There were just these places that remain unnoticed until someway, somehow, you find yourself finally acknowledging its existence. Tucked in the university’s cradle of trees is a gray and white structure that nests portrayals of moments frozen in time and emotions framed in different hues – the Vargas Museum. I did not really pay attention to the structure because I thought it was just one of those old museums that had displays that were from centuries past until a particular painting caught my eye while I was sipping a latte in the Museum Café in what I thought was an uneventful morning.
On one of the museum’s walls was a painting on a large, circular canvas that had different shades of blue and white. I was not sure of what it was exactly depicting but I was so drawn into the large plate of bluish paint that I was able to finish my latte in two minutes and immediately went inside the museum.
The guy in the reception area greeted me with a smile. He told me I was that day’s first visitor. I asked him how much I will pay to see the paintings. He asked me, “Are you from UP?” I nodded. I found out that, on Wednesdays, UP students do not need to pay the entrance fee. Well, it was my lucky day.
The museum was so quiet but it was the type of quietness that was not bothersome; it was a certain kind of silence that lets you walk slowly and examine each installment. The only sound that reverberated across the glass-paneled walls of the museum was the clicking sound the little heels of my ballet flats made.
I finally had the chance to see the painting up close. Dark blue paint came from the circle canvas’ top and bottom while the white paint came from the sides. The colors blend towards the middle creating lighter shades of blue. The heavy application of paint was evident from the sides of the circle and graduated to lighter strokes as it approached the middle of the canvas. It did not look like the old, brown things I used to see in museums; it was something new and refreshing.
The receptionist told me that there were more paintings upstairs. I went up and saw works of art by Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo, and Vincent Manansala – painters whose works I have only seen in my highschool art textbooks. The works of art are enclosed in different frames – sometimes in ornate wooden frames and sometimes in aluminum and chrome-plated frames – juxtaposed with clean white panels.
Though I was not familiar with the techniques they have used, I found that some of the paintings looked just like patches of paint from afar but as I came closer, the subject of the painting became clearer.
Juan Luna’s Picnic in Normandy, an oil painting that featured men and women having a picnic in the grass fields of Normandy, is a perfect example. From afar, the image depicted in the frame was not clear until I was able to encounter the painting face to face. Luna’s play with the dark and light colors was evident in the painting, and the angle he took was different as well. As I looked even closer (I was careful not to bury my nose in the painting), the brushwork was apparent in the painting. I even felt like it was done in a hurry. The flowers, upon closer examination, did not even look like flowers; they were just dabs of color in the painting. Although details on the painting were not focused on, I felt that the overall effect of the calmness and serenity of the picnic in a place such as Normandy was achieved.
Most of the paintings in the Vargas Museum’s permanent collection featured rural landscapes – the natural lighting of the sun as background and the everyday activities of the people in rural areas as the subjects in the foreground. As I went frame by frame, stories of different kinds of lives unfolded before my eyes. I was transported back to when life was simpler and more nature-loving. Each painting was a piece of history frozen in time; an artifact of the past in full color.
I stifled a chuckle at my sudden reading of some of the paintings. It was then I realized that I was alone in the museum; with no one to share the sudden discovery of the meaning of each image in the frame, of each delicate brush stroke. Though I enjoy solitude most of the time, reading art required a certain kind of company; someone to validate or contradict my own reading of the image.
I lingered in the museum longer than I should and than I expected myself to be. Although it was a brief encounter with works of art, it made me think twice about museums and galleries. I appreciated art more because of the Vargas Museum. The trip also made me took an Art Studies 2 class where I learned about the history of art and techniques and styles in painting, and discovered other art forms like graffiti and installation art. Taking the class eventually led me to visiting more art museums and galleries and even attempting to create my own work of art.
I recently went back to a photo I took of the painting that lured me into this art-filled existence and examined it again. I remembered the first time I saw it and viewed it as heavy strokes of paint gravitating to the middle as it lightens. Reexamining it, I saw the light colors in the center bursting into darker and heavier colors as they radiate in the edges. Maybe it was what art did to my life; from a life in bleak monochrome, it bursted into a colorful one when I encountered art. Surprisingly, the art piece was from Lui Medina’s Metamorphic Histories, an exhibition that hinges on the possibilities of history-making, both national and personal.