Monday, January 2, 2017

CXXXIV: Give Art on Christmas Day 2016

Having commissioned an annual Christmas card artwork for several years now, one would think that there might already be a formula or process for getting the next one done and dusted each year. 

In fact, there is: start scouting around for possible artists soon after the New Year, narrow down the choice of artist by Easter Sunday, ask the chosen artist for a few studies representing possible Christmas artwork ideas, choose one of those to pursue by Trinity Sunday, give the artist until September or so to complete the artwork, have the artwork professionally photographed before All Saints’ Day, send off the photographs to the layout artist, then finally have the cards printed and delivered before the first Sunday in Advent.

Whether the actual process complies with the above blueprint is another matter altogether of course.  Thankfully, in most years it does, more or less, or at least the built-in allowances in the schedule allow for the possibility of recovery in case of delays or hitches. 

In some years, one can “cheat” by starting the selection process even before Christmas of the prior year!  Unfortunately, this past year, that had not been the case, as it had already been the end of summer and we still had not identified the right artist for the commission.  (I am happy to note, though, that the usual reason for this is that many of the artists recommended to us are too busy with prior commissions or are preparing frantically for upcoming exhibitions, rendering them unable to complete yet a new commission in time for Christmas.)

Fortunately, a strong recommendation came in before the onset of the monsoon season, and after preliminary introductions, we had agreed to look at some studies, which came in in mid-August.  The first one was provisionally entitled “Three Kings”.

The next one was called “Holy Family”.

The last was “Mother and Child”.

Clearly these were very good starting points, which begged to be rendered in full color.  The artist dutifully acceded, using the “Holy Family” study to show off her preferred color scheme. 

With such a bright and lively palette, the obvious next step was to go on with the production.  However, we chose to go with the “Three Kings” study as the basis of the final artwork.  The artist confirmed the start of the artwork production by sending me this color palette strip.

By October 1st, the artwork was well-fleshed out,

and by mid-month, the finished artwork had been delivered, with professional photography completed just a couple of days after,

and the printed cards on-hand by late November. 

Here’s the artist’s biographical note:

Born in Marilao, Bulacan in 1988, Catherine “Catcat” Mendoza graduated from the University of the Philippines in Diliman in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, major in Visual Communication, where she also took up ceramic classes.  She is now based in Occidental Mindoro, where she continues to work as an artist in painting and sculpture. 

Catcat’s work is driven by her interest in the spiritual beliefs and traditional practices of indigenous people, with a perceptive understanding of their social and cultural values
and their significance in today’s contemporary society.  Her present work, “Tatlong Mago,” reflects these interests, with the representation of traditional textiles and musical instruments working with a seasonal color palette to depict archetypal Christmas imagery.

As her relationship with art evolves, personal transformations navigated by the
teachings of the ancient people leave an imprint on Catcat’s artworks.  Her hope is that the process serves as a conduit to a healing path, which is what she believes is the heart of her craft.

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In most years, we also have a standard Christmas gift that we distribute to all the individuals on our Christmas list.  In previous years, these had been specially selected (I do not dare pretentiously say “curated”) compact discs (CD’s) and digital video discs (DVD’s).  However, I have noticed that many people, especially the young ones (i.e., everyone younger than me, which is probably three-fourths of the Philippine population), no longer own playback devices for these discs.  Apparently, even if these technologies were groundbreaking twenty or thirty years ago, and are still mainstays in our own home, most people now consider them archaic, the same way I thought vinyl records were (although surprisingly those are now returning, but that’s another story), and just get their audio and video feeds via the internet and on handheld smartphones and equivalent devices.

Since we don’t like to give food for Christmas (there’s already too much of that going around this time of the year!), the thing to do was to identify another kind of standard gift that was not going to be rendered obsolete by rapidly advancing digital technology.  Without reaching too far back into recorded history (scrolls?  parchment?  stone tablets?), the obvious medium was the codex – that’s “book” to us 21st century homo sapiens sapiens.

We had given books as standard Christmas gifts many times in the past, but it has never been easy to pick one that was not only not ubiquitous and pedestrian enough that it would not already be on the bookshelf of the recipient, but also so well-written to be our recommended read, AND sufficiently representative of what my family and I believe in and subscribe to.  Amazingly, there were a few such books that had come out in the past year, but we had focused on the outstanding new book from Raissa Robles, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again.

We were lucky enough to place a sufficiently large order with the publisher for a few hundred copies of the book last summer, at a bargain price and before it came out in bookstores, where it promptly sold out. 

I don’t usually do book reviews, and this article is about giving art for Christmas, so instead of a review, let me talk about what we next did with the book.  In the past two years, our standard gifts (a DVD, then a book) were artfully packaged for us by our townmate, craftsperson and heritage advocate Rheeza Hernandez.  This year, we had asked her to take the Marcos Martial Law book and recommend appropriate packaging for it.  She promptly showed me three studies by mid-September.  The first one was “Hand”.

The second one was “Hand and Head”.

And the last one was “Splat”.

All of the options went for red-spray-painted-stencilled jute sacks, barbed-wire rendered in silver-painted rope, and a tricolor “puni” dove.

We chose to go with “Hand and Head”.  And in case the packaging was too “bloody”-looking and perhaps too morbid for Christmas, Rheeza and I agreed to change the ribbon from red to green.

By mid-November, most of the few hundred copies of the book had been packaged by Rheeza, ready for dispatch or hand delivery.

So if you were on our gift list for this book, consider yourself doubly fortunate for having received an originally crafted artwork (in the form of special book packaging) from the Rheeza Hernandez Workshop in Malolos, Bulacan.

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And triply fortunate because you would also have received Catcat Mendoza’s original artwork “Tatlong Mago” in the form of our 2016 Christmas card.

From my family and me to you and yours,

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon!

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Originally published on 31 December 2016. All text and photos (except where attributed otherwise) copyright ©2016 Leo D Cloma. The moral right of Leo D Cloma to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.