Victor would not have lived to see the Supremo, the artist Junyee aka Luis Enano Yee Jr., win the National Artist award, even if the hits songs Mr. Lonely and Crying Time played endlessly in the now-shuttered jukeboxes in the eskinitas of Quiapo.
Wilma doesn’t care whether the Supremo wins it this year or next, as long as he wins it, and the applause goes ringing in her brown ears like the artworks being gathered for a group show at Altro Mondo, Pasong Tamo starting June 26, around 88 of them all batting for Yee give or take a few vaccine shots, that part of Makati where once stood a forest or at least a mangrove of dreams.
Wilma has been familiar with the Supremo’s works through the years, doesn’t matter which year but mostly having to deal with site-specific installations using indigenous materials and found objects, which confound viewers with the artist’s awareness of the environment or indeed love for mother nature, subjects that Victor would not help but admire: the series of anguds or tree stumps a grim reminder of the hazards of illegal logging, bamboo installations working with sustainable wind energy both on Cultural Center grounds, making the view of Roxas Boulevard not quite the same again.
Then there was “Kwarantin” last year at UP’s Vargas museum grounds, prefiguring the lockdowns now stretching to more than a year.
Mr. Lonely says he likes Junyee’s Prince Valiant hairdo, who doesn’t? Wilma would remember seeing that selfsame ’do at the Crosby Stills & Nash concert sometime March 2015, Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, the Supremo with fellow artist Hermisanto listening to songs like Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Carry On, Our House, Wooden Ships, while drinking beer in big plastic cups — why, Victor would have loved it, even if the repertoire was not exactly “cry in your beer.”
The Supremo has made a home somewhere in the foothills of Mount Makiling, in Los Baños, Laguna, can’t help but be near the forest from which element the artist draws inspiration if not sustenance paranormal, and Mr. Lonely remembers seeing him at the necrological services for the National Artist for Sculpture Billy Abueva in January 2018, Junyee paying tribute to a mentor for whom he worked as an apprentice at UP Diliman in the 1960s, when the suites were Judy blue and Abueva would ride on his custom-designed chariot down Maginhawa Street to visit a kumpadre, long before the advent of pantries among other wood things.
That talk of Junyee on mentor at the necro would reveal a side of the Supremo much more than Prince Valiant, though both Victor and Wilma barely recall the details, except for mention of the importance of small hands and the laborers that help put the work together, which fact was not lost on both artist and apprentice.
In an interview with Starweek magazine long ago, Junyee recalls seeing a luminous being on the beach while being on night watch during Boy Scout bivouac. His companion got stung in the eye by a wasp, while he himself perceived a shimmering in the coconut groves and thereafter the duende walking along the shore, which he related to his masters and which made him an instant laughingstock but when the Scouts went to inspect the beach here’s what they saw: footprints on the sand disappearing as quickly as they were formed. Sounds like barber’s tale if not outright apocrypha, you never know about these Scouts, but for the Supremo it was enough of a sign and symbol that his future lay in art and the elements, if not elementals.
Victor would have been impressed if not marvel at the lineup assembled for the Altro Mondo group show as tribute to the Supremo and nominating him for National Artist: Hermisanto, Achacruz, Pandy Aviado, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Julie Lluch, Tence Ruiz, Gus Albor, Manny Garibay, Rock Drilon, Red Mansueto, Fil dela Cruz, Ritchie Yee, Sam Penaso, Fitz Herrera, Impy Pilapil, Roy Veneracion, Nestor Vinluan, Jeff Dizon, etc.
Wilma doesn’t know if a few are mere namedrops but for sure quite a number move around in the same circle, have exhibited at one time or another with Junyee in similar group shows whether indigenous, quasi-indigenous or plain found profound.
Curated by Kaye Oyek and conceptualized by the Supremo’s nephew Ritchie Yee, “In Celebration of Creativity: Homage to Junyee” seems to suggest that it is not a question of deserving the award, because one either is an artist for Filipinos or isn’t, despite being so named (or not named).
The sculpture is in the eye of the beholder. The installation can’t help but be site-specific. The environment is calling. Victor would have gone to the opening had he not died along the way, the jukebox king laid to rest with the memory of beer gardens. Wilma doesn’t show up much these days though is sure to receive an invite, because the Supremo himself would like to get a glimpse of her brown ears.
Junyee for National Artist — why not? — whose angud stands sentry at the forest’s backdoor. No time for crying in beers, nor for stupid loggers.
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“In Celebration of Creativity: Homage to Junyee” opens at Altro Mondo, Pasong Tamo on June 26.