Monday, March 7, 2011

SATOSHI on Letras Y Figuras and Alvaro Jimenez (Part 2)

Back in December 23 2010, I wrote a piece on Letras y Figuras ( after redicovering a Christmas card based on a Letras y Figuras painting by Alvaro Jimenez. Letras y Figuras is perhaps the most unique Filipino design arts during the Spanish colonial period. It is usually composed of different human figures, animals, plants and other objects that are creatively arranged, colored and shaded to form the name of the person who commissioned it.

Today, I am not so sure how many artists in the Philippines still practice this type of painting, not to mention how many people in the Philippines actually know of this art form. Because these type of paintings are usually commissions of the somebody's name, they go directly from the artists hand to the hands of the person who commission it. This means that the general public actually have very little opportunities to see one in a gallery, unless the painting features plain words such as Pasko (Christmas).

Satoshi 's Alvaro Jimenez Letras y Figuras painting, 2002

I got acquainted with this artform only after stumbling on a PASKO painting on the desk of the gallery manager of the Ayala Museum Gallery and Gift Shop in 2002. Together with it was the color proofs of the Christmas card (based on the painting) that the manager has developed for gift shop. Since then, I tried to find out more about the artist Alvaro Jimenez, but to no avail until I rediscover the Christmas cards in my desk drawer last year and tried to search the net again.

Serendipitously, a few months after I wrote the piece about Letras y Figuras, a close friend of the Alvaro Jimenez's daughter stumbled upon my piece and contacted me... to cut the long story short, a website dedicated to Alvaro Jimenez has been established and I get to interview and feature him!

Letras y Figuras Master: Alvaro Jimenez

SATOSHI KYO: When and how did you discover Letras y Figuras? Do you remember who the artist was?

ALAVRO JIMENEZ: It was in year 1988 when Mrs. Sonia P. Ner, former Director of Ayala Museum (Philippines)suggested that I do a Letras y Figuras “PASKO” (Filipino word for Christmas) without a background for the museum shop. I was lucky enough that my first attempt on Letras y Figuras was immediately accepted and printed to be one of their Christmas cards to be sold in their museum shop that same year. Though that time, I was already familiar with the works of the nineteenth-century visual chronicler Jose Honorato Lozano.

SK: What is it about Letras Y Figuras that attracts you?

AJ: It’s the magic of the artwork that attracts me more. When you look at it, its just a plain painting; but a deeper or closer look, you will be able to identify or recognize the figures and surprisingly they form into letters.

(left to right) Mr. and Mrs. Alvaro Jimenez with Former Philippine Present Corazon C. Aquino

SK: What makes a good Letras Y Figuras?

AJ: A good Letras y Figuras is a combination of a good layout, a unique composition of figures to form the letter and its colors. And also, the figures that is formed to make the letters should coincide with the background. In addition to that, when you take a look at the whole artwork, you would not easily identify the letters, unless you take a look at it from a far or by squinting your eyes, that makes the Letras y Figuras more interesting.

SK: What is the most difficult part in creating a Letras Y Figuras painting?

AJ: The most difficult part in creating a Letras y Figuras is the individual composition of figures to form the letter. Because each Letras y Figuras artwork has its own theme and subject.

SK: Do you create a new design for each letter each time there’s a new commission?

AJ: Each letter is an original composition and will not be repeated at all.

(left to right) Phil. Transportation & Communications Secretary Jose “Ping” de Jesus, Corazon C. Aquino, Mr. and Mrs. Alvaro Jimenez

SK: When people commission a work, what do they usually request, require or ask about?

AJ: Most of my previous commissioned works were related to Philippine culture and tradition which includes Philippine festivities or fiesta. And as for the background, i usually include old churches, ancestral houses and Philippine sceneries.

SK: Anybody famous that you have done Letras Y Figuras for?

AJ: I was lucky enough and honored to have done commissioned works for some highly respected personalities like Queen Sophia of Spain, former President Corazon C. Aquino, former President Fidel V. Ramos, Dr. Jaime c. Laya, Don Jaime and Bea Zobel, Juan Miguel Ongsiako y Villanueva, Antonio Floriendo, Emilio T. Yap, Henry Gozon, Rosvida Alcantara Dominguez and Irene Marcos Araneta.

His Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain (1st lady from the right) presented with a Jimenez Letras y Figuras painting during her visit to the Philippines in 2008 for the Philippine Independence Centennial celebration

SK: Do you know of anybody else doing Letras Y Figuras? Who are they?

AJ: I don’t know any particular artist who also does Letras y Figuras at present, but Instituto Cervantes has conducted a Letras y Figuras competiton before and their works were then exhibited at Metropolitan Museum of Manila in 2005.

A fine example of a biographical Letras y Figuras painting: this is for a Philippine TV network CEO.

SK: Does anybody else in your family does Letras Y Figuras?

AJ: No one.

SK: What do you think is the future of Letras Y Figuras in the Philippines?

AJ: I am hoping that in the near future, more people would appreciate this kind of artwork.

A typical commission usually includes an old church and ancestral houses

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