Friday, December 10, 2010

Starry, Starry Night – from UNICEF Christmas card artist Manuel D. Baldemor

By Nancy T. Lu

Generosity gets manifested in many wonderful ways at Christmastime. Famous artists around the world, for example, offer the reproduction rights to their paintings to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Corporate interest in buying UNICEF Christmas cards to contribute to efforts to help malnourished and impoverished children around the world has been sustained over the years despite the trend to go for digital cards because the colorful greeting cards feature designs with great appeal.

To look at the paintings of Philippine-born artist Manuel D. Baldemor is to understand readily why his works revolving around the festive Christmas theme have been selected for reproduction on UNICEF cards over the years.

Every labor of love coming out of Baldemor’s atelier in Pasig, Metro Manila, feels very much like Christmas. He fills his Philippine Christmas landscape with traditional Philippine Christmas lanterns, which hang on windows and in front of homes at this time of the year. The star-shaped decorations shine beautifully in the night. The bright and exciting colors from Baldemor’s palette spread the joy of the season.

Traditions are very close to the heart of this 63-year-old native of the famous woodcarving town of Paete in Laguna province. He portrays Filipino farmers from the countryside taking time out to go and hear the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Some show up even on the backs of water buffalos. The colorful Philippine jeepney likewise brings people to church. Vendors balancing baskets of food for the Noche Buena on their heads also find their way into his paintings.

Baldemor’s stylized depictions of Christmas celebration remind viewers that Christmas is a religious feast in predominantly Catholic Philippines. The façade of a house of worship – often Baldemor’s hometown church – is incorporated into his art composition from time to time. The Filipino family, too, gets highlighted in his well thought out art expression about Christmas. He paints townsfolk looking out of the windows of their homes.

The titles, which Baldemor gives his paintings, tell about the traditional Filipino culture, which fascinates him and which he holds dear. These include: “Pasko Sa Aming Bayan (Christmas in the Philippines),” “Season of Hope,” “Stars,” “Lantern Festival,” “Stars of Good Blessing,” “Midnight Mass” and “Filipino Family.”

The generous Baldemor has contributed at least 15 designs to UNICEF cards since 1986. Some of the original paintings are still in his personal collection.

The processing of a work of art for use on a UNICEF card takes about four years. A slide of the painting is sent to the UNICEF head office in New York for evaluation. The actual painting is never brought over there.

Greeting cards featuring Baldemor’s paintings have all been best-sellers. Such knowledge truly fills the painter’s heart with happiness.

Baldemor, in fact, created a mural titled “Pasasalamat” (Thanksgiving”) for the lobby of the UNICEF Building in Vienna, Austria. The mixed media masterpiece even required Baldemor to bring 50 kilos of lahar sand to Vienna. It was unveiled in 1998.

The friendly and outgoing Baldemor is not just a painter but also a sculptor, printmaker, and book illustrator. At the age of 12, he was already a “master carver” in Paete. Years ago, he even dabbled in ceramic tile design.

Baldemor studied fine arts at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He went on to win painting competitions and represent his country at international exhibitions like the Salon International Art in Paris.

Baldemor’s earliest drawings were in black and white. But his paintings have exploded in all the brightest colors imaginable. And art collectors just love them.

Today Baldemor – the father of three and grandfather of five – is considered one of the most productive and most appreciated contemporary painters in the Philippines. There is hardly any Filipino artist who can match his record for the total number of one-man shows held in his professional art career – to be exact, over 100 in all.

He travels abroad often, returning to showcase the creative results of his inspiring sojourns. Many travel grants from governments have enabled him to get to know first-hand the cultures of different countries on different continents.

When Baldemor was young, he wanted to be a poet. He now writes occasionally about his travels for the mass-circulation newspaper Philippine Star.