Mary has problems finding her painting muse. Her siblings see a face on canvas.
The Artist Searching For Her Muse
In my childhood, I perceived visions of my future: first, as a nun—an incarnate of Maria in the Sound of Music, then as a police detective solving crimes and being hailed as a heroine like the Wonder Woman. There were other motion picture characters that I emulated, including Tarzan who inspired the vine-swinging soul in my tomboyish adolescence. Interestingly, I never saw myself as the future Georgia O’Keeffe or Frida Kahlo. Yet here I am at 32, a self-taught artist who, in addition to her corporate career, has also accumulated a respectable amount of patrons with a growing art portfolio.
As promised, Father Tayag did not waste any time in procuring the pieces of lumber for my brother and me. Sales proceeds from the original paintings donated by various artists from all over the country have been a great source of revenue for the rebuilding of the church. I hope to be a major part of this charitable endeavor.
Johnny has sanded the boards and even applied several coats of gesso on the smooth surface. Now, I just wait for my elusive muse so I can execute this vague illusion for an oil painting -- so obscure that I am uncertain of its form. A field of flowers? A mountain scene? A still life? A portrait of the Virgin Mary? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve been standing here for more than fifteen minutes staring at the 20x24 wood board perched against a wooden easel. I keep waiting . . . and waiting . . . for some divine guidance from the holy wood that once graced the walls of St. Guillermo Church before Mount Pinatubo claimed the historical Minster.
I stand back a couple steps and continue to fix my gaze at the board. In a few minutes, or sometime today, or before the year is over, I hope I’d be able to brush a few strokes of paint on it. There’s not enough natural light in the basement. A little daylight trickles through the window and it’s predicted to rain later in the afternoon. It looks like the clouds are starting to roll in. But I’ve worked under fluorescent light many times before, so I can’t use the lighting as my excuse to procrastinate.
I pick up a tube of alizarin crimson and squeeze some paint onto the palette on the art table. I follow this with globs of Chinese white, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, magenta, and more. Smelling the thick scent of oils, I begin to long for the slide and density of it under my brush, yearning for the excitement of colors melding together and producing the colors I develop in my head. My process is not scientific. It’s mostly instinctive and many times, serendipitous. This is probably true with any artist who never took an art lesson in her life. I open the bottle of turpentine and pour about an ounce of it into the aluminum cup attached to the palette.
I grab an artist knife and begin to dab and blend a little bit of this, and a little bit of that on my palette. With determination I retrieve the wooden palette from the table and place it across the flat on my inner forearm. I secure a brush and apply the bristles to a daub of purple—my favorite color for the initial paint-drawing. Now maybe I can get this show on the road. Let the brush dictate what I should paint. . . . like a mystical being that will guide me throughout the project. Yes, something supernatural like that because at this moment I still don’t have any command of my muse.
I bend my arm, stretch it, flex it, and as I exhale a deep sigh I close my eyes and engage the brush with the canvas, right smack in the middle, making some bold strokes here and there. I open my eyes, and still . . . nothing comes to me.
Frustrated, I put the palette and the brush back on the table, take off my artist apron and throw it over the swivel chair. My feet lead me back upstairs where I find Malia opening the front door for Johnny.
“Hey, sis,” he calls when he sees me. “All done with your painting?”
I give him an exasperated look. “A few murky bold strokes, that’s it.”
“Good timing you guys,” Malia says. “Lisa and I made some “halo-halo.” Let’s have some merienda.”
“Yummy!” I exult. “I was craving for something icy cold.”
Halo-halo (“mix-mix”) is a delightful icy dessert or snack (merienda) served in a tall, clear glass that shows its colorful contents. It is eaten all-year round, but is most popular during the scalding summer months, from March to June.
Lisa enters the living room with a tray containing four tall glasses of halo-halo. “It’s too hot in the dirty kitchen; the ice cream is going to melt too fast out there,” she says.
Johnny takes the tray from Lisa and sets it down on the coffee table. I grab my serving of the exotic fare and peruse the bulk and substance of the mixture on the surface of the glass. My taste buds explode with anticipation. I see the usual ingredients of sweet preserved red beans and chick peas and tropical fruits. There’s macapuno (coconut meat), langka (jackfruit), pinipig (pounded dried rice), and leche flan (cream flan). These are all available at most grocery stores; except that Malia makes her own leche flan, and I have not tasted any flan as good as hers. The top part of the glass is filled with thinly crushed ice saturated with evaporated milk. Finally, my favorite mango and ube(sweet purple yam) ice cream crown the concoction.
How many calories do you think there are in this dessert?” I ask the group.
“A million?” Lisa says with a giggle.
“This is no time to worry about calories,” Johnny says directly to me. “You’re on vacation, and you’re just going to sweat it out of your body from the heat, anyway.”
"Heat and perspiration diet? Never worked for me," I say as I take one of the spoons from the tray and start digging into my culinary delight. First, the purple ice cream ube—my favorite. “How about you, Johnny. Are you done with your painting?”
“See? I knew as soon as you put your mind to it, you can start painting again without any problem.”
Johnny shakes his head skeptically. “I’m not creating anything new. It’s a scene I’ve painted many times before . . . you know, the classic Philippine rural landscape with a Bahay kubo, a carabao with a farmer riding on it, trees and mountains in the background.”
“That sounds terrific,” Malia says. It’s a popular scene so I’m sure it will sell right away.”
“I wanted to do something I’ve never done before, but I’m really just too busy with the business. I don’t have the time.”
“I am sure Father Tayag will be very happy with your donation,” I say as I stir the mouth-watering halo-halo mixture with a long spoon.
“How about you, Mary,” asks Lisa. “What did you decide to paint for your project?”
“I’m afraid my canvas is still blank. I can’t seem to find my muse.”
“Speaking of muse,” Malia says, “Dado called. He said if you’re not doing anything tonight, he’d like to drop by.”
“Only if he’d toss a few coins my way,” Johnny says. “And tell him the kickback rate has multiplied by 1000%”
“So what’s going on between you and Dado,” Malia asks, her tone and expression serious. Although she likes Dado and treats him like a member of the family, she knows that his intentions are of a romantic nature. And because I’m married, she doesn’t approve of me going out with him, unless, of course, another member of the family accompanies us. Norma, bless her heart, is extremely old fashioned. I am, after all, 32 years old and I don’t think I still need a chaperone when I go out, especially with someone like Dado.
“Nothing’s going on between Dado and me,” I tell them. “We have a long history together and we will always be friends.”
“How come Rob is not calling you?” Malia continues to probe. She’s really on an investigative mood about my love life. “Is everything okay with you two?”
“That’s personal,” Johnny says.
“It’s okay,” I say to Johnny. “No, everything is not great between Rob and me. And that’s all I’m going to say at this time on the matter. I hope you’ll respect that.”
My words silence the group. We can hear Johnny slurping the melted ice cream and the liquefied ice milk. He likes to consume his Halo-halo this way, saving the ingredients in the bottom for last. Malia prefers to blend everything together, while Lisa likes to dig way down for the fruits and beans right away, saving the melted ice cream and ice milk for the climax.
“Well,” exclaims Johnny. “Why don’t we go down in the basement and see what Mary has accomplished so far on her canvas.
“I told you, it’s still empty.”
“No, you said you’ve made some murky strokes. So let’s see how murky the strokes really are.”
“Well, I’m a silly kind of guy.”
“Okay, okay. Let’s go.”
Holding our respective drinks, we exit the living room and trudge toward the basement. Johnny starts singing, "We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz."
Halfway down the cemented stairwell I stop and look up at my entourage. "Well, might as well have a party down here, because you're not going to see any painting to critique."
"It's a cooler place to party!" says Lisa.
I reach the floor first. I walk toward the easel and canvas and turn it around so they can see it directly under the light. "See? Nothing," I say. "Nothing but murky bold strokes."
"What do you mean nothing?" says Malia.
"You decided to paint Ma's portrait!" Lisa exclaims.
Johnny takes a few steps closer to the canvas. "Good start," he says, then faces me. "You know what would even be better? Ma holding you as a baby."
"You're all crazy!" I exclaim. "You don't really see Ma's image on the canvas. You're taunting me."
Everyone gives me a perplexed look.
(End of Chapter Seventeen)
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