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taken from filipinasmag.com
"Manong with a Hoe" by V.C. Igarta

But, once, I was able to articulate a poem for Igarta. Interestingly, the poem is narrative versus abstract; I am also aware that abstract language can obviate (the Filipino tradition of) storytelling—and in this poem I wished to be clear about my homage to Igarta. The poem occurred after I visited in 1996 the unfamiliar landscape of Siberia. There, many sought to enliven the dull coloration of their surroundings by painting their residences with colors as radiant as those found on an Igarta painting. In Ulan Ude, a particular wooden door's colors inspired me to write:

-after V.C. Igarta's paintings of
    color squares

There is a wooden door
in Ulan Ude,
cracked in places,
a wash of faded blue paint,
marked by pale green diamonds.
I snapped a photo
because it reminded me:

There is an island
in the Sulu Sea,
an emerald floating
on lapis lazuli
staining, too, the sky.
On a cloudless day
the horizon is a lady's seam.
That infinite expanse reminded me:

On a night train traversing
Siberia into Ulan Ude,
Ivan, a Russian geologist,
apologized for his English
by reciting Pushkin
in his native tongue.
Ezra Pound was correct:
how "inarticulate sounds" transport
when poetry is an axiom called MUSIC.

I hope Igarta had known Bose and Villa—artists whose works, like great Art effectuates, engenders experiences that cannot be anticipated.

I was led to write this essay by an invitation from Santiago Bose to his exhibit at Pacific Bridge Gallery. At the exhibition, I encountered Carlos Villa's paintings whose spirit evoked for me my long-unrealized promise to Venancio Igarta. Bose, Villa and Igarta are all Ilokanos—as I am. Once, Igarta told me, "You're the only Ilokano I've ever met who is interested in fine art." I don't know if that's true (the old man might have been flirting), but I hope Igarta had known Bose and Villa—artists whose works, like great Art effectuates, engenders experiences that cannot be anticipated.

This essay was inspired by the spirit underlying Villa's paintings. By moving me to write on Igarta, Villa's paintings ultimately led me to recall a poem I once wrote for Igarta. As I read this poem now, I feel an invisible burden lift. I have written on Igarta—I have mentioned the vicissitudes of his life. But the essay, nonetheless, ends in one of the purer forms of abstraction: music.


"In the beginning," Celia Zenaida Aborros writes in Igarta (1991) the only major monograph of Igarta's work, "Igarta used colors not as acts of faith but as acts of innocent impulses." By finally fulfilling my promise to Igarta to write on his paintings, I discover that, ultimately, Igarta's colors elicit my faith: notwithstanding the sufferings he underwent as a Manong and later as a misunderstood artist, Igarta's life was a life well-lived. I believe Igarta understood my reticence. Also hanging on the wall in front of my computer is a portrait he painted of me. I look sideways rather than directly at the viewer—thus, did Igarta portray my tendency to arrive at what revelations I muster by taking the longest paths possible to those discoveries.

In my portrait, an abstract though humanoid figure floats behind my shoulder. Igarta said he painted the form "because it just surfaced as I painted; so I let it remain in the painting." But when I pressed him to identify the shape, Igarta relented and said, "It's your guardian angel."

I didn't tell Igarta at the time but will reveal it now: I believe Igarta's "guardian angel" is my poetry "muse." In painting my portrait, Igarta abstracted from my image into what I hope to be my essence—a spirit that I hope can be distilled by how I live my life into one word: Poet.


Selected Bibliography and Acknowledgments:

Igarta, text by Celia Zenaida Aborro and Shehbaz Safrani, 1991

Oral History Interview with Carlos Villa by Paul Karlstrom, 1995, Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Igarta Monumental Figures—Memorial Catalogue, 2000, text by M. Teresa Lapid Rodriguez and Ninotchka Rosca, V.C. Igarta Arts Center for Filipino/Americans

"This Code Before Us: Carlos Villa at the Treganza," an essay by Theo Gonzalves for San Francisco State University's 1998 Babaylan Exhibit

"Filipino Immigrants in the United States," an essay by E. San Juan, Jr. published in Philippine Studies (Volume 48, 2000), Ateneo de Manila University Press

"Filipino Artists Depict Conflict in Oakland Show" by Kelly St. John, San Francisco Chronicle, October 6, 2000

"Transported," a poem by Eileen Tabios was first published in Pacific Enterprise Magazine, 1998 ©

Related Links:

V.C. Igarta:

Carlos Villa: http://www.asianartnow.com/spirit/pages/spirit_main.html

Santiago Bose:

© Eileen Tabios

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