Sculptures That Wink At You

By: Alya B. Honasan

Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 15, 2008
Lifestyle Section

Pete Jimenez’s scrap metal sculptures are shot through with energy and wit-maybe because he has such a great time making them.

“It looked like an insect,” says Federico “Pete” Jimenez. “I still remember.” The artist is talking about the very first metal sculpture he ever made from found objects, an “experimental” assignment for his class with National Artist Napoleon Abueva, at the University of the Philippines College of fine Arts, where he graduated in 1982 as a Visual Communications major. Then Jimenez pulls out a pen and begins to draw the work from memory on a paper napkin, an assemblage of metal gears, with one jagged ring cut in two to make curving antennae for a round head. So where is the historic piece now? “I can’t find it,” he says, with a bemused shrug. “I think my father sold it for scrap.” It’s just the kind of matter-of-fact reality check that keeps the talented Jimenez terribly grounded. “I don’t think I have any angst,” he says with a chuckle. “Well, maybe I have some inside me, but it’s definitely not the dark kind.” There’s the fact that the scrap-metal vendors who know him very well as a regular suki can’t figure out why he wants ugly stuff instead of shiny new metal. Youngest daughter Julia, 8, once described her father’s work as mainly “ayun, pukpok-pukpok, pako-pako” (hammer-hammer, nail-nail). Then there’s also the fact that, as manager of the post production house Optima, Jimenez has a day job that’s filled with stress, deadlines, and a lot of the self-depreciating humor that you’d expect from folks in the advertising industry. (His colleagues like to call him bakal boy.)

Humor

The humor is evident in both Jimenez’s actual works and the tongue-in-cheek titles he gives them. Thus, when friends learned that this amiable husband and father of two- the older daughter is Frances, 11-entitled his latest one-man show “Nail Spa,” they knew he was referring to machine parts, not manicures-although he does finish the pieces with a weatherproof topcoat. (The show is ongoing until Sept. 16 in West gallery at SM Megamall.) The nails in question are the large, rough metal specimens that held down old wooden railroad ties, and which Jimenez bought by the sackful at P5 per nail some years back. “I don’t have a studio, so I work in my garage, and those sacks were just dumped there,” he says. “Everyday, the nails would look at me, torturing me, telling me, ‘O, when are you going to use us?’” Considering that the 48-year-old Jimenez used to work as an animator for production houses-he apprenticed with the late great Larry Alcala-one can just imagine what those taunting critters looked like in his mind’s eye. In adspeak, the nails became Jimenez’s “creative handle,” leading to such whimsical pieces as “Twister,” nails popping out of a large spring; “Soldiers,” a tight bunch of nails of different textures and heights, all capped with heads that look like World War II helmets; and “Meeting,” a bowl fringed with nails facing each other over some implied conference table. There are other pieces that depart from the theme, like “Mango Shake,” a metal rod shaped into the outline of the fruit and mounted on a spring to keep it perpetually bouncing, a tabletop treat. Indeed, because of the movement in the lines and the placement of the details, you know the pieces are solid steel-but you expect them to suddenly jump, transform, or do something else, like a flash of light or a sci-fi creature come to life. (Speaking of sci-fi, check out the piece “Mr. Roboto,” another springy alien.) The 20-odd pieces in the show range from tile-size wall hangings and tabletop accents, to large standing sculpture and the aforementioned spring-powered jiggling works. All were made from hammered pieces of scrap metal and steel objects Jimenez found on his weekend “pamamalengke” (marketing) trips to the junkyards in Antipolo and Quezon City.

More Discriminating

Over the years, Jimenez admits, ever since his one-man show in 2000, he has learned to be more discriminating “shopper” when he heads out to the junkyards. “For my first two or three shows, I would hoard everything I saw,” he recounts. “My wife Lissa would complain that the mess was becoming an eyesore.” Now he zooms in on anything that looks different or interesting, whether it’s a big, battered old wok he fashioned into moon-shaped wall piece, or a bunch of unusual nuts and bolts he piled onto a curved, free standing pole to stimulate the vertebrae on a human spine. (Title: “Everything ISpine.”) “That’s why I’m always excited about my ‘shopping’ trips,” Jimenez says with a glee. “I never know what I’m going to find.” He is also always on the lookout for “moments that don’t happen often,” like the time he was driving home to Fairview and passed a group of scrap-metal workers by the side of the road, vigorously hammering the shell of an old Volkswagen Beetle. Jimenez screeched to a stop. “They were going to weigh the parts to be sold for scrap, and I ended up buying them the entire thing, including the bumpers.” The curved fenders ended up as the petals of a huge standing flower in an imposing work called “Petal Attraction,” which is featured along with some of Jimenez’s other works in the book “The world of Best Art,” a folio on selected Filipino artists recently published in New York. Most finds end up on top of his work table, a Lazy Susan on which he welds components together, constantly spinning to see the work-in-progress from all angles. He’d put things together without sketches and studies in a method known as direct sculpture, adding, subtracting, bending, and breaking as he goes, and always listening to what the pieces tell him. That’s why fellow artist Rock Drilon once noted that Jimenez was effective largely because he never violated the basic forms of objects. Only experience has taught Jimenez to discern whether or not a piece is finished-“something they don’t teach you in college,” he muses-and even that could still change. “I could be happy with something, sleep on it, and then take it apart and start all over again the next day.” Some works take a weekend, others take several weeks of agonizing-not because of intense emotions, but because Jimenez likes to work fast and only feels satisfied after the execution. “And then I feel rested. Sarap ng feeling.” Sometimes, he’ll see something instantly, and will have a name for the piece from the get-go. Other times, the work will sit unchristened for weeks. Right now, there are more critters sitting in his garage and taunting Jimenez anew: sacks full of used wooden shoe molds. A new material? “I still have to see.” He has several ideas for more functional works for a future show-which means the molds have been doing a lot of talking. Still, because he’s got a life, Jimenez’s weekend creative process can always be interrupted by lunch with the family, or errands he has to run for Lissa. “Don’t ask me for an artistic statement,” Jimenez says with a laugh. “I just like to have fun, recycle things, find something that will challenge me. It’s a freewheeling thing.” “Despite the weight of these sculptures, they project a deceiving weightlessness and an airy majesty,” writes Cid Reyes of Jimenez’s work in “The World of Best Art.” “The works, however, do not take themselves seriously, but rather wink in knowing, conspiratorial eye at the viewer.” The best part is, after delighting in Pete Jimenez’s ingenuity, you’ll feel like winking back.

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