Philippine arts

Guy Custodio, Jea Mina: Painters of contrasting themes, generations

Philip M. Lustre Jr.

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Guy Custodio, Jea Mina: Painters of contrasting themes, generations

CONTRASTING ART. 'Jea Mina's The Floor is Water' on the left and a detail of Guy Custodio's 'Daloy' on the right.

Courtesy of Jea Mina and Guy Custodio

Guy Custodio paints themes that typify the country’s rich religious experience and ecclesiastical heritage. Jea Mina paints themes that reflect artworks of the millennial and Gen Z generations.

Painters Guy Custodio and Jea Mina represent two contrasting but not necessarily conflicting generations. Hence, they represent contrasting themes in their artworks.

Guy Custodio paints themes that typify the country’s rich religious experience and ecclesiastical heritage. Jea Mina paints themes that reflect artworks of the millennial and Gen Z generations. Custodio’s artworks are long on the spiritual but short on modernist content while Mina’s works are mainly along the modern themes of surrealism and pop art.

Custodio is a fixture in the local art scene. Besides painting, which he does with untold passion, he pursues art restoration by bringing back to life the damaged artworks. Custodio’s approach in every restoration work is to preserve its soul. He hardly tinkers with its integrity. He keeps the original artists’ intent.

His paintings dwell on religious themes like religious practices including processions and other expressions of our collective faith. Although he started in painting, he somehow branched out into art restoration works, which are as demanding, compelling, intricate, and complicated as painting. This is to be expected, Custodio said.

His painting discipline on religious themes is as intense as doing restoration works. He could not help it but his restoration works have their own means to express themselves. Custodio is a believer and a man of faith, whose forebears came from Spain during the Spanish colonial era.

Mina admitted the art of the younger generation veers away from realism. Her art works express conformity to this norm.

“This young generation sees self-expression as the priority in creating artworks, rules and everything else is secondary. What matters is that they like their own work,” she said.

“They are less likely to change their art styles just to sell more. Instead, it is believed that if they create a certain amount of artwork, no matter how niche it may seem, promote it persistently, they will eventually reach their target audience,” she added.

While getting out from the art norm to create almost picture-like quality of art, painters who belong to the Gen Z and millennial generation prefer to prepare stylized artworks that tell a story through defined lines and harmonious color palettes. This approach is getting popular, she observed.

Custodio: Apostle of religious arts

For Custodio, art conservation and preservation is a tricky matter. Restoring damaged artworks like paintings and sculpted works must enhance but not alter artworks. Art restorers preserve the artists’ original intent behind artworks that have been destroyed by years of negligence and frequent beatings – natural or man-made.

ART RESTORATION. Guy Custodio works to restore the damaged art on the ceiling of a church. Photo courtesy of Guy Custodio

For Guy Custodio, a painter who has done art conservation and preservation for the last 30 years, the success of restored art is measured by keeping its original spirit and form.

“An art restorer should not never alter the spirit of an artwork,” he said with an air of conviction. “An artwork’s soul should not be compromised for the sake of restoration. The original intent should remain.”

Fundamentally, conservation counters existing damage while preservation attempts to prevent future damage. Art conservation refers to the documentation, stabilization, and preservation of art objects. Conservation combines historic research, scientific analysis, and material science. They work together to create conservation treatment and maintenance plans. Restoration seeks to bring back damaged artworks to their original but “enhanced” state.

A Manila native, Custodio finished his primary and secondary education at the Dominican-run Letran College and the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas respectively. At an early age, he took painting as his art discipline. It was his first love. Barely out of teenage years, Custodio went in 1972 to the US, where he went to a city college for fine arts.

In 1977, he went to Spain and stayed there for three decades. Although a painter by discipline, Custodio developed the skills on art conservation and preservation on religious arts. He speaks fluent Castilian and Catalan languages.

He went back to the Philippines in 2004 and saw that art restoration was in its nascent stage as a discipline because conservation was hardly a priority. Filipino artists had hardly developed the acceptable ample art restoration skills. Compared to art restoration in Europe, where it has reached a higher level in skill requirements, art restoration was different in the Philippines. Custodio refused to comment on what he saw.

His art showed strong European influence. Nurtured in Europe, Custodio developed skills that possessed heavy European influence on religious subjects, indicating his fervor as a believer. He has adopted traditional arts of worship like retablo (devotional artworks), or reredos (altarpiece artworks). These retablos and reredos used rich ornamentation. His skills on traditional arts have proven to be useful when he went into art restoration works.

On secular subjects, Custodio’s paintings show the influence of French painter Henri Matisse, among the crop of impressionist painters who took the art world by storm. His use of the flattened form and simple lines but rich colors showed this inclination. Custodio’s Catnap shows a slumbering woman with her sleeping cats as well. Custodio adroitly uses a rich combination of ornamental colors and simple lines to illustrate a relaxed life with relaxing cats.

SLUMBER. Catnap by Guy Custodio. Photo courtesy of Guy Custodio

In another painting, Teri Con Diez Catos, Custodio illustrates a cat-loving lady friend, using varied but rich colors ala-Matisse but with uncomplicated lines to deliver the key message that mankind could live quite well and co-exist with feline friends. Custodio uses the typical unpretentious style of the old baroque style, where the message could be either the culminating or ebbing part.

CATS AS COMPANIONS. Teri Con Diez Catos hangs in Teri Sciascia’s residence in New York City. Photo courtesy of Guy Custodio

A related painting, Woman With a Cat, delivers the message that our feline friends are worthy of human affection and they reciprocate every human effort.

FELINE FRIEND. Woman with a Cat hangs in the apartment unit of Teri Sciascia in Rockwell, Makati City. Photo courtesy of Guy Custodio

In Daloy, Custodio aptly shows religious fervor in Filipinos’ way of life. It is a 4 by 10 feet mural, depicting a collage of religious practices in Filipinos’ lifestyle – from birth to death.

MURAL. Daloy by Guy Custodio. Photo courtesy of Guy Custodio

In Las Carosas de Tengcos, Custodio shows the carts used to mount the icons in religious processions in Bulacan.

CARTS. Las Carosas de Tengcos by Guy Custodio. Photo courtesy of Guy Custodio

In Quadricula, Custodio uses the same rustic but quintessential style to dramatize the arrival of Christianity to the Philippines. It hangs permanently at the National Museum of the Philippines.

It did not take long for Custodio to go into art restoration works. It was on October 13, 2013, when a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Bohol and Cebu, creating enormous damage to many structures, including churches like the fabled Sta. Monica Church in Albuquerque, Bohol. Cracks, detachment of facing stones, and collapsed parts were the results, prompting the National Museum to step into their recovery works.

The national government, through cultural agencies like the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), National Museum of the Philippines (NMP), and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) made collective efforts to save the damaged heritage sites and structures in Bohol and Cebu. The conservation of the Sta. Monica Church went to the National Museum. Its restoration was completed on August 18, 2018.

Recognizing Custodio’s skills and passion for restoration works, the National Museum tapped Custodio to do restoration works in Sta. Monica Church. Custodio restored the interior ceiling paintings, which were visibly damaged because of the tremor. The National Museum expressed satisfaction with Custodio’s restoration, saying he did “great work” restoring the church to its old glory as archetypal of Spanish art and architecture.

DETAILS. Guy Custodio’s restoration work at the Sta. Monica Church. Photo courtesy of Guy Custodio

When Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated Leyte and Eastern Samar, the Guiuan Church in Eastern Samar was badly damaged. Custodio did the restoration work on the 18th-century baroque-style Marian Church there, applying his special skills and using almost the same materials to restore its old glory.

The restoration work on the Guiuan Church lasted for about three months, an effort that recreated in great detail the same ambience and awe of its parishioners, making Custodio as one of the prime movers of art restoration in the country. For sure, his reputation will continue to soar in the Philippine art scene. Custodio has remained modest despite his accomplishments.

“I’ll continue to work hard to keep our old glory and splendor,” he said.

Mina: Pop art of surrealism

Jea Mina uses the vivid colors of pop art to produce the dreamlike qualities of surrealism. Her composition of lines and shapes lead viewers to mistake her creations for digital art prints. But she says with vehemence that she has not developed the skill to use digital arts – neither does she have the taste for it.

The common denominator of her works is the ocean. Her works feature gigantic sea creatures in colorful hues, making normal-sized people look minuscule alongside them. But she does it for a reason.

“The people, however, are unbothered by this reality. Who said glass houses can’t exist under water? Why can’t we swim with giant koi fishes? Who said pedestrian lanes can’t be built over calm rivers?” she mused rhetorically.

Her concept of painting encourages the adult audience to let their inner children reminisce about the times when their imaginations knew no limit.

“Where their minds played outside of everyday monotony. Through my works, we leave behind not just logic and rationality – we leave behind fear. Similar to a child unscarred by life, we just enjoy things as they are, going with the ebbs and flows of ocean waves, without worries of a boat capsizing, or a glass house shattering. Let the wonderful unknown take charge,” she explained.

Mina was born and raised in Manila 23 summers ago. Parents Fyodor Fhilip and April Mina encouraged her to paint at an early age when they saw her fondness for lines, colors, and shapes. She did not attend any school for arts nor had formal lessons. She pursued it first as a hobby that later branched into passion.

Jea Mina at her exhibit. Photo courtesy of Jea Mina

Mina completed her accountancy course at the city-owned Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. Certain civil issues, although not her fault, prevented her from taking her CPA exams in 2023. Instead of brooding, Mina focused on her art, prompting her to produce and complete a body of work feautred in a solo art exhibit in late 2023.

In her 2022 work The Floor is Water, Mina conjured an underwater pedestrian lane, while kois swam around in playful mirth.

The Floor is Water (2022). Photo courtesy of Jea Mina

Squidding Around featured a giant squid that towered over the human subject.

Just Squidding Around (2021). Photo courtesy of Jea Mina

In Everseeking, Everfeeling, Mina projected the message that the world’s future depends largely on plants. In that painting, a phalanx of plants serve as umbrellas to humans.

Everseeking, Everfeeling (2023). Photo courtesy of Jea Mina

A Tale of Wandering Pathfinders shows a school of colorful kois wandering aimlessly in a playful image of finding their place under the sun. It was her way of showing her generation in its search for meaning.

A Tale of Wandering Pathfinders (2023). Photo courtesy of Jea Mina

Mina does not lose sight of what to paint or not to paint.

“I keep my themes light and playful. I always envision my paintings as living room center pieces: vibrant, welcoming, something that would put a smile on visitors’ faces. I’d like to keep the gazes of children locked in my artworks, playing with their imagination,” she said.

“That being said, I avoid painting both heavy subjects and themes. My old works used to feature skulls, which I decided not to offer the market anymore as I believe these works do not really represent me and my goals. I also avoid using dark colors if I could help it. I avoid using the color black,” Mina added.

In many ways, Mina is a self-made painter who started her career through hard work and trial and error. She bought her cheap painting materials using her meager student allowance and made her own canvas from yards of cloth.

“I learned how to prepare my own canvas, because I didn’t have much money to have custom-made ones. I didn’t even know what a primer was, because, well, I never had a single proper fine arts lesson in life,” she said

“Everything I know, I learned from discreetly reading on Reddit forums and watching YouTube videos – from what paint to use down to what varnish is affordable but reliable. It has been a series of trials and errors that I really didn’t mind making, because honestly, me failing never crossed my mind,” Mina added.

Mina shared that as she funded her passion out of her own pocket, there were times when she would run out of paint or her brushes would become too worn out. Her parents would come to her rescue, giving her new paint sets, even if she didn’t ask them for anything. Other family members also jumped in to support her.

“My grandparents, who frequently flew from Indonesia, would bring me imported watercolors. To say that I was surrounded by supportive family members would be an understatement. I never felt any form of discouragement or doubt, nor did they question my decisions in life. Throughout my journey, I have been nothing but blessed,” she said.

She said her grandmother was her first client for a commissioned painting of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

“The price of that work was just enough to cover the cost of the materials used and the KFC lunch I had before riding the bus to personally deliver the work to Laguna, but the joy I felt was enormous. It was money I earned for myself, it was a weirdly liberating feeling,” Mina recalled.

“I remember it being June of 2018, after a few more low-priced commissions from relatives and friends, I was able to have my first ever major purchase. It was this perfect bubblegum blue fixie bike from Quiapo. I bought it on a discount, too! When I found out that my little brothers wanted a piano keyboard but, being financially conscious kids, were too shy to ask my parents for it, I was able to buy them just that, giving myself a tiny pat on the back,” she said.

Mina was not ashamed to say that she felt disappointed when her initial works were not bought. But it did not discourage her and even encouraged her to forge on in her craft.

“I hung my first gallery artwork at Cevio Art Haus in Pasig City. It was for a group exhibit of about a hundred artists. I was over the moon with excitement to be officially part of the art scene, even if only artificially. That work didn’t sell,” she said.

“Neither did the next. Nor the next. I guess the greatest disappointment I had at that time was that even though I was able to secure small commissions after small commissions, the artworks I submitted for exhibitions didn’t really sell. Still, I join whenever a fellow artist discovers me and invites me to join group shows. I was just happy to create and be included,” she added.

Mina said her “big break” was at the Xavier Art Fest of 2023 which featured, among others, The Floor is Water curated by Altro Mondo Creative Space. On the eve of the show, while the gallerists were hanging artworks in the exhibition venue, someone spotted that painting and bought it on the spot.

“Instead of taking the artwork home then and there, he instead allowed the gallery to keep it displayed for the entire duration of the event, in the hopes that the piece would garner more attention, and interest to my name. Surprisingly, a lot of people fell in love with the piece and inquired more about the artist. This is how I got offered my first solo show by the gallery,” she said.

“Everything felt like a dream and my stomach hurt from all the excitement. I still thank Mr. Chua, as well as Altro Mondo, to this day,” Mina added. –

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