BY JAY BAUTISTA First the long-overdue correction. Contrary to what we know as the etymology of the name “jeepney,” the word came from the North American English “jitney” which is a public transport between taxi and bus, they appeared in different forms in the US and Canada as early as 1920s. The more popular ones are “Hampton Jitneys” in New Orleans. Thus the name “jeepney” which everyone knows emanated from the so-called US army “jeep” as a remnant of World War II is false but that doesn’t underlie Filipino creativity which remains steadfast in these parts.
Aside from it being the most affordable ride around the city, the jeepney is the extension of the Filipino home. Notice the names of the wife and the children of the driver; the small altar with the Sto.Niño and the Philippine flag side-by-side, as his guide to a safe and productive trip; the soft red and blue lights along with the blaring pop music, the upholstered seat together with the painted ceiling, all part of the package to be your public transport of choice. In this painting Living on a Prayer, the driver carefully unfolds a P20 dollar bill to signify that it not a good day having an empty jeep with the day coming to an end. The P20 bill (which about to be phased out and replaced for a coin but that is another essay) can be representing Malacañang (as you invert it and see its Pasig river view) low priority on both to the legacy of President Manuel Quezon or the humble driver. The viewer here instantly becomes the passenger on board. We cannot escape being not part of the act, and as we are pulled towards the image you either want to reach out to him and pay your due or shout “Para!” and get down, or get off.
Filipino Artists have come a long way featuring our favorite pinoy ride. Manansala’s Jeepneys (51 x 59 cm) work in 1951 which now hangs at the Ateneo Art Gallery to Angelito Antonio’s depiction of jeep as folk art the 70s; The highpoint of the Philippine jeep was when Kidlat Tahimik went to Munich with in 1972, where it was easy for him to bring it there than to bring it back (he left it there). Meanwhile Mark Justiniani, proving that he is more of just paints and brushes, literally installed stainless sheets with “alliterated texts” as part of his Thirteen Artists exhibit in CCP; Manny Garibay first one-man show entitled Pasada in 1993; Alfredo Aquilizan monumental work God Bless Our Trip which was the Philippine entry and physically brought to the 50th Venice Biennale five years ago, now temporarily parked at the National Museum. This leads us back to Jaime’s jeep, which is more austere but his control of the medium elicits unassuming nature and his earth colors are forceful.
Sometimes art is the last thing that comes to your mind when viewing at Jaime’s significant artworks. The artist in him chose to paint the art of where he lives and what he lives for. Already an accomplished painter at 25 years of age having won almost all the major art competitions, he opted to depict the unpleasantness of the city, with “warts and all” such as his Kulay sa Tubig winning piece, Daily Bread. In a more subtle realist mode, Gubaton is a very exacting and meticulous artist. He is very particular about finding beauty in ordinary things even to the point of its painstaking depiction bordering on fantasy to the macabre. Sometimes he escapes. Entitled Sunkissed, he once painted his beautiful wife in an art deco image of an angel being close to the sun. Fond of mixing elements and imagery with strong fixation on pigeons having lived with neighbors who constantly breeds them for a living. Quite obsessively, he would depict pigeons tightly carousing on electric posts or on barbed wires. For the OC viewer, that sends shivers to the spine.
Metro Manila is home to ten million texting (or twelve million if you count all those living under the bridge) people who collectively wake up, take a bath, consume water and commute to work everyday. This results into a continuous traffic and an overflow of population of 75,000 per square kilometer. We all live in this continuously unplanned metropolis we both love and hate at the same time, with the skyline of billboards and tight tangled wires as everyday visual images while breathing carbon polluted air finding our own tight pockets of private shanty spaces.
It is a very tumultuous daily existence and this is the milieu Jaime chose to create art. As seen in this piece Connected, where urban survival in our gray steel jungle has become both a science and an art, Jaime has his city for a canvas.