At 71, my Dad, the illustrious and practically legendary Filipino filmmaker Peque Gallaga, embarks on a new artistic venture and opened his first one-man solo art exhibit Gray Matters at Gallery Verite last night. For the opening, many of his friends, colleagues, and family came to witness my Dad’s artistic renewal. In just one exhibit, he was able to reinvent himself. He expanded the territory of his artistry to include the visual arts, not just filmmaking, and reinvigorated his creative spirit.
I’m not surprised that it was a success. All his illustrations were sold that evening and everyone shared how impressed they were about the skill that my father displayed in his artwork. It wasn’t just polite lip service, either. I don’t think so and it wasn’t just because of the technique that came with the delicate and deliberate graphite strokes that made each drawing; they recognised an artistry that explored even deeper themes from each individual piece and the collection as a whole.
Still, ever the story-teller, he was telling a story but instead of film, he was doing it with a single static human moment devoid of a background — the subject floating in a blank space — forcing the viewer to look inside the subject and finding within them a story, one that is not still, one that is not unmoving.
It’s high praise, I must say, and I’m his son, so maybe you shouldn’t take my word for it. But I’m paraphrasing art critic and artist Cid Reyes in his write-up of Gray Matters, found in the brochure. He explains it better:
Floating in pure open space of the white paper, isolated from any sense of the outdoor or domestic containment, the figures are unmoored from the structures of narrative that obtrusively arise in our imagination.
And while I am extremely proud of him, the whole experience was a different one for me. We are living in the same condo and I was there when he first began to put the collection together. I saw him go through the whole process, learning as he went along, piece after piece. I’d like to think I provided a sounding board for him to articulate his discoveries in the medium and, by doing so, allowed him to fully realise what he was doing and move forward.
Maybe I’m overplaying my role in this whole thing but as he was creating each piece, it had a profound effect on me. While most people would see an established artist exploring a new medium and see it just as that, living with him throughout this process, I saw a 71-year old man start from scratch and engage in what may be the beginning of a new venture into a whole new art form.
As his son, his student, his collaborator, and his friend, I was struck by this surge of hope that in the future, if I’ve reached a point where I wanted to try something new, I could and my age shouldn’t and wouldn’t be a hindrance to me and that I should not be afraid to go and do it. My Dad is living proof that you could start over, if you wanted to, and just throw yourself into something and it is perfectly okay.
Of course, like in many things that my Dad engages in, he manages to do it with flair and success. That might not be the case for everybody but at his age the success isn’t what matters. What matters is that he did it.
And all of a sudden, I’m not scared of a future where things will be boring and a future where nothing will be new.
Living with him throughout the creation of this exhibition, I saw my Dad as a 21-year old fresh graduate, happily making new discoveries and feeling self-conscious and anxious again. The fountain of youth is what comes to mind, he is a 71-year old man experiencing the things twenty-year olds experience and I realised that you are only as old as you act and as you feel.
If anything, that is just another wonderful teaching that my father has left to me and that I will carry with me forever. Because of this — because I saw him through this whole process — I will never be afraid of growing old, of this idea of the redundancy of the advanced in age, that life can always be exciting and new and unexplored if you hold on to your sense of exploration and take those steps forward.
What a gift. He’s always giving me gifts.
You are only as old as you feel. You are only as old as you act. There’s nothing scary about growing old because there is nothing scary about growth. My father taught me that.