November 24, 2007

By Juvenal Sansó

Even before the tender age of four, water has been and is a constant fascination for me. Some very old photographs show my family and me pictured atop rocks by a river that looked very much like Montalban. But it was in Catalonia, Spain.

The next encounter with water was a long trip by boat from Barcelona to Manila. It figured as a major event in my life because for forty days and nights I was awakened to the vastness and infiniteness of the sea aboard the Norwegian steamship, Torrens.

For a child of four, it was a pleasurable shock as my world turned practically upside down. We progressed from the Mediterranean, to Barcelona, through the Red Sea, and the Suez Canal, and on to the Indian Ocean. We did countless stopovers in increasingly exotic places where colorful clothes and darker skins matched the flashing smiles.

The binding element in this journey to the opposite side of the planet was water, of course! To me, it was a revelation that the large bodies of water were all interconnected. We eventually sailed into the China Sea and reached the Philippines, our final destination.

Being an archipelago, the Philippines added more places to my experience of water. Water was everywhere. In Manila, we had a house right beside the Pasig River where I had some mighty adventures as a tireless child . . . "malikot na malikot daw ako."  It was there in the Pasig where I learned to swim, even saving two little girls from drowning.

Through the years, the Pasig River offered numerous other experiences for me, not necessarily all that dramatic, but memorable in many ways. I must confess that the dazzling reflections on the water's surface, lit by Manila's famous sunsets have truly delighted the senses of the fluvial ferment in a child's mind and nourished a future painter's eyes.

The Pasig reflected its moods and emotions in the midday flashes and myriad diamonds reflected on its rippling surface. It continued to seduce my eyes against a backdrop of elegant bamboo groves, fruit trees, and scented flowering blooms along the grassy banks.  Up to now, the river still induces dream-like visions of idyllic retreats into a personal realm.

How deeply we are into water can clearly be illustrated by the way we are conceived and nurtured in our mother's womb filled with nourishing fluids.  Also, our bodies are composed of something like 75% water, I think!
But the real artistic encounter with water, with sustained and profound results in my life, was at Brittany, France where I painted over a span of about twenty-four summers filled with madness. It was the ultimate, meaningful combination of friendship and creativity enhanced by my excellent friends, the le Dantec family.

As luck would have it, Agnes le Dantec was the daughter of the great French artist-painter, Georges Rouault. Her husband, Yves was the editor of the only newspaper in France with a run of more than a million copies a day and thirty-five different editions daily. He is a Breton and a most intelligent and cultured man with a doctorate degree in law, a diploma for the foreign service, plus a newspaperman's diploma! He, however preferred to be a newspaperman because it afforded him almost limitless freedom of thought and action.

Until now, I am amazed with the thought that this family practically adopted me despite having three children of different ages who were very dear to them. I suppose that this was really part of the miracle of human kindness! They were generous enough to help me discover the most ravishing corners of Brittany's northern coast, aptly called Cotes du Nord.

Once I identified the spots I wanted to paint in Brittany, the couple collaborated in every possible way to take me to the rocks and covers at the most opportune times of the mighty tides.  Yves would continuously monitor the weather in Brittany because, being on the Atlantic you could have sudden rains and winds.  Like any caring father, he would rush some kilometers on to pick me up from the rocks as I was totally without shelter.  And so it was the same for lunch and at the end of the day for dinner, all throughout those twenty-four heroic summers.

When Yves passed away some 20 odd years ago and Agnes did so some years later, I had no other way to express my thanks to the family but in my heart.  It was such an intense pain to lose a second family that I had never been back to Brittany since their demise. I rarely have sold works created from that seascape series. In fact, I included a great deal of them in an exhibition at the Museum of Philippine Art in Manila (MOPA) entitled, "Hymn to Water."   It was in 1982 while preparing for the show that I learned about Yves le Dantec's passing away. I was profoundly depressed.  And I am still not over the shock. I present, as follows, the dedication I wrote then for the MOPA exhibition:

To Yves le Dantec,

My friend, my brother, my second father;
his sudden passing away while I was preparing
this exhibition darkened my life to such an extent
that I feel my old age has started now.

May this "Hymn to Water"
be my Requiem Mass for him,
a humble tribute to his unfailing friendship
of almost  a quarter of a century
and for his entire influence in the matter
of my knowing, feeling, living, and painting Brittany.

"Sweets to the Sweet, Farewell…"

Yves and his wife, Agnes, my dear friend,
left nothing undone to make this beautiful
adventure possible… and she, being the daughter
of the Great French Master Georges Rouault,
has helped, to no end in understanding the needs
of the painter in me.

A striking and moving coincidence for me is that the exhibition at the Museum of Philippine Art in 1982 and this present one at the Ayala Museum both share the theme on water.  Perhaps from then until now, bodies of water not only in Brittany and the Pasig, but others like Montalban, Matabungkay, Manila Bay, Tagaytay, and Laguna de Bay,… where I go as often as possible, continue to mesmerize and provide me with inspiration.

Juvenal Sanso
November 2007 

 Reprinted with permission from the Ayala Museum