Art/Style/Travel Diaries

A tale of two Pardos

For the first time in 36 years, a rare chance for art lovers, Pardo de Leon's Stitched Frog—one of her two biggest works— is now on exhibit

'Stitched Frog'

In early 1988, the Cultural Center of the Philippines made arrangements with the city of Riga in Latvia, then part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, to exhibit the works of local artists Lao Lian Ben, Santi Bose, and Pardo de Leon, focusing on diverse styles of Philippine art.

On December 7 of that year, a devastating earthquake shook Northern Armenia, then Armenian SSR and part of the Soviet Union, killing more than 45,000 people and leaving up to 130,000 injured. Amid the frenzy of Russians assisting victims in the disaster and managing relief goods and humanitarian aid from over a hundred donor countries, the art show was cancelled. The works of art from the Philippines remained in a warehouse in Moscow and were shipped back to Manila a year later.

Pardo created two of her biggest works for the exhibit in Riga: The Christ and Stitched Frog, both oil on canvas and measuring 8 x 8 feet. They would be introduced to the public on two separate occasions later on.

‘The Christ’

Upon first seeing The Christ, the viewer sees strokes of rich, deep blues, murky browns, and magentas on the expansive surface. Upon contemplation, an image of an extreme close-up of the Nazarene emerges, gazing to the left, despite the eyes cropped from the composition; the graceful neck resembles flowing water from a brook or maybe a shallow waterfall, and the deep red robes, a swirling scarlet landscape below the canvas. It offers a glimpse into Pardo’s obsession in her works: how the figurative can dissolve into abstraction through scale, impasto, and by leaving certain figurative elements deliberately out of the canvas.

In 1989, The Christ premiered at Galleria Duemila at SM Megamall, as a walk-in altar flanked by two 4 x 4 feet canvases of wilted flowers painted in oil, created exclusively by Pardo for the exhibit. On her initiative, gallery owner Silvana Diaz instructed her staff to keep lights switched on after mall hours, throughout the night and into daytime, to simulate the eternal candles lit in front of altars in Catholic homes and churches.

Pardo allowed The Christ to be acquired by a friend she sensed as having a deep faith. “Faith has always been a fascination and an evolving discovery,” confesses the owner. “The near-abstract rendition of Christ is a metaphor for how I view faith, my belief in a Supreme Energy despite the seeming vagaries.”

Meanwhile, upon its return to Manila, Stitched Frog hung in the artist’s home for years. It was partly damaged because of how the canvas was rolled and stored for months in a damp warehouse in Moscow. Pardo discouraged interested buyers who visited by declaring the piece a gift to her mother.

In contrast to The Christ, Stitched Frog is more figurative: the profile of a head reminiscent of Caravaggio occupies half the canvas, an elegant background to a giant pickerel frog in midair, lunging towards the viewer. Yet, juxtaposed to create a sense of unexpected movement, these disparate objects allow for more than literal interpretations, evoking a sense of abstraction in the subconscious.

The artist’s restraint and strong command of the medium show in the muted palette of browns, beiges, and touches of green accentuating the moist and slimy underbelly of the frog, contrasting with the smooth flowing layered white fabric of the Caravaggio character.

Pardo finally allowed another friend to acquire Stitched Frog in the 1990s. At the height of the pandemic in 2021, it was restored by a new owner, fortuitously also a friend of the artist, in time for its public appearance after 36 years in Pardo’s solo show,  The Crack, The Gap, The Alleyway, running from April 27 to May 26, 2024 at the mo_space Gallery in BGC, Taguig.

About author

Articles

He is chairperson and Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\Santiago Mangada Puno. Beyond running his agency, he helps nurture the rising generation of young talents through the TBWA\cademy, a scholarlship fund for advertising students from poor communities. He is an adjunct professor of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. He is the chairman of 4As Philippines and has been appointed by the Philippine government as representative of the private sector to the Design Advisory Council of the Design Center of the Philippines. He is on the board of Bright Halls, a non-profit orphanage for abandoned infants; of Canvas.ph, an organization promoting reading among children in marginalized communities through art; and of the Museum Foundation of the Philippines.

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