Guillermo’s Wind of Change

It was 1981 when art critic Alice Guillermo published Endaya’s Wind of Change at the Observer magazine, a weekly supplement of The Times Journal. At that time, she was already an established art critic; from bagging the Art Association of the Philippines’ Art Criticism Award in 1976, to having her byline in multiple publications. It was also her fourth year of teaching at UP Diliman as an Assistant Professor in Art History and Theory. These contexts are important to understand how she tackles writing criticism, as Patrick Flores puts it:

The language and the method of criticism are finally sharpened in light of the praxis of Guillermo, foremost as a writer in media and popular culture who endeavors to reach out to a wide public…

He also adds:

[H]er writing does not suffer pretensions and cares for the public’s labor to ponder and probe, not consumed by the fantasy and conceit of cultivated fluency.

Her review on Imelda Cajipe Endaya’s Paintings show in 1981 reflects Flores’ ornate description of her style of writing which, to put it simply: succinct, engaging, and informative.

The first sentence of her piece is a clear indication of the critic’s familiarity with the artist’s oeuvre as Guillermo explained the weight of the exhibition’s seemingly simple title. Prior to Paintings, Endaya mainly worked on printmaking, marking this show as a critical shift in the artist’s practice medium-wise.

Different manifestations of change were also reflected in the subject matter of Endaya’s paintings, which Guillermo used as well to provide an overarching theme, structure, and flow to her piece. Instead of describing the space or certain curatorial choices, Guillermo anchored on change. She expressed this in an early part of her essay:

Indeed, [Endaya’s] work is able to convey the turmoil, even the passion, that attends the dynamics of change. Pictorial space, for one, is not based on the accustomed formulations of perspective in depth, but is more a mental and psychological field where a host of images, of emotional value, drift in and out or appear in a flash in the mindscape without gravity.

In terms of describing the artworks, the critic approached it in an economical manner. While she precisely outlined the predominant style evident in Endaya’s exhibit, she did not zoom in on each artwork. Instead, for the individual works, she grouped and mentioned them as she focused on their coinciding expression of change.

Throughout the article, Guillermo was generous with descriptions but minimal with her criticism or opinions. Going back, the platform where this was published is a factor as weeklies were typically read on weekends, so the writer must have considered the more relaxed state of the reader as well.

Nevertheless, she injected subtle jabs on social issues by interweaving it with her illustrations of change, but none were as direct as these lines near the end:

A related theme which Endaya pursues is the psychological lag of the masses in relation to the rate of change… It is a lag, however, that results from the inadequacy of educational opportunities, the lack of substantial cultural fare, and the economic exploitation of the masses—factors which keep them on a subliterate level.

While not explicitly stated, there is a hint of a Marxist approach within those statements as she showed how art can reflect economic and social conditions of the time. This strategy was also noticed by Flores:

Guillermo reweaves this theoretical textile through a careful teasing out of the strands of the formal fabric without letting the fabric overdetermine the form as mere sociological function. Useful in this operation is her turn to the semiotic as a sieve through which the material condition of art and the artistic condition of the material are imagined to condense in sensuous particularity and political quality.

In the last paragraph, the critic’s approval of the show was expertly delivered through her summary:

Imelda Cajipe-Endaya’s paintings combine the virtues of high visual impact and richness of human meaning. In a vivid, painterly, and original style, she raises questions in Philippine contemporary life rarely posed in painting before. She ably captures the color and texture of emotional experience in an art that interplays past and present and that identifies and sympathizes with the contemporary Filipino and his plight.

Overall, the uncomplicated yet profound writing reflects Guillermo’s conscientiousness with her audience. For those in the field of art, she skillfully implanted esoteric ideas and opinions without alienating the general reader, however it also sacrifices a more critical stance towards the show to some extent. But more importantly, for the general public, she made discussing art accessible.

This was written for Art Criticism (Art Stud 255) course in UP Diliman, 1st Semester AY 22-23.

Quotes from Flores and Endaya’s Wind of Change can be found in Frisson: The Collected Criticism of Alice Guillermo.