By Jocelyn de Jesus
They learned their truths at 70.
Whether a series of aha moments or wake-up calls nudged visual artist-teachers and longtime friends Bim Bacaltos and Ernie Enrique toward their respective epiphanies when they both turned 70 this year, their newfound truths have birthed the works on exhibit in Heaven and Earth.
Happily for them and for us, these works—breathtakingly detailed doodles on completed crossword puzzles, photographs of supernal visions, graceful colors and rhythms of nature in acrylic on paper and canvas, and gritty pottery—celebrate fresh beginnings rather than hint darkly at the vicissitudes of age.
Heaven and Earth is thus a celebration of lives richly lived in love, laughter, and tears; lives that have reached out and up, time and again, heavenward, for relief and in thanksgiving, or lives that have dug deep into the soil/earth to ground the soul in humility, to take their place alongside all living beings.
When tragedy struck Bacaltos in 2018—his wife fell gravely ill and shortly passed—he struggled to work his way through the “maelstrom of feelings and struggle for meaning swirling inside.” Particularly at this time, doodling relentlessly on completed crosswords—a drawing style that came about sometime in 2014, when a particular word (solution) sparked a spate of ideas (i.e., synonyms and images) that led to a spontaneous doodling of an imagined face, in particular, that of Judas the Betrayer and his anguish over his act of betrayal—proved cathartic.
He says, “The Ignatian spirituality of finding God in all things, including, and especially, in…tragic events, imbibed in formative years in school and at home, found expression in images of faith, hope, and paradoxical gratitude for all the blessings received in life.” From this sprang a series on local medicinal plants, another on patron saints for healing, yet another on heirlooms and childhood mementos, and elements in nature cast in new light.
Hence today we share Bacaltos’ life journey in a series, titled Doodling on Completed Crossword Puzzles, and another, Works in Acrylic on Paper and Canvas, which is all about finding God in all things.
Similarly, Enrique, a lifelong photographer, is ever on the lookout for new and different light, having created an extensive series of photographs of sky and cloud formations at different times of day that he has been uploading on social media platforms over the last several years. Some of the best of these he shares in this exhibit, which he succinctly calls the Sky series—and, he says, none of these photographs are ever the same in spite of the immutability of the heavens.
One only need look to the skies for inspiration and rejuvenation, Enrique reminds us, echoing Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” At the same time, we turn heavenward in times of both gratitude and despair, in our search for answers to endless earthbound riddles.
His vision was perhaps cast skyward when he realized that life after photography and teaching could be more deeply rooted to earth, whence life springs every day, in defiance of death and decay.
Nearly three years ago, Enrique turned to pottery with a hopeful heart, this time indulging his love for manual work. Getting down and dirty proved to be his thing, too. And today, in his pottery series, titled “Offering to the gods,” Enrique, gives thanks and praise to earth’s guardian spirits, with a special clutch of blue bowls called “The Cesar Hernando Collection,” which he dedicates to dear friend and fellow-teacher Cesar Hernando, who passed last year.
Bacaltos and Enrique enjoin us to celebrate Heaven and Earth, and the infinite joys and sorrows in between.
The Heaven and Earth exhibit will be held on Nov. 3-17 at the Fine Arts Gallery in the Faculty Building of the UP College of Fine Arts.
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