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The lost art of the editorial cartoon

By JUANIYO ARCELLANA, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 18, 2024 5:00 am

Ongoing at Estancia Mall in Pasig, vMeme Gallery on the third floor shows Jose Tence Ruiz’s “Drawings of Love, Hate and Pained Abiding,” 40 works of mostly editorial cartoons culled from the various publications he worked with through the decades, as well as a few large-scale oil paintings whose drafts began merely as plain sketches.

In the artist’s notes detailing works that first appeared in Who and Midweek magazines, Manila Chronicle, Singapore Straits Times and InterPress Service among others, Tence Ruiz explains how the art of drawing sustained and tided over his family and his soul through the years —much like reporters and editors rely on their craft in the trenches of the newsroom, even if at times existence is hand to mouth, “a poor thing but my own,” as the oyster liked to say of its cancer.

Bogey at work: The plight of the editorial cartoonist

Now, I once asked Bogey, as he is better known in art circles, a good holder of his cups while presiding over talk of theories and related conspiracies in gatherings, if he ever felt the need to return to journalism, i.e., ever missed the adrenaline and rush of the newsroom deadlines to render in pen and ink the visual equivalent of the next day’s editorial. Nope, he said, been there done that, why beat a dead horse or words to that effect, water under the bridge and all that, or to paraphrase a Rolling Stones song, who wants yesterday’s papers?

But as for yesterday’s girl, there’s plenty and then some in the drawings at vMeme, which serve as a kind of retrospective of the fundamentals of his craft, and can only suggest that the artist has come full circle, in a kind of unplugged mode kicking out all the unnecessary props to arrive at the basics of the singular line and all its varied permutations into ellipsis, parabola, tangents and curves. You don’t know sexy until you’ve seen love, hate and pained abiding (what a title, love/hate to take whatever he’s on).

“Scarecrow for the Scared”

Take a second look at “Scarecrow for the Sacred,” acrylic and colored inks on canvas, a double-edged statement on how the power of religion can influence state policy, no matter the so-called separation between church and state in a strongly Catholic country like ours. It’s just one hollowman or two with appropriate headdress ready for the apocalipsis.

Or the elaborately sashaying “Donya Viktoria Makafili,” whose gaudy nouveau riche design seems to lay bare the hypocrisy of high society. Well, Tence was never one to condemn society’s foibles and excesses, preferring to hold a clear mirror to it and smile wryly while doing so.

“The Barbed Wire Child”

“Fiction: An Officer’s Saga” accompanied a short story that first appeared in Midweek magazine, the groundbreaking magazine whose roster of artists also included, at one time or another, Danilo Dalena and Benjie Lontoc Jr. It was where the drawings were as radical as the content, the work hours as unpredictable as a march in the mountains a la pasa bilis.

And you don’t get as bare bones as “Barbed Wire Child,” a pen and ink that recalls images from the concert of Bangladesh, hunger in Negros, and the cover of the U2 album “Boy.”

It’s clear that among what fuels Tence is music, as witness his awesome cassette collection in the old Chronicle offices in Port Area back in the day, with eclectic taste ranging from Suzanne Vega to Fra Lippo Lippi, Singing Benedictine monks to Miles Davis. It’s not hard to imagine Bogey working on a large-scale mural while listening to, say, Beethoven’s Ninth at full blast in his humble studio in Tandang Sora built from his earnings in Singapore and other transcendental rackets. Where have all those cassettes gone? The way of the editorial cartoonists in newsrooms of the world.


No doubt, though, he’s kind of slowed down in his 60s; attribute that to the mellowness that comes with age, but pen and its reinventions remain as crisp as ever: “Sirena,” oil and bitumen on primed canvas, and “Carbon Footprint of the Patriot” are just two of the eye-catching works on display, mainly because the artist is never bereft of ideas or the use of color at its most basic but at the same time, most powerful.

Possible too that Bogey merely got tired of the press releases, the vested interests that say “erase this or accent that,” Big Brother and the moneybags looking over his shoulder. He could do without them. Even if it means pushing a car in and around the parking lot in the dead of night to get it started, while Rambo the resident taong grasa in Port Area can only smile bemusedly and wonder, what are those guys trying to do again?

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Ongoing until March 24.