Painter and art teacher Yasmin “Jigs” Almonte isn’t called a survivor by friends for nothing. She…
For three years in a row already, painter-art educator-cancer survivor Yasmin Almonte has been holding solo exhibits in her birth month of January. It is her way of “expressing my gratitude for being here, being alive,” she said.
For her show “Thoughts and Intentions,” on view at Sining Kamalig until Feb. 7, she allowed her canvas to reveal the thoughts that came to her at the start of production.
She said, “There is no structured plan or theme for each painting. There are intended messages, but sometimes they change in meaning as the work progress. I did not make studies. When an idea came to me, I either just painted away or got some reference to be used as springboard for my images. From this, I created my pieces. I actually do not know how each final work will look until I decide when the work is done.”
Hers, in short, is the visual arts equivalent of the literary “stream of consciousness” technique. There are works that are representational, others abstract.“I go where my feelings take me. Sometimes a distant memory comes to me. I render it in abstract because it is something that I felt strong about a certain time but just brings vague images to me now. There’s this painting I tore and pasted, added paint and erased. As I ‘vented’ on paper, I realized that I was creating an art piece. Sometimes I just want to paint flowers. Other times I want to say something or express a feeling so I put images together to convey my thoughts.”
What hasn’t disappeared is her love for flowers. She said, “I love to paint them because they represent to me what life truly is. The ephemeral stages are there to be appreciated—the tiny bud, the flower in full bloom, the wilting, fading flower, the flower pressed and dried. I love roses because they are absolutely beautiful, but they have thorns and are not easy to grow. They need love and care. Roses are fragile. Life is fragile. Both are beautiful.”
Asked if she were a color, what would she be, she answered, “I’d be red. It’s such a powerful color and so dichotomous. Red can both be attributed to love as in Valentine’s Day and hate as in ‘I see red.’ Red is linked to celebrations of life like birthdays and baptisms, and death, violence even.”
In a past interview, Almonte stated that painting was her way of weeping without tears. Today she still feels the same way. “I tell people that sining (art) is my lover. Art is my hiding place where I go to express my joy, my longings, my fears, my hopes and my dreams. My artworks are my confessions.”
She continued, “I don’t know how I would be like without my art-making. I have to paint. Otherwise, I feel empty. Painting is my voice.”
She also assumes the voice of a teacher. For this she trained extensively. Almonte holds an MA in painting from the University of Northern Iowa where she also graduated summa cum laude, Bachelor of Arts in Art Teaching Licensure Program (K-12th grades). Before this, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in painting, magna cum laude, from the University of the Philippines.
She has received several awards from the UP, the latest being the Centennial Professorial Chair Award.
She is an associate professor at the UP College of Fine Arts and at the same time an art tutor in its extension program that offers basic and advanced drawing and painting lessons. Through teaching she is able “to pass on what I’ve learned through the years. Being an art educator allows me to be a part of the evolution of painters-in -progress. My great joy is to see the seeds that I have planted come to fruition. This is my payback to the Creator who has blessed me with this tremendous gift.”
Another role that she has taken on is being full-time grandmother and caregiver to her five-year- old grandson Xylon Jace Maramara who she calls “my constant companion, comedian, gentle spirit in my life.” She added, “Bringing him up is such a joy to me.”
Although she confessed that the flesh is weak, she still intends to return to her other love—belly dancing. She laughed and said, “I cannot say that I was ever really good at it, but I enjoyed dancing tremendously before I got sick. I’ve asked my dance teacher for lessons. I will soon be dancing again!”
Sining Kamalig is on the upper groundfloor of Ali Mall, Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City.