COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
A photograph tells of a certain reality at a particular place and time, frozen at that exact moment, and may reveal to us a piece of truth of a situation. But since reality is in a constant flux of events, images may have been different seconds before or after a photo is taken; like in a volcanic eruption, a flash flood, or even just a moving traffic in a city’s main streets. Still, a photograph is a great testament to history, showing us the ravages of war, the devastation of a famine, or the simple wonders of nature.
A painting on the other hand, may also tell us of a certain reality at a particular place and time, but more often representational or symbolical, as it incorporates the artist’s impression and subjective interpretation of that event. So an image does not only tell us of its literal meaning but also reveals to us deeper truths—a glimpse of the collective unconscious, a flight of intuition, or a spark of genius. It is in this deeper revelation that a painting recently caught my attention.
While looking at the painting exhibit mounted by the Leyte-Samar visual artists last June at the CAP building, I was attracted to the work of Edmundo Q. Balan Jr. Well I guess, disturbed could be the more apt term. The painting was titled “Journey in the Fire of Water” and it was done in oil on canvass dated 2007. At first glance, the image is nothing unusual—a boat carrying five native Filipinos sailing in the middle of the water—a typical scene in this country of many islands. Until you look longer and hard and feel the stark contrast.
The water is vibrating with energy, painted in big wide curves showing a turbulent current. The movement of the water is magnified with the use of bold strokes, making the strokes appear like sound waves surrounding the boat. And the color of the water is not your usual blue or green reflecting the sky or green earth, or even muddy brown as found in a few lakes. But the color of fire; ranging from yellow at one end of the boat, to orange, red, blood red, to brownish at the other end. While the big wide curves of the current is done in yellow. Now the water here is fiery, blazing, and bright.
Then amidst the turbulent and fiery water is a world of calm, of stillness, of stagnation. The boat, viewed from the top is static, so stable and placid it doesn’t seem to move. Seated at the middle are a man and a woman facing each other, the man carrying a lone small fish and the woman, with her a child in her arms. Two men rowing at both ends are facing opposite directions and also rowing at opposite directions. One rower is covered with a hat made of tikog and the other wearing a sarok. And inside the boat, the cool colors of blue and green contrast the warm yellow and red of the water.
Balan’s painting is so striking in its contrast of stillness and movement, coolness and warmth, yet balanced. What disturbed me however was what the image seemed to suggest, for it somewhat represents the state of affairs we are in. Our country is journeying in the fire of water and not making any movement out of that current. We are in the midst of stagnation for the rowers of the boat we are in are leading us in different directions. The rowers of the boat we are in are the only ones protected with head covers from the sun, and most likely the only ones who can swim to a safe land. And within that boat are: a helpless child, and probably a helpless woman, a small fish, and a man still away from the security of a dry land. So fitting a symbolism, of which I felt upon looking at Balan’s painting.