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Roland Bay–an:
Painting the road less travelled
by Hanna Lacsamana

Guiding young artist towards improvement and to keep one of Baguio's namesakes as artis's haven, artist-painter Roland Bay-an spends most of his time at the sidewalk and a small space at Bookends along Claudio St. owned by Maricar Docyogen, where he and his works along with other local artists found a home and a place to share their talents and do humanitarian activities. -- Hanna Lacsamana

It’s been said somewhere in the pages of a book that courage and honor are the blood and breath of a soldier, and through rank and medals, they get recognized for it. The author says that in the event these two qualities get compromised in the line of duty, taking one’s life is the only way to reclaim them.

Far from the battlefields survived by escaping the line of fire and never getting oneself held hostage by the enemies, 64-year-old Roland Bay-an does not have to take the soldier’s ultimate route to live and breathe courage and honor in his chosen field. But from the time he touched a paint canvas at a tender age inspired by the pebbles under the crystal waters at Trancoville, Baguio City, up to now that the younger generation of artists looks up to him for guidance, sir Roland has faced challenges to the dignity as an artist painter. But he chose not to lose courage and honor by never letting himself be slaved by fame and money.

For Bay-an, courage means following his passion for arts with freedom, not confined by the rules, or dictated upon by others’ satisfaction for the sake of a higher price. Courage for him is not asking for recognition for his work, just for others to appreciate painting per se and the importance of arts.

Honor for him is not choosing who, how, and where to share his talents – even if it takes sharing to others from a sidewalk, as long as people are interested and willing to learn. His studio does not need to be confined in four walls.

Bay-an has chosen to paint for the sake of painting since he was a kid, and since then he has been taking the road less travelled, because even if many appreciate artworks and put tons of money for a masterpiece, most are simply admired from afar, not something to be bought like candy, and are not truly appreciated for its importance.

Little did Bay-an know, more than fame and money, that as a Baguio artist he was also making himself an instrument in heralding the city not only as a haven for artists but also in placing Baguio and Benguet in the bigger canvas worthy to be preserved.

Sketching on the wall; honoring the Ibaloy woman

A contemporary of National Artist Ben Cabrera, Bay-an did not have to look far in finding the perfect subject to paint using oil, pastel, but mostly acrylic as his medium. Together with his pals, the young Bay-an used to play along the banks of what used to be a river in Trancoville, where he was captured by the beauty of the pebbles adorning its waters. He and his friends would race to get the most beautiful, usually white stone, but he would go and draw some sketches. He had his first subject.

Born from an Ibaloy mother who traced her roots in Kapangan, Benguet and with whom he is deeply attached, Bay-an, born and raised in Baguio, would then draw her sketches while she worked. Sometimes he would draw on the walls of their house, earning him a motherly spank. But he continued to draw, on the walls and in every scrap of paper he could find. At this point he has found the subject that would dominate most of his canvases: the beauty and grace of an Ibaloy woman, even when hard working, and would later become his personal masterpiece.

“Some people would say, mas-yado naman yatang maganda ‘yung babaeng nasa painting, mestisa. I would say, yes, that’s how the Ibaloy woman looks, maganda,” Bay-an said.

When not picturing the likes of his mother through paint, Bay-an captures Benguet landscapes and the colors of the Baguio mist, as they were, without embellishments, which would then become his trademark: no loud colors.

He is also known for finishing a painting in under five to 15 minutes.

Among the more or less 3,000 Cordillera artists, Bay-an is one of the few who focuses on Benguet and Baguio as inspiration of his subjects.

Maganda ang lugar natin. Hindi ka mauubusan ng puwedeng ipinta,” he said.

The painting waiter, waiting painter on cardboards

Bay-an didn’t survive by painting alone. Sticking to his principles, he took the courageous path of finding a living to feed and support his family. Old-time Baguio folks would remember him as a waiter at the former Dainty Restaurant from 1979 to 1998.

Even when he was recognized as an outstanding waiter during his employment, Bay-an’s passion as an artist-painter did not take a backseat. He painted on broken cardboards and boxes of cakes in bet-ween waiting tables, as the talent and just wanting to do so couldn’t just be suppressed.

There he met some of the artists from Tahong Bundok, a group of home-grown visual artists that made waves and started the culture of art exhibitions in Baguio City.

When he was introduced to the other artists, Bay-an didn’t even have an idea what an artist or an exhibit meant, much less that he could sell his works. He just knew he wants to paint, and paint he did and still does.

He agreed to make some painting and bring it for exhibit. He was shocked to learn that a painting could be priced as much, that he tagged his works half the price of that of the other artists, knowing that what he made would not sell.

It was sold. Until now, more than a thousand paintings after, it never ceases to amaze him that other people would want to buy what he considers as an outlet for what he ordinarily does for his own satisfaction. He remembers selling his first painting at P250, and the second at P400.

Encouraging and guiding raw Baguio talents

After he retired as a waiter, in 1999 Bay-an became a resident artist at Tam-awan Village, where he helped pioneer the on-the-spot sketch painting of portraits of visitors and guests.

There he held painting sessions with budding visual artists, which included, among ages, abused children.

With other children, his task involved hours of teaching them the basics of art painting as well as adjusting to their moods and holding their attention.

With the abused children, Bay-an made it a point not to touch them, not even for a pat in the back, or mention names or situations that would remind them of their bad experience, but just help them make painting or sketching a form of therapy.

He worked with Tam-awan until 2010.

Hindi ‘pagtuturo’ ang tawag ko, I’m just guiding them para mag-improve sila.”

In 2005, he was part of the group of 19 Filipinos, together with BenCab, who were chosen to the17th Biennial Art Exhibit in South Korea. There he sold his sole entry depicting the Ibaloy woman at P25,000, paid on installment basis.

Last year, he met Maricar Docyogen, proprietor of Bookends bookshop along Claudio Street, where his search for books that he initially cannot afford led to exchange deals and part of the birth of Pasakalye painting sessions hosted by Docyogen.

Pasakalye: Connecting artists, teaching in the sidewalk

For a year now, Bay-an has been among the 25 active visual artists who have found a home for their works and painting sessions among the books, walls, and spaces of Bookends run by Docyogen. The location, a hole in the wall attached to ukay-ukay stalls, is a perfect drop-off and convergence point, including for a cup of coffee, and one could just forget the time browsing and choosing books to take home and get lost in the beauty of hundreds of canvases, paints, and finished art hung and strewn in every space there is.

As Bay-an and Docyogen, who first thought of decorating the bookstore with any painting that could be bought anywhere, struck a way for the artist to take and trade some books, their conversation led to the paintings on the walls. Together with other artists such as Art Lozano, who one by one started dropping by the quaint books shop – particularly about a painting for the cause of kidney patients in need of financial aid – the Pasakalye Art Circle was born and successfully raised P15,000 through the “Sketch mo, buhay ko.”

Simply, Pasakalye at Doc-yogen’s Bookends brings the art studio out from the four walls into the sidewalk. From the shop’s windows to the sidewalk, artists have a venue to do paintings, within easy reach and view by people who pass by the area. There, artists without need of formal lectures show on the spot every stroke and how a blank canvas transforms into a work of art.

More than providing them an active art space, Docyogen said the Pasakalye is slowly being able to help artists display and sell their works and at the same time help in humanitarian activities.

Bay-an has become one of the regular mainstays at the shop. People from all walks of life and those interested to learn how to paint can come and see how the work is done and interact first hand with skilled hands. His son, 29-year old Vincent, has followed his footsteps and is often seen finding his muse and bringing canvases into life in the sidewalk studio.

At the moment, Bay-an and other local artists are involved in harnessing talents of the students from the Baguio City National High School taking up visual arts as part of the K to 12 program after partnering with Bookends through a memorandum of agreement.

Masaya ako dito. Hindi namimili, tapos may audience, on the spot. Actually nagpi-pinta ako d’yan, ‘di ko alam na may nanunood. Kung gusto nila okay, kung hindi okay lang din. Kung merong gustong matuto, willing kami mag-share,” Bay-an said.

Docyogen said there are lots of students and other young artists in Baguio who have first-rate works just waiting to be discovered and given proper guidance.

“They just need exposure. Although Baguio is an arts capital, it is sad to learn that sometimes our artists get more appreciation in other areas than in our own city,” Docyogen said, who due to her interactions with artists learned bits and pieces of their real plight, where some go to the extent of bargaining their works like an ukay-ukay item to fund an immediate need.

Others would exchange a painting for a kilo of rice, while some are contented getting back what they spent on painting materials, never mind the talent and time poured over a masterpiece.

Due to her affection for artworks, Docyogen dreams of seeing local artists in better standing. In her own way, baby steps are being taken to organize them and come up with regular exposures that benefit all its members.

Docyogen said the Department of Tourism Cordillera under its Rev-Bloom Baguio campaign has been providing support through logistics and bringing local talents in touch with opportunities for exposure.

As the Pasakalye Art Circle starts making waves, the city government through the city council committee on tourism plans on conducting a pasakalye-like activity at the Igorot Park in partnership with Bookends where on the spot sketching, music, and art performances could be held, as a way of promoting tourism through home-grown arts and culture.

Love the craft, but learn to survive

Bay-an said he really wants sharing whatever he knows about the craft, believing there is an artist’s side in everybody.

Gusto ko talagang nagshe-share sa mga baguhan, para mag-improve sila. Maraming nagpupunta dito (at Pasakalye) para magpaturo, maraming interested,” Bay-an said.

His advice: “Sinasabi ko sa kanila, ‘wag nilang isipin ‘yung pera. Hindi dapat pera ang priority sa pagpipinta. Kung iisipin mo ‘yung pera at ‘di mo mabenta, madi-disappoint ka. Kung puwede, maghanap ka ng trabaho na puwede kang kumita. Pero ituloy lang nila ang pagpipinta para patuloy silang mag-improve.”

For him, art is a form of chronicling history.Though artworks are appreciated but for the wrong reasons, it plays an important role in the society, especially in Baguio and Benguet’s past and developing times.

Noong World War II, hindi lang naman ‘yung pera ang itinatakbo para isalba. Ang itinatago ay ang mga painting. ‘Yung Europe, ang safekeeping ng mga painting ay sa Amerika. Bakit hindi nila pinabayaan? Marami namang libro na kung saan nasusulat ang history, pero ang number one sa paglalarawan ng bawat panahon ay ang painting,” he said.

Winning line

Described as a low-profile person who shuns the limelight if he could, Bay-an would take pride of his years of experience and doing what he likes, rather than having fame and money.

Wala akong plan. Diretso lang sa paggawa. Di ko naman ina-after ‘yung fame or money. Ayoko ng ganun. I don’t need to be rich or famous. I just want to be happy. Pinta lang ng pinta.”

He prefers as much as possible selling his works to those who really understand and appreciate art. Although he does not find his works masterful, he continues to find better ways, and maintain the dignity of making art.

Nag-waiter ako ng matagal. Hindi ko pinrostitute ‘yung trabaho ko. Mas pipiliin ko pang ibenta ang gawa ko ng installment o mas mura ang bayad sa taong gusto talaga at totoong nag-appreciate kaysa sa willing magbayad ng mahal para gumawa ako ng painting na babagay sa sala nila,” he said.

However, he believes artists need support in sharing their works through exhibits and exposures.

Ang exhibit, social task ‘yan. ‘Dun makikita kung naa-appreciate ba ng tao ang trabaho mo. Kailangang (magkaroon) ng lugar (para sa) gallery ng mga artist ng Baguio.”

To young artists, he said he believes in years of experience and having their own style. “Huwag kang mangopya, kasi kapag nangopya ka, ginagawa mo ‘yung ginawa nila. Dapat gawin mo ‘yung sarili mong style, kahit gaano kasimple, panindigan mo.”

Ang payo ko, ‘wag silang makuntento sa trabaho nila. Kasi kung kuntentong-kuntento ka, hindi ka na magi-improve. Continue learning. In my experience, ‘yung mga nakontento sa trabaho nila, hindi sila nag-improve.”

He said it’s like having a contest between a young and old artist. The young artist spent a year developing his piece, carefully minding the details on his entry. The veteran, on the other hand, came up with a single line on his canvas, and won the applause and approval of the judges.

Aghast, the young complained.

Hijo,” the elder said, “Ikaw, isang taon mong ginawa ‘yan. Ako itong linyang ito, 50 years kong pinag-aralan. Kahit ga-nito kasimple, sumisimbolo ito ng maraming napagdaanan. Kaya kapag nakakita ka ng gawa ng matanda na parang laruan lang, matagal ‘nyang pinag-aralan ‘yan para maging detalye ng ating nakaraan.”
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