Lucis et Umbrae: a reflection on the art of Iyan de Jesus

The reflection of the Self, they say, could be the most interesting and the most beautiful art piece that one could ever create.

Exploring the “universes” within, the vastness of the invisible and the visible Selves could bring artist and non-artist alike to the complete or partial understanding, and sometimes misunderstanding of himself or herself as a human being. From that introspection one could have the realization of his or her diversed Self as an individual, as a social animal, as a representation of the Universe itself—the Microcosmos.

By means of an introduction

It has been a day of reckoning for the young artist Leah Anne de Jesus, an undergraduate student of Architecture at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila. She said, art “called” her.

“It all happened after I created my very first oil painting. I can’t explain it well, but the feeling I had back then was like an emotional fulfillment. It was like something inside me is screaming ‘Bravo, this is exactly what you are supposed to be doing in your life! Congratulations, you found it!’” Iyan (de Jesus’s moniker) said in an e-mail interview with this author.

“I am a fan of Steampunk culture so my works somehow evolve from that style. As for painters, I do admire the works of Michaël Zancan,” she adds.

But for this reviewer, this not an accident for the Universe does not know what accident or coincidence means.

In one of her interviews in art website she said, since she was little she’s already into drawing.

She used to create paperdolls: a thing that kids, this author might say, had already forgotten. She even joined some drawing competitions, she said. And from thereon, she into a painting frenzy, experimenting and exploring.

The melancholic, the mysterious and the shy

“Melancholy often plays a role in our encounters with art works, and it is also present in some of our aesthetic responses to the natural environment,” wrote art critics and philosphy professors Emily Brady and Arto Haapala in their article appeared in the esteemed Contemporary Aesthetics in 2003.

Most of the works of arts were emotional: they depict the depths of the humanness of the person and the place, where he lives, hopes, and dreams. Most of the subjects of Ms. de Jesus were focused on the faces, the colors of the human emotions, which emitted by their soul and their forms.

Her Submarine (2012, oil on canvas) had had this author’s awe. The woman, surrounded by gears, with her mouth somewhat open, invites a free interpretation of the inquisitive and creative mind. Does she feels something, in the depths of her soul?Ecstasy perhaps? Or it is a marriage of loneliness and joy? Perhaps, the sweet phrasefrom Virginia Woolf could further explain this irony:

“The melancholy river bears us on. When the moon comes through the trailing willow boughs, I see your face, I hear your voice and the bird singing as we pass the osier bed. What are you whispering? Sorrow, sorrow. Joy, joy. Woven together, like reeds in moonlight.”

Let this author ask you: What is your lifelong wish? However, wishes could be lonesome too. This was depicted of the flying balloons and dark and empty windows in Iyan’s work,A Lifetime’s Wish (oil on canvas, 2011). The moon, with its silvery light and sweetness, could also bring the bitter-sweet memories of love and compassion. Who could resist it? Almost none. Most of us would embrace the shadows of forlorn, just like the reflection of the moon that had kissed the blueness of the river. We will be just like that firefly surrounded-leafless tree, witnessing that inexplicable love between two “lovers” who are near yet so far in her Moonriver.  So sweet, yet so lonely to behold.

But let us admit: loneliness is also beautiful. Accepting the fact that life could be full of misconceptions, illusions and lies could be a terribly lonely; but acceptance of this truth is very liberating.

Yes, it is uncomfortable to know that life could bring so much pain, but we need to escape for the fangs of escapism, of illusion that everything is like a fairytale: always happily ever after. I agree, it is nice to believe in fairytales but not all fairytales could come true. As the psychotherapist and author Sheldon Kopp explained:

“… Desperately holding onto the fairytale vision of a life in which the face of the enemy is clear and the good guys always win, we waste our lives in waiting for the happy ending.

“If we are not to miss out on those random moments of happiness that adults may have, we must learn to give up the deceptively comforting illusions of childhood. We can be free to live our lives as we choose if only we are willing to risk facing the often unforeseeable consequences of our acts, knowing that there is no one else to take care of us. Partial freedom and limited happiness are all that are available. But to receive the rewards of even those less-than-perfect bounties, grown-ups must pay the price of the loss of innocence. (An End to Innocence: Facing Life without Illusions, 1981, pp. 3 – 4).

The above-mentioned reality, this author thinks, is the meaning of her work, No More Drama (Oil on canvas, 2011).

They say is numbing although numbness could also be a source of inner strength. But is this the message that the artist wants to convey of painting a picture of a beautiful blue-eyed woman in blazers with gears inside (More Than You Could Ever Dream)? Or does this mean something else?

Sometimes, the world’s elusive view of perfection could also cause us tremendous pain because of the loss of our own identity, that one True Self. Our illusion of a benevolent love could also be a binding, crippling experience. Knowing that someone is trying to control and manipulate our emotions and our thoughts, but here we are, succumbing to the feeling of helplessness and of hopelessness, that loving could be an agonizing experience. These realities, this reviewer believes, are completely and perfectly depicted Iyan’s two works: With Neither Words Nor Action and Shadows.

On the other hand, loneliness is not the only mystery that is unfathomable within our human nature; our own “animal” instinct had made us unique. Iyan’s Paragon (Oil on Canvas, 2011) had brought into being the two parts of human nature into an indivisible whole: the image of the girl accompanied by out-of-this-world creatures is fairy-like, beautiful, shy, and sweet; but when you examine the subject more closely, the beautiful girl has her own dark side as shown by her right hand.

Anger, that eruption of strange emotion, can also engulf the angelic creatures. Who can totally escape the fangs of anger, of hatred, and of dismay? Absolutely no one (Anger and Hunger, mixed media on A4 paper, 2011; Payback to Cruelty, 2011).

The unity of opposites

What is interesting with Iyan’s early and current works, they are the union of both the negative and the positive, the bitter and the sweet, the calm and the disturbed; it is the unity of the opposites.

Her Same Wavelength is one of the interesting pieces that can be viewed in this theory (or reality?) of life. Most of the time, just like magnets, the opposites do attract each other. Only by the unity of the opposites could we attain that certain balance.

Sometimes too, the complete surrender to our weaknesses and imperfection could be the source of our strength. Just like what they say, it is embracing the light and shadow that is within us that we could liberate our self. The phoenix burns itself and from the ashes, she will rise again. Iyan’s Awakening is but a burst of sudden realization that we need to give up something in order to learn something, to fill in the gap within our own selves. This was complimented by her other work, Thoughts and Over-thinking.

Moreover, realizing one thing is painstaking that you need to repeat the thoughts to be able to understand it, especially if the concept (like love or forgiveness) is full of ambiguity. Furthermore, this could be a tedious and slow process that you need to unload any baggage that you have in order to move the path of acceptance and of letting go (Frozen, mixed media on A4 paper).

On the other hand, in order to make the opposites almost homogeneous or perfectly combined, our interpretation of life and the application of its lessons taught should be dovetailed to the understanding of the who is unseen—the Self. Although sometimes the understanding Self is also ambiguous in many ways, but it is the only one that binds us to other creatures… but this is another story, another rigorous tale of a single, yet a journey of so many Paths.

Of course, in order to achieve that unity within our selves is to trust ourselves more, without the illusions of perfection and surrender to the embrace of such painful reality—notwithstanding the sudden blow of the dagger of hurt and agony to the heart and mind of that truth that we need to accept—we will be united with the “other creatures” that reside within the Self and also with the other selves (We’re Not That Different At All Pastel And Pencils On Sketchpad). Nevertheless, we need to recognize that bittersweet longing for us to find what is “lost”; and this longing should make us recognize that the journey should start inside, within ourselves.

A repartee of sort

There were many stories that could be drawn from Iyan’s works. There are many interesting other pieces that could be used as the mirror of your own experiences. Since works of art, they say, are reflections of the artist’s realities, it could also the projection, a mirror image, or a shadow of our own experiences.

As she admits: “Most of my artworks are products of my own self-realizations and introspection, so female subjects are easier for me to relate to. But I didn’t really mean to exclusively limit my subjects to female figures. I also create some paintings with a male subject once in a while.”

It could be about our fascination or obsession to rock stars or artists or even with our ordinary chums. It could be our desire to undo the things that we cannot undone, or to prevent the inevitable. It could also be our quest to the world of imaginary bliss and of dreamful realities. However, we must escape from these, and the works of Iyan’s are cannot be our scapegoat. Since it is a confession of some sort, it is perhaps an invitation for us to see the true reality using the bird’s-eye view, without any alteration, in its completeness and without adulteration. As the American Buddhist spiritual lecturer Benjamin Riggs had said,

“Celestial realms of blissed out magic are hallucinations—constructs of the formed mind. They are examples of spiritual entertainment. The human journey is about relaxing into who we are. This moment of relaxing into our humanity is symbolized, in theBuddha’s life, by his willingness to relate to his physical body and accept the rice milk offered by the young girl, Sujata. Once again, who we are is so ordinary.” (From “Embracing Personal Loneliness as the Path to Awakening,” 2012 ).

However, our mindfulness, or the recognition, that we’re trailblazing a narrow and a lonely path could also help us to embrace our Self, the entireness of, its light and its shadow.

As Sheldon Kopp also said:

“For each of us, the only hope resides in his own efforts, in completing his own story, not in the other’s interpretation.” ― Sheldon B. Kopp, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him: The Pilgrimage Of Psychotherapy Patients, p. 63

And so it is.