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Jaime De Guzmans Apocalyptic Art and its

Phenomenological Pursuit in Understanding Beauty

Ordonia, Princess Celinne A.


AB Philosophy 3-1
Department of Humanities and Philosophy
Polytechnic University of the Philippines Manila
celinneordonia@gmail.com

Introduction

It was all about retrospective. The way you see things, art specifically, from the
provenance of an artist where his creativity was in the figurative of rawness and where
the naked truth of his beginnings has flourished through the essence of time. A
progressive art is the kind of art which reveals something; because it has this kind of
foundation that over lapse the notion of stability. There has always been a continuous
process of renewal and recreation in all of this revelation. But where would art lies in this
spectrum? How can we reveal and understand the beauty of Jaime De Guzmans work of
art without any presuppositions? And what can phenomenology do about it?

The paper then rests on the potentiality of these concepts, using Husserl and his
phenomenological method in understanding the concept of beauty behind the apocalyptic
art of De Guzman. This reverie aims to reconcile the apocalypse to the very core of
Husserls phenomenology for us to have a clear and precise understanding of beauty itself
without the mystery of going farther and farther away from the heart of things.

Thus, given by those premises, the scope of this study is confined with the aesthetic
experience on the art exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in collaboration
with Archivo, presenting the works of Jaime De Guzmans Retrospective and is limited
with the discourse of beauty that is reflected from those paintings and his other
collections in the field of pottery. The objective of this paper is to fully understand each
concept. To make both ends meet. In order for us to create a new mantra that will enable
us in entering to a fresh discourse that might lead us into something functional in the
application of aesthetics to the different facets of reality.

Revelations: A Jaime De Guzman Retrospective

Spanning a period of almost five decades, the exhibit features De Guzmans landmark
murals from the early 1970s. He begins this creative journey from the mid-to-late 1960s.
Originally, he was enrolled at the Ateneo de Manila as an economic major, but after a
year, he transferred to the University of Sto. Tomas and took fine arts where he majored
in painting. And his journey does not stop from there, after two years he packed his
brushes and travel for almost a year to paint. Some of these magnificent places were in
Cebu, Samar, and Zamboanga. His paintings reflect the everyday scenes of his travels and
depict his personal views on social and ecological concerns as well as introspective
representations of his own mythology and his identity. After the aesthetic experience that
he has seen and able to contemplate, he later returned to Manila to enroll as a fine arts
student at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Also included are drawings and
ceramic works that reveal the range of his artistic practice.

What certainly is astonishing in his work is the way he manage to expose the subjective
emotions that arouse in him. The brushstrokes he executed in every painting are where
his phenomenology lies. It is so evident that it actually reveals to you, you can exactly
feel the dark and somber expressionism from his early works. His untitled painting at the
port of Cebu somehow tells us something in the past, our history and the surrealism
behind it.
Jaime De Guzmans apocalyptic art is the act of his revelation as an artist 1. As an artist,
he transcends himself to have a natural attitude towards reality and looks at reality as
things or in the words of Husserl, a fact world2. His passion towards art is only a
manifestation of a much wider scale of perspective that he has for social and ecological
concerns as well as his own mythology and identity.

One of his paintings entitled Christ Waiting for His Apostles at the Last Supper, was one
of his works that made me confronted the image of Christ in a painting. His personal
interpretation of Christ as a symbol made me question where the real Christ in the
painting is. Or is it just an imitation of Christ? Harder than I thought it may be, but the
more you look into his paintings, the more you stretch every figures and put yourself into
it, then it would reveal itself to you. De Guzman has his own way of exposing his art in a
manner of original experience, by positing the unity first before analyzing the parts of it.
Looking back from his previous works, the retrospective that it has for almost five
decades not just only presupposes a continuum but it also expresses the struggle it
endures and conquered through time. The rawness of its humble beginnings to the
complexity that arises throughout his art was the very proof of how he embraces the
changes without breaking human spirit. Maybe because he as an artist refused to be

1One of significant contribution of Jaime De Guzman in modern Philippine


art is his daring introduction of the distortion of the human figure as a
projection of the harsh and pained contemporary reality. He burst into the art
scene with his apocalyptic paintings exposing body, innards, and spirit done
in feverish strokes and emotive colors. The anatomy of his figures sharp,
skeletal; the psychology tortured, absorbed. He bared himself in all sense
of the word, painting as if he was a true Expressionist his exaggeration and
distortion of form channeled the anxieties of modern man. His two acclaimed
large murals, Metamorphosis and Gomburza, catapulted him into the realm
of the cultish infused where his emotive power-packed expressions were
coming from. Archivo, 1984

2 Manuel B. Dy, Jr. Philosophy of Man, (Quezon City: JMC Press, Inc.), 44
dictated by any material causes and that he remained peripatetic physically as well as
spiritually.

Husserls Phenomenological Method in Understanding Beauty

If we are going to magnify a certain thing to be able to extract the beauty that it possess
then we are negating its very nature, for in order to understand beauty itself, we have to
let it unfold itself before us. Husserls concern was for going back to things themselves
and by this; he meant to go back to the entire field of original experience3.

Beauty in its very simplest form is a quality in a person or a thing that gives pleasure to
the senses or the mind. Might as well consider the fact that beauty is present in
everything that we see, may it be on a physical aspect or in the realm of the
unobservables. We cannot discard the actuality of beauty if we are to say so that it only
manifests through a certain grounds of categories. Categories made by man through his
eyes. This of course holds biases and prejudices of their own limitation. If beauty then
were only present to a set of categories then how can we understand beauty at firsthand
experience? How can we take hold to that of original experience?

Edmund Husserl, father of modern phenomenology, says that phenomenology can begin
only after the transcendental-phenomenological reduction, a process wherein the
intentionality of consciousness came up as Husserls main insight of phenomenology.
What then can this aims do in helping us to understand beauty, specifically, the
apocalyptic art of Jaime De Guzman. For Husserl, every conscious act intends
something4. Consciousness is always a consciousness of something other than itself.

3 This reverie is the new method of the attempt to go back to phenomenon,


free of all the biases and independent of any prejudices; a way wherein the
object or a phenomenon presents itself to man as they really are.

4 Manuel B. Dy, Jr. Philosophy of Man, (Quezon City: JMC Press, Inc.), 46
Therefore, it is true that beauty is not just somewhere in the line of some categories but
rather it exemplifies to the subject itself. Because according to Husserl, consciousness
does not just adapt itself to the object passively but rather, its very essence is to form
meaning, to give meaning to the object5.

Husserls phenomenological method covers the submissive and contumacious part of


mans attitude when it comes to things themselves. He also insisted that the
transcendental- phenomenological reduction in no way limits experience6. But as we try
to uncover this method, we must come to a position in understanding Husserls choice of
terminology in such a way that we can cope with it.

First of this method is what we called, epoche; a preliminary step in the


phenomenological method which literally means bracketing. It is where we suspend
our judgment, biases, and prejudices of our knowledge of the object without denying it
nor affirming it. This first step is very crucial because our natural attitude towards things
were superfluous that we cannot avoid using or materializing it, it is where were not
realizing how much beauty that an object possess right before us. Unless we use the
epoche we will never see and grasp the beauty and the goodness of a thing. We need it to
see the world differently so that we can return to the original experience.

Eidetic reduction comes second in the process of seeing the world with new eyes. It is
where we see things as they really are, not reliant of any biases and prejudices. It is
derived from the Greek word eidos which means essence. After reducing our
experience then it is through this step that we reduce it to its essence 7. For example, if we
5 Manuel B. Dy, Jr. Philosophy of Man, (Quezon City: JMC Press, Inc.), 46

6 Manuel B. Dy, Jr. Philosophy of Man, (Quezon City: JMC Press, Inc.), 52

7 Reducing it to its own essence means that we are going to examine what
changes can be made in a certain example without making it cease to be the
thing that it is. And that which we cannot change without making the object
cease to be the thing it is will be the eidos or the essence of the experience
are to describe the phenomenon of friendship. In the epoche, I am going to bracket and
suspend my biases and judgment on friendship, like friendship can sometimes be
recognize as a soulmate or that friendship is forever etc. Now, I reduce the object of
friendship to the phenomenon of friendship, to the lived experience of friendship. In
eidetic reduction, I will reduce it to its essence, removing its detachment from its own
prejudices. To begin, I can change their race, age, gender, beliefs, and social status
without the relationship or their friendship coming to cease. What it is that I cannot
change? Maybe, it is the fact that two friends can fall in love with each other in a
romantic way. I find that if this happens in a friendship, then the relationship cannot be
called as friends anymore. Therefore, this becomes the essence of friendship.

The final step is the transcendental reduction. It is where we reduce the very activity itself
into our own consciousness8. The I now become conscious and aware of the subjective
aspects of the object in terms of inquiring into beliefs, feelings, and desires which shape
the experience. The object is now seen in its relation to the subject as well as the subject
in relation to the object.

Analysis

As we take a look through these concepts, Jaime De Guzmans apocalyptic art and the
use of Husserls phenomenological method, understanding beauty will be in the line
between these two. Either we completely torn the ideas apart or we try to find a way in
understanding beauty behind De Guzmans revelations.

With the way I see the exhibit of Jaime De Guzmans retrospective, the way he uses
skeletal figures and his daring projection of the distortion of human figure, I see his own
introspectiveness of the grievous and oppressive contemporary reality that we have.
itself.

8 Manuel B. Dy, Jr. Philosophy of Man, (Quezon City: JMC Press, Inc.), 46
Seeing and witnessing those paintings were magnificent but trying to understand their
beauty were the hardest part to contemplate because of this dark surrealism surrounding it
which is evident in every brushstrokes, his exaggeration of the channeled anxieties of a
man or in that part his very self. It is as if his paintings were his life, his lived experience
exemplifying the enormity of the world he persist to be with. Looking into his works
makes you see the beauty of development amidst the underlying phenomena that came
and through time takes its rightful place. Apocalyptic art is simply the manifestation of
the beauty behind the revelation of De Guzmans life, a spectrum and a continuum that an
artist should have. And in this process you could see the transformation of his apocalyptic
art to an ascetic vision. De Guzman now residing to Candelaria, which is a simpler way
of living, is a fresh start for his new expressionism taking a departure from his dark and
somber surrealism.

Suspending all my biases regarding on what an apocalyptic art is, makes me see the
richness and beauty it hides in every colors and hue presented to me. All I think of it was
just more of a disaster and chaotic kind of art but it is not. Its actually as refreshing as
seeing a landscape painting with a sunrise or a sunset with it, the dark colors being used
was now seen in a lighter perspective by using Husserls epoche. We can change the fact
that De Guzmans apocalyptic art will not be appreciated by all the viewers because of
the straightforwardness it possesses in projecting his introspectiveness through his
paintings but what we cannot change is how his life, his lived and original experience
were present in those masterpiece. The essence now in this apocalyptic art is that it is
made by Jaime De Guzman himself; it is his own legacy, his story to share for the world
to see. And I see it and feel with it in the most beautiful way possible.

Conclusion

Apocalyptic arts are not bad at all because it has the word apocalypse in it. We all have
this wrong notion when it comes to apocalypse but we can change that. We can uplift
apocalyptic art into a new level of understanding, a higher kind of appreciation if we
would like to. This kind of revelation enables us to see beauty in its very form, in the very
way we would like to see it without any judgment and prejudices hanging in our way.
Using Husserls phenomenological method will take us in a new exciting world, it will
make us see beauty it in its purest form. And I would really like for everyone to witness
and experience this magnificent wonder of this enormity that has been surrounding us for
quite a time now.

Bibliography

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Klemke, E. D., Hollinger, Robert, and Kline, David A. Introductory Readings in the
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Soccio, Douglas J. Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy. Belmont, CA:


Macmilln Publishing Solutions, 2010.