by TERENCE REPELENTE
Images by PINGGOT ZULUETA

Jeff T. Dizon 1 - A SHOWCASE OF SKILL AND DISCIPLINE

Jeff T. Dizon and his Kabuki 5, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019 (left)

Master expressionist Jeff T. Dizon has always been interested in Japanese arts and culture. In a number of his previous works, he integrates some of the country’s signature elements, styles, and motifs, such as the geisha and their traditional headdresses.

While this awe of Japan’s vastly rich culture does not mean he would rather be Japanese than Filipino, Jeff believes that we have a lot to learn from them. Primarily, he cites, “discipline.” In his many years of admiration, backed by research and first-hand observation, of Japanese culture, he has noticed their sheer focus, burning dedication, and unrelenting will to achieve perfection in everything they do. Furthermore, this observation resonates with Jeff as he believes that iron discipline is the most imperative trait an artist should have.

“It’s very important for an artist to have discipline,” Jeff says. “You have to work every day, learn every day. As an artist, I’ve adopted this mindset. Even sickness can’t stop me from working on my art. Mas magkakasakit ako kung hindi ako nagta-trabaho (I’d be more sick If I didn’t work on my art).”

This dedication to one’s art and craftsmanship is a key element in his ongoing exhibition, “Kabuki Uninterrupted,” which opened yesterday at the Art Circle Gallery in Mandaluyong City. What started as a speck of inspiration brought by a family friend who wore a kimono (a traditional Japanese garment) to an event, recalls Jeff, eventually became an obsession with the art of kabuki of Japan.

With modern Japanese characters that literally mean “song,” “dance,” and “skill” (ka, bu, and ki), kabuki is a popular drama that is composed of singing, dancing, and other types of stylized performances. Traditionally, however, the term kabuki describes the weird and unorthodox characteristics of this drama, which usually include vivid imageries, makeup (kesho), costumes, and shocking theatrics. Most important, the kabuki’s goals are primarily to entertain the audience and allow the artists to showcase their skill, which they’ve honed to near perfection.

Jeff T. Dizon 2 - A SHOWCASE OF SKILL AND DISCIPLINE

Kabuki 11, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019 (left) and Kabuki 2, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019 (right)

Kabuki is a high form of art,” Jeff says. “The way it is performed and presented, there’s a great sense of dedication showed by the actors and everyone involved. This exhibition shows appreciation to the highly respected art of kabuki, an attempt to sort of revive it and give new ways to look at it.”

In the exhibit, Jeff orchestrates a theatrical show of his own with 13 massive works, which all feature women kabuki dancers. He brilliantly conjures soft lines, giving birth to majestic feminine figurations that not only speak but also sing and dance. The faces of his dancers, like real-life kabuki dancers, explore a spectrum of emotions, each telling a unique story of their own.

And once again, Jeff showcases his unparalleled ability for intricacy through the details of the works. The only thing missing, however, is the usual lushness and explosion of colors that often characterize his colossal works. This time, taking inspiration from Japan’s minimalist aesthetic, he makes use of black, white, and gray as the show’s dominant colors.

Perfecting the minimalist colors was the hardest part of the process, on top of the extremely complex detailing in each of the artworks. It is not surprising that it took him a year to finish the entire exhibition. “Nahirapan ako nang todo (I had an extremely difficult time),” he admits. “It was hard to create the perfect black and white tone. I also like to be intricate, that’s my style, and it needs more effort and time.”

It was hard especially at his age, Jeff says, but he eventually finished the exhibition through patience, perseverance, discipline, and, most important, the unquenchable thirst to create something radical, something bold, and something new. “I’m 66. I’m supposed to be doing shortcuts, ‘yung dadayain ko na (take the easy way out), as in make the type of art that’s easy to do and finish,” he says. “But no. That’s not me. Instead mas dinidiinan ko pa (I paint bolder and harder), I experiment more, and I continuously develop my style.”

In his illustrious career that spans over 40 years, Jeff has already attributed a lot of different meanings to art and art making. For him, it’s all just a process, a transition. Now, he believes that the “art” is the artist himself, what we know and call as art is only the residue of the artist’s life. And in the excesses of his life, Jeff—like a dedicated face-painted kabuki dancer—showcases pure skill and iron discipline.

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