Reading the image, an art appreciation by Sean Marie Prythyll Patnubay | September 22, 2020
Dear person from the future,
I have always been enamored in advocating for Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) as I believe that these three are interconnected. It came as no surprise when the first drawing that caught my attention from the online Ateneo Art Gallery Collections was something that was related to this theme. From here, I will be using Alice Guillermo’s Four Planes of Analysis (in alphabetical order) namely, the 1) axiological, 2) basic semiotic, 3) contextual, and 4) iconic to appreciate this experience of mine even if it was only done through a digital viewing of the said work of art on my part.
I shall touch on the axiological plane first. I mentioned earlier that I was drawn to this almost at first glance since I enjoy advocating for Population, Health, and Environment. In light of the foregoing, I have always felt that my most peaceful state is when I am surrounded by the trees, the grass, and the sky. These three were present in this haven of a work and it gives me the same great feeling of tranquility that I get when I am outdoors (something that is not possible right now since there is an unprecedented pandemic where we have to remain indoors which also explains why my experience with this specific work of art was only limited to a digital viewing. No matter, I shall try to check it out when we resume face to face classes on campus). As a camper myself, an ambience like this is not unfamiliar to me and it elicits nostalgia and is reminiscent of my escapades outdoors. Honestly, I have been cooped up at home for more or less six months now and this is, indeed, a sight for sore eyes. At the vanishing point of the drawing, there is a little bit of smoke which I feel is indicative of civilization. Another key indicator of civilization is the flowing river. We have learned in our history classes that civilizations predominantly start near rivers. As a Population, Health, and Environment advocate myself, I have organized several community service projects by the riverbank as a personal commitment. The presence of the river has also drawn me further into this drawing since I am also a swimmer so I really value this work of art. However, it also appears to me that this embankment is a little bit isolated as there are no humans in the portrait but it has a certain appeal to little old me who has always enjoyed her own quiet time but this does not mean that there were no humans here before. The forest was obviously devirginized already by the loggers. The tree stumps made me remember more fond childhood memories as I really enjoyed sitting on tree stumps as a kid as I was pretending to be the princess of the mini forest in our backyard. All in all, the drawing elicits fondness since it makes me reminisce about a lot of things that are and were present in my life from its elements alone.
In this segment, I would also like to discuss two of its values that are not limited to my person but are still reflective of my own thoughts and values, namely 1) social and 2) economic. The social value of this work is of course very helpful to my advocacy. The message is there but is very subtle with its approach to the masses. Its projection is by all means, not forceful upon the viewer(s). It did not mention whether the logging was legal or illegal, ethical or not. As for its economic value, I currently have no idea how much this work actually is since the Ateneo Art Gallery received this as a gift from the artist but I think that it would fetch a considerable amount as the artist holds great prestige as a National artist nominee.
BASIC SEMIOTIC PLANE
As I have mentioned earlier, I only viewed the work digitally so I did not get the full experience or in other words, my appreciation for it was still limited to what I was able to observe from my screen. I can only express further my appreciation that art is an experience and that curating is a talent. For an art that was charcoal on paper and a mezzotint at that, I think it is safe to say that it was still okay for me to be able to appreciate the formal elements that stood out to me in this work, viz: 1) achromatic value, 2) shape, and 3) space. As the drawing was charcoal on paper, the chiaroscuro, which is a technique that heightens the dramatic effect with use of light and dark was utilized splendidly but you can see that there really was only a thin line on the scale where the variations present were neither purely black nor white. The work itself was full of gray areas. This is especially so with the geometric shapes that formed the tree stumps. As for the planar space, I loved how the positive space was about deforestation which was a timely nudge for people to think in that direction and how the supposed negative space made use of a river instead to balance things out and to make the art more faithful to life.
In this portion, I can also discuss two things related to the basic semiotic plane which I found especially interesting, the 1) orientation and 2) perception. The orientation of the drawing was clearly portrait but the subject matter was a landscape and I highly suspect that there is a golden ratio as the tree stump up front looks like it takes up 1.618. On the other hand, for the perception of the drawing, one sees a lone tree standing as if the stumps are leading one’s eyes to it. It makes you exclaim that, “Oh no! There is only one tree left.” It even begs the question of how it can still continue to be a haven for loggers if that is the case. Is this a depiction of abuse of loggers to their so-called haven? Kind of poignant if you ask me since this place should be their loves, something that they should cherish but they took and took love but never reciprocated in giving.
Now, before we finish the four planes, let us talk about what work this is exactly. I was a little bit saddened since I could not read any other information from the Ateneo Art Gallery apart from 1) the title, 2) the artist, 3) the provenance, and 4) the year without context. It also did not help that there were no analyses available online about this work.
Simply put, Logger’s Haven by Filemon Delacruz is a study for mezzotint and is a drawing made of charcoal on paper. The name literally means that it is a place of safety or refuge and/or favorable opportunities or conditions for loggers or people who fell trees for timber. The artist is renowned for visual arts and is known as a master printmaker specializing in mezzotint prints and received awards like CCP’s prestigious 13 artist award. Delacruz is also a National Artist nominee. As Logger’s Haven is described as a study for mezzotint (achieved by producing halftones without the use of line- or dot-based techniques like hatching as seen in the art work), Delacruz really lives up to the name he made for himself. The drawing is currently in the Ateneo Art Gallery as a gift of the artist.
In the year 2000, several studies were conducted and they showed that the existing domestic wood supply could not meet the increasing domestic demands which can be seen in the work of art. It can be said that during this time, there was an increasing timber shortage but the one tree at the end of the path of the riverbank shows that the Philippine forestry sector had hope. There were also logging bans or a moratorium of commercial logging put into place to address this issue and as such, I feel like this land was not among the provinces or areas covered by the said ban and moratorium thus it was indeed a haven for loggers.
Concerns about the displacement of indigenous people were already existing then as it is still now. One might even think that this place or embankment itself was abandoned already as they had almost used up the natural resources available there but then again, rivers usually indicate that there is civilization nearby and the smoke at the vanishing point clues us in but for that side, it did not show much except that there were people who had been there before. The people that were there before were definitely not PHE advocates like myself as they did not follow the golden rule of taking nothing but pictures. This is not surprising, however, as nearly 90 percent of Philippine forests have disappeared in the last century as of the year 2000. Delacruz’ works are well-known for its rich ethnic imagery and ethnic symbols so I feel like this might hold true as well for this work.
Finally, for the iconic plane, all the elements present give off a sense of relaxation (as I have mentioned earlier in this analysis) which serves as a contrast to the urgency of the matter at hand which is deforestation. The tree stumps are forming a line as if one was on a death march and the next victim is that lone tree at its vanishing point. The river flows like time. Its movement to me appears meandering but it gives off the illusion that all is calm and steady. Slowly but surely, we are swept by the currents of the river into a sinking reality that the Population, Health, and Environment advocacy I hold dear is as timely as ever, back then in 2000 and now, two decades later.
For population, health, and environment,