“Don’t be surprised but proud when one day you’ll hear an acclaimed artist from Caraga Region is named National Artist of the Philippines,” I told young local artist-friends in a gathering months ago.
This week, how thrilled and excited I am when reading the lifestyle section of a national newspaper featured a stage musical at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) based on the life of a Butuanon-Cabadbaranon Luis Yee, Jr., better known in art and academe circles as Junyee, now residing in University of the Philippines (UP) Los Banos.
Being a veteran and respected painter, sculptor and installation artist, he was perennially a contender of the National Artists awards but consistently declined nominations, being unsocial and introverted. Those times, he never cared about awards and beating one’s own drum.
Junyee and I became friends a long time now and every time he came home in Butuan, he made it a point we see each other. I am honored when he asked me to join him for dinner. I cherished our time together because I learned a lot, his art and life philosophy, convinced how humble and down-to-earth he is and none of those egoistic attitudes unlike insignificant, unheard-of artists with their run-of-the mill works based in Europe, America and Manila.
To most of us, writers and colleagues in art, Junyee is real and extra-ordinary.
Acknowledged the father of printmaking and installation and performance art of the country, his body of works held everywhere never fail to capture the imagination. I can never forget his installation project of a hundred burned tree stumps brought from Bukidnon and exhibited at the huge front lawn of the CCP building in Roxas Boulevard. It landed in the front pages of national papers. I bought five copies and distributed to friends.
Over dinners, Junyee told me his life as I have earlier mentioned I would write about him. But there was one part he requested not to divulged it so I didn’t.
Now, reading the press releases about the musical, I am pleased he has finally opened that he had worked as a funeral make-up artist as part of his creative growth. To me it was inspiring because it reflected his love and passion to art, no matter what the costs-in life and death.
Junyee’s life story is presented by Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), the resident professional theater company of CCP. It is titled “Balad at Angud” and shown at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater) until September 16.
Butuanons, Cabadbaranons and Caraganons in Manila should see it. It could be the only time, of this generation, to see our kababayan’s road to greatness and inspire us all.