Friday, June 22, 2018

Bigger-than-Life Sculptor - Jose Lazo Jr:

San Vicente (Ilocos Sur) Series
"Losing a masterpiece has indeed a profound effect - such experience generates renewed challenge and greater resolve." 

Dr Abe V Rotor
Sculptor Jose Lazo and his recent obra maestra – 12-foot concrete statue of St Francis of Assisi, 2017

He may not be the like of the sculptor of the lost Colossus of Rhodes, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Or the mysterious creator of the giant bird of Nazca in Peru, or the makers of the busts of four US Presidents chiseled on a whole face of Mt Rushmore. 

But he has the resoluteness and deep spirituality of a religious artist like Michelangelo who made the Pieta – Mary holding on her lap the dead Christ, her son, the most power sculptural work that moved the world to its knees. He has the sense of patriotism of Guillermo Tolentino, foremost Filipino sculptor who made the UP Oblation and the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan – great works that made him National Artist.

Or that of the mystic imagination of Auguste Rodin who molded The Thinker. People who saw it say he is a living rock with mind, heart and soul. “Tap his knees and imagine yourself in his place.”

Sculptors have a singular vision other artists may not have. Give them a piece of rock or block of wood or a hill of clay and they bring down Mt Olympus, so to speak; heroes come alive in the middle of a square, deities become humans; unfinished works whole, like the armless Venus de Milo which exudes the deepest source of beauty because of her incompleteness.

But who are these sculptors, and how do they relate with contemporary times, more so with today’s postmodern art?

In my hometown, the classical sculptors are a dying breed, in fact many of them are gone – but their works remain immortal. Names like Boy Peralta, Norling Castillo, Lorenzo Mata, and Jose Lazo Sr, still ring whenever San Vicente is mentioned, a town just west of Vigan dubbed “Little Florence or a la Vatican.” Or Paete (Laguna) of the North, artisan center of spatial art of world class fame, or Angono (Rizal) art capital of the Philippines, town of another national artist, Botong Francisco.

The local fame however, lives on. In my younger days I knew artists in the older generation in our hometown. After years of absence I met Jun Lazo, son of a well-known sculptor. He is a prolific maker of bigger-than-life religious and secular icons, and a series of saints revered by thousands of faithful, especially during Holy Week. His works are found in altars, grottos, atop fence walls of churches, plazas and of course, many homes.

(Top left, clockwise). Mary Magdalene; twin statues – Christ about to be scourged. and St John the Baptist; two versions of the crucified Christ, Christ seated in pensive mood

Jun at work: concrete statue of Bernadette who witnessed Mary’s apparition at Lourdes, France; Jun renders the basic shape of Christ on the Cross with local tools

A BS Fine Arts graduate from the University of Northern Philippines, he had a stint as instructor in the same university taking over his father’s post after his untimely demise. But he opted to leave and became a full-time and free-lance sculptor of religious icons as well as heroes and prominent individuals.

Among his famous works is a monument of Andres Bonifacio leading the Philippine Revolution in 1889. The monument proudly stood for some time at the highway junction to Bangued and Narvacan coming from Manila, until it gave way to the elements and was never restored. Jun told me that it was painful to find out the sad fate of his work, especially because it represented a national hero revered not only by Filipinos, but the whole world. “It is as if something died in me.” He sighed. Losing a masterpiece has indeed a profound effect - such experience generates renewed challenge and greater resolve. 

Jun climbs a scaffolding to put the final touches of a replica of a cave where Mary appeared to young Bernadette at Lourdes, France.

I studied Jun’s works, and asked him what really motivates his passion as a sculptor. “Have you ever been in Lourdes to be able to make a replica of the miraculous place and event in a local setting?” He sensed my question even before I asked it. I wonder how an artist, practically all by himself, can make a giant statue. He sensed this, too, and showed me a picture of a 12-foot concrete statue of St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology and environment. “You have to work fast before the concrete mix hardens.” 

“When does an artist write finish, and put down his tools? Who has the final say?” Jun was silent. In commercial art it’s the patron. Historically, in ancient times and in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance notwithstanding, the patrons of art paid high for premium works, their imprimatur putting high value to such works, and the artists on the other hand, gain recognition and fame. Such is the case of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and later in the field of painting, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, and on our part of the globe, Luna, Amorsolo, Ocampo, Alcuaz, and others. 
It reminds me of Michelangelo’s David, a huge marble statue of King David in his youth carrying the symbolic slingshot that killed Goliath. Soon after the statue was formally presented, Michelangelo’s patron commented, “His nose is a bit large.” Though adamant the great sculptor climbed the statue to fix it. Cleverly he put in his pocket marble dusts and pretended chiseling the nose to the satisfaction of his patron. The truth is that Michelangelo did not change his masterpiece a bit. 

The case of Rodin’s monument of Honore Balzac, France's greatest novelist, was different. While in the making, Rodin’s students visited the great sculptor in his studio and praised his on-going work. “Oh, master what real, beautiful hands! The hands alone make this work a masterpiece.” 

Instead of being elated Rodin got an axe and cut off the hands of his icon and said, “In art, no part is greater than the whole.” Today the monument of Balzac without arms proudly stands in a plaza.

Jun, as he is popularly called, is the “Last of the Mohicans” so to speak, referring to the theme of the novel by Fennimore Cooper, of a dying breed of a noble race, the Native Americans who were ultimately conquered and displaced from their domicile by foreign invaders from the West.

Art today faces a similar dilemma. Today’s technology has taken much of the illusions of artists, machines are taking over the sweet tedious task of creativity, mass production has made art cheap in the guise of affordability by the masses. And the magic of electronics has led people’s attention away from original and genuine works of art. 

Go to a store of religious items; watch the faithful carry icons during procession; examine medals, scapulas, brooches; go to the mall and have a cursory study of beauty in the corporate world; pause for a selfie; visit museums and exhibits, and so on. 

How art has changed. Yes, in a material world. In a world of fleeting moments, And if we seem to be drifting away with change - aimless, chartless, feeling uneasy and not finding peace inside us, we might as well look back and seek comfort in what makes us humane – the Humanities. 

Humanities is never considered a science, in fact it is a recourse from too much use of the left brain, the seat of reason. Humanities doesn’t deal with equations and logic, it’s the right brain taking us to the greatest height of imagination we call creativity. Creativity is the foundation of originality. And in art you can’t be wrong, because it is theory, your theory. And there is no judge better than you. 

Go over the original works of artists – amateurs and professional. Then look into you own works, and you will better appreciate Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Tolentino, et al, and their students, Jun Lazo among them. And innumerable potential artists waiting to be tapped -- you among them. 

Sculptor Jose Lazo Jr (left) and author take time out before a wall-to-floor mural painted by the latter at his residence in San Vicente Ilocos Sur.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Jose Lazo Jr is a native of San Vicente, Ilocos Sur. He comes from a family of professionals, his two sisters are a nurse and a care giver, and his brother a medical doctor. He has three children, all professionals too, in the fields of business management, nursing and information technology. While art runs in the family, it is Jun who found art a lifetime career and profession. ~

Abercio V. Rotor, Ph.D.  Website:  .

.Award-winning author of "The Living with Nature Handbook" (Gintong Aklat Award 2003) and "Living with Nature in Our Times" (National Book Award 2008); Recipient Father Jose P Burgos Achievement Award (2016); professor, University of Santo Tomas, De La Salle University-D; columnist Bannawag Magazine, former Director, National Food Authority; and Consultant on food and agriculture, Senate of the Philippines.

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