Sun, 14 Oct 2001

Artist Jay now choosing his fights on canvas

Mehru Jaffer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The canvas titled Fight says it all. It is in fact the entire autobiography of painter Jay Briones De Gala, and also the title of his debut exhibition.

Using palette knives, Jay has cut into the canvas that is generously coated with deep blues, shades of yellow and red paint to carve a crude out line of an army tank that is seen driving straight toward a child. The tank is almost 10 times bigger than the little boy in the foreground.

Obviously the child is no chicken. He stands in full action with one arm raised, holding a stone aimed at the tank. The canvas throbs with tension as the huge tank seems to almost touch the nose of the child whose face is turned away from the viewer. At a glance the artist appears to be glorifying the themes of a tooth for a tooth, or a nail for a nail. But look again, for if anything that is glorified in this canvas it is perhaps courage, and not revenge.

"The child is not stupid. He knows that a stone is no match for a tank but at that moment that is the only way he knows to defend himself. Instead of doing nothing and waiting passively for the end to come he decides to do something in his defense, no matter how ordinary, how small that gesture is," said Jay on the eve of the two-week solo exhibition of 60 of his paintings.

Many of the other exhibits too depict violence in different ways. But if Jay had his way he would have nothing to do with violence. He has had enough of it. The truth, however, is that he is unable to escape violence. Even today he carries a knife that is tucked only a few inches away from a leather pouch holding a packet of cigarettes, and strapped around his waist with a belt.

He is not quite sure whether he really needs to carry a weapon all the time or he does it out of a habit from childhood?

"If I were still in the Philippines I would be carrying a gun instead for self-defense," says Jay who came to Jakarta a decade ago as financial consultant to a Jakarta based company. Since then his ties to this country have only grown. His Indonesian wife and three children often make him forget that he is Filipino.

Jay was born in the Philippines but it is in Indonesia that he was reborn, he likes to repeat. He came here on a business assignment and made quite a success of it. Just when he was feeling that he had arrived he heard a little voice tell him that something very important was still missing in his life. He wandered around listlessly trying to shrug away the nagging feeling till he found himself engaged in a delightful conversation with painter Mustika one day.

That was two years ago when Mustika first told him that all he needed to paint was a desire to do so.

Jay recalls bursting into goose pimples as he listened to Mustika talk and who made it sound so easy to practice art. Jay already had all the material comforts he desired but his soul remained, as if, asleep. After Mustika, he met Moko who eventually taught him how to use oil colors on canvas.

The first time he saw Moko he felt like Daniel, the karate kid in the film of the same name. Moko reminded him of Mr. Miyagi, the wise karate master with his great wit, immense talent and white beard. He had little problem in accepting Moko immediately as his guru.

Today his one desire is to be part of the international art scene, using his paintings to bring people from around the world closer to each other.

Jay's desperateness to create a better understanding between different people and societies stems from his own childhood that was filled with quarrels and terror. He is astonished to see the heights scaled by terrorism today like in the recent destruction of the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. He understands the frustration of ordinary people who want a better life for themselves. After all he is one of them. But even in worst moments people still have a choice in resolving the predicament they face.

Throughout his life he has tried to do good for himself without harming the other.

He was five years old when Jay first confronted violence. It was in the middle of one dark night when terrible sounds woke him up and tried to turn his little world up side down. Although three decades have passed since that incident he still finds it difficult to forget the helplessness he experienced at watching his father lash out brutally at his mother both verbally and physically.

"I remained at the receiving end of much violence for 10 more years and then I decided to retaliate," Jay said.

But instead of launching a vendetta against his father and the whole world, Jay wondered about other ways to improve his life. Finally he concluded that the cause of much of the misery suffered by his family was due to poverty. He was 13 years old when he first resolved to conquer poverty.

While other kids of his age played and experimented with drugs and alcohol, Jay studied. Eventually he earned a scholarship and graduated in commerce from Manila's prestigious De Lasalle University. A lack of a proper education, he feels, is often the key to many a problem people face in life. And now that he has conquered his own poverty, both physical and spiritual, he looks forward to helping others even less fortunate than himself to do the same. The fight, of course, continues but violence, he hopes will have no room in his life, ever.

The Fight is at H Galeri, Jl. Tomang Raya No 39, (tel. 56961004). Open until Oct. 20.