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An Artist comes back

A major problem which has faced many of those born with a talent for one of the arts has been the tricky one of where to make a home. This is not only for reasons of economics, but because an atmosphere of appreciation, and the give-and-take of being a part of a vital group of fellow artists is essential.

The problem was had enough in earlier days, when various cultures were centered in cities or provinces which had become centers of self- sufficient culture. Today, with the rapid interchange of ideas through motion pictures, television, radio, and the printed word, the problem is much worse. For all practical purposes, the center of contemporary art in the Western world shifted from Paris to New York during World War II, and though many artists, critics, editors, publishers have tried to establish other cities as centers at least equal to New York, the economic pull of New York has proved far too strong. It is not only a center of commerce and finance but is also a vital center of communications. Many artists from areas outside the United States face the problem of trying either to keep their own heritage alive -- adapting to the art concerns of New York -- or of developing an art form which merges both. The case can become even worse when the artist comes from a culture in which there is no dominant native tradition, either European or indigenous.

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Such a place is the Philippines. Centuries ago, there were native cultures on the various islands. They developed strong traditions of handsome, simple earthenware which were used for both domestic purposes and in the worship of the various native gods. But when the Chinese traders arrived a thousand years ago, with handsome hard-fired wares, the native cultures were wiped out. Later, Muslim influence from Java, pushing up from the south, met Spanish elements flowing through Mexico from the West, but before a new art tradition was strong enough to develop, the Americans arrived. In the last century, artists have faced the problem of attempting to develop themselves out of this richly varied melange which contains no unified visual elements. Those with talent for any of the arts often feel that, to find themselves, they must spend time studying and working outside the Philippines.

Jose Joya, dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines, studied in the United States. But he was impelled to return to his own country to help others understand the contemporary Western art which was dominating the art world of museums and galleries. One of his most recent major exhibitions was a retrospective held in a large grade school in an area of Manila near the docks -- an area not often seen by tourists or business people from abroad, but filled with the life and energy of the Philippine people. The exhibition was carefully arranged in chronological order so that the students and the residents of the area could see that Mr. Joya had first begun by drawing things familiar to them, such as the human figure and the buildings of the neighborhood, and then moved on to collages and the paintings which seemed to have to subject matter, such as "Blue Dialogue, 1975," an acrylic-collage work 40 inches by 26 1/2 inches, done in blacks, browns, light graybeiges and strong blue. Such an exhibition also helped those viewers, not familiar with the life of the area, to trace the influence on Mr. Joya.

The problems which face an artist attempting to do what Mr. Joya is doing are many and complex. Mr. Joya has chosen to try to bridge the gap between the international art world and his native country and he has succeeded in both worlds. Recognition comes from his own countrymen in the form of commissions and sales while many collectors and galleries from the contemporary international art world are adding his work to their collections.


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