February 1, 2023

How do you describe two people who have two opposing art styles with different ways of presentation?  One is predetermined while the other works in his “dagdag-bawas” art style. Both complement each other in temperament. They have the same reverence for indigenous culture, love and passion for animals, and pets. They have an animal kingdom and it seems there is sort of a spiritual bonding that exists among them. Both have the same early background and beginnings in the world of art having been trained in the Philippine High School for the Arts in Makiling by well-known art mentors Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan. They have gone separate ways and would meet again and again in different art scenarios.

Their rise to fame would win them the most coveted 13 Artists Award of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Nona Garcia in 2003 and Kawayan de Guia in 2009. They both won the Philip Morris Art Awards. Nona got hers right after graduation and Kawayan in 2004. They have both exhibited their art works in different international biennales across Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the United States. Both are multi-awarded, simple, humble, and grounded. I believe, I can say that too for most of the Baguio artists- a trade mark, whether first, second or third generation. Their paths crossed again. They now both work and live in Baguio enjoying their dogs, cats and Hakaw.  Mathew Stover once said, “Opposites attract, but similarities bind.”

This is the story of the parallel opposites Nona and Kawayan. Two parallel persons with similar or analogous art. One could compare them to a horseshoe magnet with very strong north and south magnetic poles. Each one continuously working in his and her own force field but complementing each other just the same.Opposites really do attract.

Nona comes from a family of doctors. In fact, her interest in oil and x-ray painting was influenced by her growing up in their family hospital in Marikina. Using the hospital as her “hangout,” she was mesmerized by the x-ray machine as a photography equipment.

“Her parents groomed her to be a doctor,” says Kawayan.  Nona interjects, “But after one year of pre-med in La Salle, I enrolled in Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines.”

“Nona probes into the essence of things, setting up a dichotomy between the transparent and the concealed. She gives life a new meaning to her works. The framed and the natural, the sublime and the everyday.” Nona’s works are exquisite. Her wood painted on wood, concrete painted on concrete and x-ray boxes are enthralling. She has pioneered unique x-ray necklaces. You would think, her works are pictures in a coloring book, when in reality they are oil paintings. Her meticulous attention to detail is mind boggling. A combination of painting, drawing and illusion. Nona relocated to Baguio in 2013. At first, she just rented a place for vacation, until she found out that her soul blended into the ambiance of Baguio’s nature and weather. ”I was looking for a place where I could work amidst nature, which was quiet and peaceful,” explains Nona. “While vacationing, I brought some of my painting tools and found the right atmosphere for my work. I like to work in solitude and I found it here.” The  Baguio magic caught another soul,  who would call Baguio her home.

“Si Nona, she is very focused and pre-determined. She does her work one at a time. One single image until she finishes it. She really plans everything,” explains Kawayan. “Ako, I work at eight to 10, huge and multiple canvasses all at the same time. I figure things out, collage and recycle things.  I collect and put found objects together, recycle and sometimes I make dagdag-bawas.”

Kawayan comes from a family of artists and is the second son of National Artist for Film Kidlat Tahimik. His older sibling is Kidlat Sr., another film artist who is married to Lissa Romero. Younger brother Kabunyan, is a mosaic artist who relocated to Davao is married to Malaya Camporedondo. Kaw initiated the AX(is), an art project  in 2011,  promoting the local artists community in Baguio and the Cordillera. They painted sheds along the highways. In fact, his AXis project included beautiful installations at the Rose Garden. It was the height of the creative works of the local artists. It was colorful, fun and full of life, as Kidlat Tahimik would say, “indi-genius”, and paved the way to the discovery of their “sariling dwendes”.

Kawayan had been mentored by the Baguio art “elders” Santiago Bose, Bencab, and Robert Villanueva who were all members of the Baguio Arts Guild. He exhibited huge installations like “Bomba” or decorative torpedo bombs at the Jose Vargas Museum and Jukeboxes transformed into Pinoy jeepneys here and abroad. He was a curator in numerous exhibits all over the world, one was during the 2013 Singapore Biennale. He and Nona exhibited works at the Arndt Gallery in Berlin and the APTC QAGOMA in Australia and other galleries and museums in Manila, Asia and Europe.

Nona and Kawayan are animal lovers. They have 10 dogs, two cats and one huge two-year-old pig named “Hakaw.”

The pandemic reawakened the cook and baker in Nona. After restoring the Kabilbiligan (Re-imagined) mountains mural of Santiago Bose last March 2020 at the Saint Mary’s School in Sagada, Mountain Province, they housed about 15 people during the pandemic lockdown. They were filmmakers, producers, a father and son duo from Palawan and a producer, who all helped in the restoration of the mural in Sagada. “Baking is almost the same as painting,” says Nona, “it is systematic and quite meditative. You have to organize and to follow a certain preparation and process. I am used to working at home. Nothing much has changed in our lifestyle except the travel and that we had plenty of visitors who were locked down with us.”

Kawayan on the other hand, painted portraitsin acrylic of the people who were locked down with them. He is at present, doing a collaboration work with another artist.