Jaime de Guzman, farewell

Jaime and I met shortly after I had seen him on television in 1968; it was a mid-morning show where guests answered imponderable questions. Jaime, introduced as a promising painter, was asked who among Filipinas he would like to date. He pronounced my full name without hesitation. I did not take umbrage, but was relieved that Tonypet ( my husband) was not watching TV with me that morning. Shortly after, I was appointed Director of the National Museum by then President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

Jaime showed up at the Director’s office one fine day, with Jess Peralta, a pillar of the National Museum in its desolate days. Earlier, Jess had proposed that we turn an abandoned garage of the Bureau of Mines (our landlord) into a National Fine Arts Gallery. We need a place where promising young artists can exhibit their works, Jess argued; they cannot afford to pay commercial gallery fees. I agreed and asked my father-in-law, Don Antonio, to please finance the project so I did not have to go through the bidding process and bureaucratic red tape.

Jess recommended Jaime de Guzman who asked if he could invite his grandfather, an ex-Katipunero, composer of revolutionary songs and his small band of musicians. They came with string, wind and brass instruments, all the way from Liliw, Laguna, to play during the inauguration of the National Fine Arts Gallery, featuring Jaime de Guzman. When the exhibition was over, I instructed the museum accountants and auditors to prepare the paperwork and payment for some of Jaime’s works, in particular, the “Midnight Flower”. It was unsettlingly vivid as one could not tell whether the birds came to pay homage or to devour the magnificent flower.

Shortly before martial law, the GOMBURZA Committee asked Jaime for a painting to honor the three martyred priests. He produced a poignant and powerful masterpiece. Then, he received a travel grant from the Cultural Center of the Philippines to go to Mexico city and learn from famous muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, a militant social realist. Jaime’s mural in the municipio of Liliw, Laguna is reminiscent of the Siqueiros style. It was recently restored by June Policar Dalisay, an art conservationist who worked on Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” with her team of conservators.

Jaime’s life in Mexico was clouded with mystery. After apprenticing with Siqueiros, he trekked to San Miguel de Allende, a charming colonial town that has lured artists from all over the world including Filipino painter Romeo Tabuena. Jaime did reveal that he found an abandoned hacienda and started to live and paint there until the owners found out; he was summarily deported.

Then, I lost track of Jaime de Guzman. When I fled to Mexico because of martial law, he was no longer there. Apparently, he married an American lady ceramist whom he probably met in San Miguel de Allende. He dabbled with ceramics, according to mutual friends. Then suddenly he and his wife were in Bontoc still doing ceramics.

Around 2015, the Cultural Center of the Philippines wanted to pay him homage by putting together “ Revelation: a Jaime de Guzman Retrospective” spanning five decades of his works. His paintings are mythological, introspective, reflecting ecological and social concerns. Do I have any of his works?–asked the curator. The “Midnight Flower”! Ask the National Museum to loan you that painting for Jaime’s retrospective.

The National Museum of Fine Arts now venerably installed in the former Senate of the Philippines building designed by Juan Arellano can trace its roots to that humble garage which Jess Peralta and I converted into a gallery for young painters.

Jaime arrived in a wheelchair at his retrospective exhibition. A congenital neurodegenerative disease, probably Huntington’s, was taking its toll. However, a few weeks later, when I saw him again at the annual “Art in the Park” fair in Salcedo Village, Makati, he was walking around. He was staying with a son, who lived across the street from the park. Over coffee, Jaime offered to paint my portrait; one would be foolish not to accept. I want it to be mythological, I told him, paint me as someone from an indigenous highland community, an Ifugao perhaps. When I die, I don’t want my children and grandchildren to be burdened with a portrait that they cannot even auction. Jaime agreed, visibly amused. I had two sittings after which he said he would take the portrait to Candelaria and finish it there. Then an art collector visited his place, liked the “Igorota” and insisted on buying it on the spot. Maybe the collector thought he was buying an image of a typical highlander with the rice terraces in the background.

This is an attempted epitaph for my cherished friend Jaime de Guzman whom I shall sorely miss.