“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
What becomes a Legend most? asked a once popular advertising campaign for a luxury item. The ad, of course, did not advert to art but to the concept of an individual grabbing hold of his destiny, rather than waiting for whatever Fate would inflict on him. The thought occurs as one contemplates the art career of Sofronio Ylanan Mendoza, now better known by the acronym SYM
Now in the autumn of his years, SYM, who is currently holding a solo exhibition of recent works at the Makati Shangri-La, Manila, organized by Hiraya Gallery, can look back on a trajectory of life marked by struggles, trials and travails, and - as a truly blest man with an enduring and happy marriage and grown offspring of professionals all working in Canada, where SYM had immigrated way back in 1981 – triumphs and successes as well. Indeed, a coffee table written by esteemed historian Alfredo Roces, carried the title “The Power of Struggle.” Is it any wonder then that the title of SYM’s current show is “Tadhana”?
As a poor young man with humble origins in Cebu, SYM had sought out the mentorship of the acknowledged Cebuano master Martino Abellana in the town of Carcar, several kilometers south of Cebu City. (Abellana himself had been mentored by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo.) That was a brave and determined move of someone who as a child had only dreamt of becoming a comics illustrator, obsessed with copying Marvel and DC Comics superheroes like Superman and Batman. Learning literally at the foot of master Abellana, SYM had opened his eyes to the wonders and techniques in the art of Realism.
Constituting a story in itself was SYM’s sea journey to Manila, where the ship captain had discovered his talent in portrait painting. As a reward, the young SYM’s ticket was upgraded from third-class accommodation to the Captain’s guestroom. So, too, were SYM’s adventures in breaking into the art scene in Manila, by way of the Mabini art trade; his labors as a jeepney signage painter, his studies at the University of Santo Tomas, and his transfer of residence to a Manila district known as Dimasalang, where a nascent group of realist painters had emerged, in the manner of the French Barbizon landscape painters. The Dimasalang Group would evolve into a second and third generation of painters, such was the power of a shared artistic vision in Realism.
In the year 2001, in an astounding turn-around, SYM pursued a vein of Cubism, inspired by the Filipino Cubist Vicente Manansala’s “Transparent Cubism.” Not quite in the image-shattering mode of Picasso’s and Braque’s multiple viewpoints, Transparent Cubism, in the hands of SYM, has assumed a gentle and lyrical tonality, with a mellow chromatic range of pastels – blushing pinks and apple greens and lemony yellows – and a nativist relish of Philippine fruits and vegetables such as mangoes and bananas, eggplants, and upo, the bottle gourd. For close to two decades, SYM has not once succumbed to the blandishments of collectors to return to his previous style of realism.
But has SYM truly turned his back on realism? Perhaps not. For after all, Juan Gris, known as “The Third Cubist,” had once said, “Truth is beyond any realism, and the appearance of things should not be confused with their essence.”
Sofronio “SYM” Mendoza is a Filipino art legend in his own right.