sprouting in surreal apparitions out of gleamingly ornate silver teapots. The show was a triumphant bizarrerie of familiar and beloved characters form one’s childhood.
One needs to harken to this show, if only to relish the memory of those charming works, (a smile still lingers at the thought, appropriately enough, like the grin of a Cheshire cat, a character from the book!) Too, one can better appreciate the protean talent of this sculptor. Indeed, for the 2016 Art Fair Philippines, one can only advise the visitor: prepare to be astonished!
As remote and detached as these new works may be from their predecessors, they are distinguished by gravitas, or seriousness, and while at it, think of the other Roman virtues, such as pietas, dignitas, and virtus, for here they are abundantly mined as clearly demanded by the subject. Impressively, Daniel de la Cruz has imposed upon himself the sculptural interpretation of the Holy Book: passages from the Gospel, the Psalms, the Proverbs, and the Prophets, topped by the Sermon on the Mount where Christ delivered the Eight Beatitudes, and more daunting still, the Seven Deadly Sins. One may be puzzled by this shift in direction, though previous works had been created by De la Cruz on the subject of the Christ. His manifest affection for the subject is indicative of his faith, not unlike wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve. This show is, in fact, the frankest display of his faith, that he should put his art and his craftsmanship at the service of a deeply spiritual experience.
The title of his show is “HISONLY,” (where the second syllable is highlighted by a subtle hue), derived from the John 3: 16 passage, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In fine, this title piece virtually establishes both the aesthetic and emotional ground of all succeeding works, all in mixed metals, reconciling the integrity of the sculpture with the expressive narrative and symbolic weight of the selected passage. While rich in mental and emotional discourse, mercifully they avoid visual rhetoric. The central figure in “His Only Son” comes as a shock, for Christ is depicted as a Child already crowned with thorns, as indeed his destiny had been foretold in the Old Testament. What is wondrous is that de la Cruz has conceived the figural forms by turns from a universal and a Philippine viewpoint, with such incorporations of native touches, suggestive of sights at the Quiapo and Baclaran churches, brimming with their local auras, energies, values, and of course, contrarian characters. Where else can we find the worshipping of false prophets and the deception of naïve, pietistic but gullible folks, but in these hallowed sanctuaries?
In the Eight Beatitudes, (the word comes from the Latin beatitudo, meaning happiness) De la Cruz applied a mellow temper to each work in which its power resides, perceived almost as if the sculptor was also wearing the hat of a theatrical director. The key is the articulation of a specific gesture: the pregnant woman caressing her belly, the child within representing the meek that shall inherit the earth; the grieving mother, needing comfort, as she carries the lifeless body of her child; the innocent and the pure of heart in the persons of children selling sampaguitas; the persecuted man howling in pain, both his arms tied behind him. The figures all wear a halo of sanctity, for truly, the beatitudes are regarded as the “blueprint for living an authentic Christian life.”
Is it any wonder that the Seven Deadly Sins have so engrossed artists and writers from centuries ago? From the second chapter of Dante’s La Divina Commedia, the Purgatory, to Peter Breughel the Elder’s prints, the seven vices and afflictions that chain humanity to its basest level have served as powerful visual motifs. All the works are encased in glass, adverting to the virinas of religious statuary, with the figures reflected against a shattered mirror. The works are so charged with a strong dramatic temper, such that they send shivers of shock and tension, drawn from an inventive and innovative manipulation of the material. An agitation of the spirit emanates from these works, each labeled with the Latin term for each vice: Avaritia (Greed), Pigritia (Sloth), Superbia (Pride), Luxuria (Lust), Guia (Gluttony), Invidia (Envy), and Ira (Wrath). Each is intensely symbol laden and impressively devoid of traditional visual clichés and referents.
As statements in sculptural terms they embody the full and fluid volume and mass of the naturalistic human physiognomy, caught in frozen gestures, but whose steely flesh is violated and subverted by the sculptor’s seething aggression: shards of glass embedded on the figures’ back reflective of the vehemence of their wrath…a mirror held in hand by a masked figure whose body is slowly eroded by cancerous acid…a big bellied ogre of a man with an insatiable appetite for the gluttonous blandishments of fast food consumerism. Overcome by sloth, an imprisoned figure seated on a skull can hardly exert the effort to escape to freedom through the opened grill. In a reference to the ubiquitous glass-encased donation box in our churches, seen inside is a figure greedily wallowing in a shower of paper bills. (As an act of participative art, the audience is enjoined to donate, the sum of which, shared the sculptor, will be donated to charity.) Consumed by lust, man and woman partake of the illicit pleasures of the flesh in a metaphorical musical joust, where each one can play the other like a musical instrument, and where, unbeknownst to them, both are manipulated as puppets by some evil force.
Like altar pieces, the works are mounted on a pedestal or plinth, which are more like a stage lit by light, and where the space has become a virtual chapel resounding with lugubriously tolling bells and Gregorian chant, and should they be lighted, the smoke of candles emitting from their tallow, shaped in the eerie mold of a naked ancient man, bowed with age and resignation. Of these works one can only humbly borrow the words of one critic so taken by the works of the sculptor Brancusi: they are “marvels of art and dazzling examples of craftsmanship.”
If, as is always said, faith can move mountains, literally or metaphorically, so will metal respond to a force that shapes it, of which the mere manner of heating, hammering, cutting, soldering and whatever secrets of the smithy can summon from the fire, will be all dross, without the faith and creativity that ultimately animate it. For Daniel de la Cruz, his faith in a Greater Power, from whence he draws his own creative fire that smelted “His Son Only” into existence, is sufficient unto itself.
Cid Reyes is the author of books on National Artists Arturo Luz, BenCab (with Krip Yuson), J. Elizalde Navarro, ad Napoleon Abueva. He received a Best in Art Criticism Award from the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP).
Related article to this exhibit: