(Article published in the May 21, 2008
issue of Manila Standard Today)
One’s writing instrument, like the pad paper, was, at the playground of the public school named Lakan Dula Elementary on Solis St., Gagalangin, Tondo, Manila, where I learned my 3Rs, a mark of one’s stature. The Grade Ones had fat, black, lead pencils sticking out from their army surplus backpacks; the Grade Fours had the slender and varicolored, ones inserted in the middle of their writing notebooks. And only the Grade Six had fountain pens clipped to their shirts, for only the graduating class wrote themes; and themes had, teacher said, to be written only in ink that was kept in a bottle labeled “Quink.” Trusty symbols of status in the journey from tender to teenage, pencils and fountain pens were thus held in love and awe.
Not so ball pens. Ball pens came when we were already in high school, a time in a boy’s life concerned more with dancing than writing. And the first Bics were unreliable, if not embarrassing, in school or for show. Ink flowed from the ball point erratically smudging hand and paper; on bad days, heat of air and chest, leaked out blotches on one’s white uniform shirt. Disdain for the instrument continued in law school: a forensic expert on questioned documents warned against using ball pen to sign important documents. Fountain pens, he said, reflected the unique ways of a signer’s strokes and ball pens did not.
Hence, it was a tenet of
faith, unshaken by the Parkers, Schaeffers, Crosses, and Montblancs given at
various points in the course of growing up and earning a living, that
nothing great could be done with a ball pen.
Now, after nearly half a century later since my first fountain pen, I am prepared to recant. Hanging on the walls of the Top of the Citi, at the 34th Floor of the Citibank Tower, are nine (out of others using other media) works of art using ballpens done by Lito L. De Guzman, an active figure in the Philippine art scene.
Lito’s fascination and handling of the ball pen dates back to the age of six, copying Filipino superheros, “Palos” and “Gagamba” on the cards used in playing teks as well as on his school T-shirt. While in high school, he overcame his disinterest in Chemistry by drawing the elements using a simple ball pen. That found favor with his teacher who gave him high marks. It was at this time that he started winning acclaim for his art: he won consolation prizes at the Philippine Motors Association for two consecutive years.
The flip of the coin decided his going to the University of the East School of Music and Arts for the fine arts instead of architecture. He stuck to fine arts over the objection of his father who fortunately, however, gave in when Lito won second place in an art competition.
Complying with the requirement of his membership in his school’s Katipunan Group to hold an art exhibition, he held his first solo at the Charisma Gallery at the Greenbelt Lobby on 27 November 1985. One of the guests bought all of Lito’s paintings, including the “Little Boy Blue” done in monochrome with ball pen.
This was followed over the years by many more in various places: “Ikatlong Bahagi”, a one-man show at the Philamlife lobby, “Colors of December” at the City Gallery; “BallpeN Art” at Micaller Gallery on Jupiter Street, Bel-Air, Makati. “BallpeN Art” attracted many collectors among Manila’s rich who also commissioned Lito for more of his artwork.
Ball pen art has been good to Lito and has come to his rescue in hard times. One time, when his kids were ill and hospital bills were piling up, his prayers were answered when a foreigner, within two hours of his storming heaven with his fervent pleas, walked into City Gallery and bought five of his works for cash.
True to the spirit of sharing inherent in the artistic impulse, Lito teaches his technique to anyone interested at every opportunity. In his art workshops at City Gallery, his students included at one time or another an 81 year-old man, a 60-year old balikbayan woman, a child who had no hands but could paint, faster than his classmates, with only his two arms.
In addition, he has taught his art in Lagro Elementary School, Kahapon Gallery in Bohol Avenue, University Hills Subdivision, Our Lady of Grace Academy, San Pedro Bautista Parish Church, Poveda Learning Center, Galleria Filipina, and General Luna Gallery in Davao.
eveloping a technique is, like creation, a continuing process. To breath vigor into his renditions with the ordinary ball pen, Lito is currently experimenting with mixing its use with that of other types of writing and marking instruments, such as gel pens and glitter pens.
The emerging technique is particularly demanding since colors are not mixed in a palette; they are instead applied directly on the canvas, paper or wood. To achieve the desired two-dimensional effect, the technique requires that the artist to be more knowledgeable about his medium, more patient in coaxing out the proper hue, and more controlled in making his strokes.
de Guzman’s ball pen art, together with his other works, is currently on
exhibit at the Top of the City and will stay there until 30 May. It is
Lito’s 16th one-man-show and is entitled “Small Works”, obviously
in deliberate down play of the great effort that went into creating works of
beauty through the employment of a challenging technique.