Child of Color

June 5, 2007

*An ode to my cousins and to the place where it all began

One of my favorite childhood memories contains an old workshop, some paint, and lots of sawdust. I used to spend a lot of time in my aunt Susan’s house, and, because her husband, Tito Roy was a visual artist, I became exposed to the wonders of oil, acrylic, watercolor, and canvas (and the heady fumes of turpentine) at a very early age. For me back then, Tito Roy’s workshop was a magical place where wonderful things happened.

On one such visit, my elder cousin, Kuya Ian, was hard at work on a piece of wood. He was using an old saw to shape it into something long, then he would ask me and his little brother, Mik, to use sandpaper (liha) to smoothen out the edges. He had a cowboy hat on, and would shout, “Liha! LihaI” in a Lone Ranger-ish manner while working on the wood. Eventually, I realized that we were making a sword—and what a wonderful thing that was, indeed!

A short while later, the sword was completed, and we proceeded to paint it bright red. A bright red sword, and we had made it all on our own!

(It didn’t matter that Kuya and Mik later on used it to scare me all around their house. It was an adventure in artistic creation, and I was a part of it.)

I have many more favorite memories from that household. There were sleepovers when pudgy—okay, fat—little me would squeeze in beside payatot (stick-thin) Mik in his single-sized trundle bed, and both of us would desperately try to get some sleep in our shared space. Now I realize how much of a nightmare it must have been for Mik every time I slept over (“No, Mom! Not her—again!!!”). There were also nights when Kuya and Mik would have Twilight Zone marathons in their eldest sister’s (Ate Rachel’s) room, and they would scare the living daylights out of me with their monstrous re-enactments. They let me play with their Atari, and then later on their Nintendo, and Kuya and Mik’s extensive G.I. Joe collection as well as Ate Rachel’s Barbie townhouse, and they even helped me with my homework and my art projects for school. I was like the fourth sibling in their household, and I loved every minute of every visit there.

Looking back, I also realize that it must have been there where my dreams of becoming an artist first took root.

I remember watching Ate Rachel at work with her plates (she studied interior design), and I marveled at how great she was at blending the colors from her colored pencils and making her drawings look so much like the pictures that I saw in her Japanese interior design magazines. I wanted so much to draw like she did, or at least color my drawings in that same watercolor-y, Japanese-y fashion, but my hands were too heavy, and my pictures always came out looking very stark and bright (hence, my present inclination to the works of Henri Matisse).

I also enjoyed being surrounded by Tito Roy’s paintings. One piece that stands out in my memory is his depiction of a nuclear holocaust, where there was a skeleton (or his version of Death), coming over to a barren home. The elder man on the lower left-hand-side of the painting looks exactly like my grandfather, and I remember looking at that painting and wondering what Lolo might have been worrying about, with that look on his face.

There were many paintings, many things to wonder about, and I resolved, at that early age, to always be surrounded by art and artists, and by the creative journey and discovery that they all represent.

* * * * *
Yesterday brought all of these feelings and realizations back, as I stepped into Tito Roy and Tita Susan’s studio loft in Antipolo, where I had come to shoot the father and sons for an art feature for Mega. The old house where the memories were first made is no longer theirs, but the paintings served as a reminder of the wide-eyed wonder, the childlike awe, the impulse to create that had defined my childhood years. The family dynamic has changed as well; Tito Roy is no longer alone in his artistic pursuits, as both Kuya Ian and Mik have come into their own as visual artists. There are now lots of new paintings, new testaments to the creative wisdom that my uncle and cousins have cultivated within themselves through the years, but the recognizable colors and figures from my childhood were still the ones that I liked best.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born into a family such as mine—where freedom of expression is not just taught, but inherited; where curiosity does not kill, but enlivens; where colors and images and words—in whatever form, whether serene or obscene, foul or fair—are not statements of judgement, but are testaments of Being and experience; where you can be whoever you want to be, because you yourself are a gift, and anything and everything that comes with you is a blessing.

I am a child of color. I am a child of lime and purple, of cerulean and fuchsia, of cobalt blue and vermillion, of burnt sienna and emerald, of canary yellow and periwinkle, of gray, black, and white. In my world, colors not only describe; they define. Art is not a luxury, but a cornerstone. In my world, the process of wondering, seeking, wandering, and discovering… is everything.

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