Unveiling Jess Ayco the artist

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By Bebol Carreon

Wanderer's Musings

Friday, November 21, 2014

VERY little is known about the artist and the man, Jess Ayco. I vaguely recall his name from when I was a little girl but it was sometime this year, at a premier of the movie Sonata, that his name resurfaced in my consciousness.

Multi-awarded director Peque Gallaga, who has taken on a seemingly lonely mission to talk about his revered mentor at every given opportunity, spoke so sentimentally about Jess Ayco and the impact he had not only on him as an artist, but in the development of art in Negros.

So I knew “Fugue Frolic, Jess Ayco in Bacolod” is an event not to be missed by any artist, art aficionado or just about anyone who hungers to understand one’s roots and to experience fully and deeply our experiences.


Dr. Patrick Flores, curator of the UP Vargas Museum and recognized scholar in Philippine and Asian Art, curated this retrospective exhibition that runs until January 2015 at Kapitana Gallery, Balay ni Tana Dicang, Talisay City.

There was a buzz during the opening, not just from the large number of Visayan and international visual artists who were in town for ViVA ExCon, but because this was the first time the public is offered a glimpse of the magnitude of his craft.

I took particular excitement in that against the perfect backdrop of the Lizares ancestral house Balay ni Tana Dicang which conjures gentle reminders of a nostalgic past, Jess Ayco – the artist shrouded in mystery, comes now to light in this exhibition of hidden treasures.


What emerged is a portrait of a Renaissance Man, “a man (who) can do all things if he but wills them” (Leon Battista Alberti), a learned man conscious of his limitless capacities, and who develops himself as fully as possible.

Jess Ayco was a painter, photographer, theater director and performer, and stage, costume and lighting designer. “He deserves to be more sharply profiled as a modern artist whose artistic sympathy was broad and inspiring, his medium and range of themes were diverse, and vision was ample and venturesome,” Dr. Flores writes.

Gallaga puts it more simply: “The guy was a genius!”

On loan from personal collections for the exhibit are some 93 pieces of the most exquisite drawings, studies, nudes and landscapes, portraits of children and of people recognizable and unknown, photographs and memorabilia, paintings of spaces and shapes that hint at “elements of Tanguy, less Dali; the whimsy of Miró and the dash of Pollock.”

Jess Ayco even comes alive in the beautiful Maria Clara costumes he designed 39 years ago for the Kaanyag Pilipinas Dance Company whose members carried the ensembles with flair and elegance.

The exhibition leaves one all agog.

But what was really revealed in Fugue Frolic is an artist who offers us a slice of life - his own.


Jess Ayco, son of Leon Ayco and Encarnacion Ramos, was born in 1916 in Manila. He received formal art studies at the UP School of Fine Arts before studying Architecture at UST. Traveling to Europe, he lived for a while in London and Paris.

But it was in Bacolod where he chose to stay. Negros became home.

I spoke with Silaynon painter Raymond Legaspi who, like me, didn’t know much about Jess Ayco, but was struck just by how prolific he was.

What is it that can spur a Jess Ayco to create and create without ceasing?

In wanting to understand the artist, Legaspi sought to find his earliest works and to explore what triggered him to move from the pencil and paper anatomy into the psychedelic fusions.

“Could it be the travel experiences, the movements from Manila, Bacolod, Europe? Was he inspired by museums and galleries in Europe? Was it his encounters with creative people along the way?” he asked.

For Gallaga, it was nothing more than an artist making the connection with his roots. Jess Ayco drew great inspiration from being home in Bacolod, where he had come to discover, and to express, the depths of his soul.

Jess Ayco, the artist, created because that is who he was.

What’s more, I learn that his genius coexisted with a humble personality who shunned snobbery and embraced everyone from all classes. He was passionate and keenly interested in all things and in all art genres.

But the true jewel of Jess Ayco is that after he’s been long gone and almost forgotten, behind the enduring pieces of art he left this world with, is the impact he had on Negrense artists like Peque Gallaga who keeps the wheels of tradition turning by mentoring and inspiring a huge number of young artists – and not necessarily just those in film and movies - to find their own creative voice in the world.

Then there is surrealist painter Charlie Co, referred to by Gallaga as “the new Jess Ayco” whose lifework beyond painting is embracing and challenging the young artists to make Bacolod’s art landscape much more exciting.

You see, Gallaga puts it thus: “If we are doing any good, it’s only because we stood on the shoulders of giants.”

My prayer is that we as a people can do even more to discover and recognize Jess Ayco for the great Negrense artist and man that he is. And may we all be challenged to live our lives the way he did: with passion and with truth.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on November 21, 2014.


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