It was a couple of years ago when we saw this beautiful painting by the entrance of a spa in Cebu. The random lines and vibrant colors used in the painting delineated the figure of an herb doctor. We asked our Cebuano friends to help us find Celso Pepito,the artist who did the painting. However, it was on our last day in Cebu when I was able to talk to artist. From then on, I made a mental note to include his works in our list.
When we found out that Celso Pepito will be in Manila, we immediately went to see him to learn from him about his inspiriations and aspirations in creating his art.
Traveler on Foot: Can you tell us something about yourself as a child, the time when you were starting to discover about art? What are your common subjects when you were starting to paint?
Celso Pepito: I was born in Cogon -Talisay- Daan Bantayan- Cebu. At the age of six my family has migrated to Mindanao. I grew up in Lambagan -Cabanglasan- Bukidnon – having finished my elementary and secondary in the area.
As a child I am more inclined to do some creative activities- like making my own toys but never have inclination to drawings or paintings though often I made some stick drawings on the walls of our house using a local charcoal. My subject for stick drawings were then more limited to faces and figures. It was however in making wooden cars using the available materials in our barangay that has given me much fascination. Aside from these interests I also noticed myself to be a bit inspired in the sculptural works of our neighbor.
In high school, I got interested in making letterings. Thus in our graduation I was tasked together with my classmate to decorate the stage where the program was being held. And because of it, I was awarded as the “Artist’s Of the Year” of our school. As an awardee, I was encouraged by my class adviser to take a Fine Art course not knowing that indeed Fine Arts is all about paintings. Unfortunately, I learned my first drawing lesson only when I entered my fine arts course at the university where I have studied. As a beginner, I am more inclined to paint landscape, seascape, and still life.
Traveler on Foot: Where did you have your formal art lessons? What is the most important lesson did you learn from your teacher? What skills do you think a painter must have?
Celson Pepito: I got my formal art lessons when I enrolled myself at the University of the Philippines Cebu College as a Fine Art student in 1977. I was hoping to finish a degree of Fine Arts but only managed to have a Diploma of Fine Arts because I lack one subject for me to be accorded the Certificate of Fine Arts by our school.
Under the tutelage of the Martino Abellana who was considered as the dean of Cebuano painters, I started to paint in his direction using Impressionistic-realistic style as my means of expression but in 1994, I have shifted to Cubism which until now I’m still fascinated with. I have always considered Abellana as one of the great mentor I have had in painting. One important message that really matters to me from him was his advice for his students to focus more on perfecting ones craft by constant practice to give importance to the basic tenets in painting such as correct lines, forms, values, colors, composition, and so on. He always emphasized that for an artist to excel he needs to be more knowledgeable in these areas even though, he might be going into abstraction.
Personally, I always adhere to his suggestion believing that for anyone who wants to become a good writer, he needs to study the basic alphabet, the use of grammar and to be aware of what a composition is all about and it holds true with the way to become a painter. I always believe that there will never be a shortcut to it.
Traveler on Foot: Who were your contemporaries?
Celso Pepito: As a painter, I belong to the fourth batch of Cebuano painters. My contemporaries are Wenceslao “Tito” Cuevas Jr., Arlene Villaver, Georgetffe Sato, Adeste Deguilmo, Antonio Vidal, and Sonia Yrastorza.
Traveler on Foot: If you are to collect paintings, whose works are you going to collect? Who are your favorite artists?
Celso Pepito: If given a chance to collect, I prefer to collect the works of Tito Cuevas Jr., Adeste Deguilmo, Manny Garribay, Seb Chua, Denis Montera. I have always considered Martino Abellana, Fernando Amorsolo, Vicente Manasala, and Ang Kiukuk as my favorite artists. Monet, Renoire, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Pablo Picasso, George Braque, and Jackson Pollock are few of the international artists that matters most to me too.
Traveler on Foot: Most of your current works we see are cubism. Have you tried realism or abstractionism? Why cubism?
Celso Pepito: As a student of the late Martino Abellana, I painted in the style of Impressionism/ realism for more than a decade. I made Abstract expressionism as my Thesis in UPCC. I have tried other styles but find more meaning in what I do in Cubism.
I have considered this style as my means of expression as of this moment though I still believe in the evolution of my artistic expression. It is however in this style that I have discovered my true freedom in the expression of my ideas and aspiration. Here, I have injected my principle of three planar divisions of my composition which humbly reflect my three important messages in life: of loving God, caring for the Filipino family and concern for my country. I also implored the use of octagon to represent sense of positivism.
Traveler on Foot: What are your favorite subjects now? Do you ever repeat subjects? What is your favorite medium?
Celso Pepito: My painting subject revolves around capturing the Essence of God in my works. Presenting the positive Filipino values of our people and rekindling visually the spirit of nationalism that I often strive to project in my paintings. Since I get much fascinated with the family, most of my subjects are aim towards this direction. Though, I always try to make a different composition out of it.
In matters to painting medium, I got my encouragement from Abellana to embrace whatever medium available for ones expression. So, I got fascinated with ink, watercolor, acrylic, oil, pencil, or ballpen or a mixed media. I never limit myself to any medium though lately I am more comfortable with acrylic.
Traveler on Foot: How do you motivate yourself when you don’t feel like painting?
Celso Pepito: An artist must create even if not in the mood of creating. Being moody is not a reason to be lazy. It is the great passion to express oneself that truly motivates an artist. Offering ones artistry to God is the best way for any artist to keep moving and to be an inspiration to others is another.
Traveler on Foot: Have you ever heard of people not liking your work? How do you deal with it?
Celso Pepito: Artist is not like gold or diamond that always attracts to almost everybody. He can never have the privilege to grasp all the people to be attracted to his works. And thus he must focus more of his aspirations on the right market of his creativity.
Personally, I always find the situation a reality in the art world. We cannot always please everybody. I take it as a challenge more than a discouragement or an irritation in my part. Appreciating ones criticism can be a very good motivation to improve or otherwise just simply ignore it politely as possible.
Traveler on Foot: How do you handle the commercial side of being an artist?
Celso Pepito: I have always considered my art more of a vocation rather than a profession. Though I love to promote my art for it to be known or perhaps to be recognized, it is in the true message of my art that I want it to be appreciated. I have this belief that “Art is not only to be valued by its essence of beauty but must be understood beyond it. Art, if properly used, can be a great factor for change and development in ones society.”
My objective is organizing an exhibit is not merely to illicit commercial response but hopefully inspired my viewers to do their share in nation building. Traveler on Foot: If you are not a painter, what are you doing now?
Traveler on Foot: If you are not a painter, what are you doing now?
Celso Pepito: I will be attracted more to advertising or layout designing if I failed to become a painter.
Traveler on Foot: What is your view on exclusivity of an artist to a gallery?
Celso Pepito: I highly respect those artists who opted to be in an exclusive contract with any gallery. It is the safest way for one’s work to be noticed and appreciated though sometimes it somehow hinders the creativity of the ones involved. But gallery owners are right enough to go in this direction knowing the stiff competition in the art industry.
I always believe that it is the prerogative of any artist to either agree or defy this kind of arrangement. In my case, I am seeking more of my freedom to create my own artistic world in the hope of propagating my own messages, looking forward to be contributor of change and development in a society where I belong.
Traveler on Foot: How do you want to be remembered as an artist?
Celso Pepito: I want to be remembered as an ordinary artist seeking to make my extraordinary effort to promote unity and harmony through my art. And to be an inspiration to other people!
Traveler on Foot: What is your message to the young artists?
Celso Pepito: To the young and upcoming artists: Know your goal. Define your reason for becoming a painter. Be a trailblazer. Be a contributor of change and development. Be a true Filipino. Love your family. Above all- offer everything to God.
Traveler on Foot: What is your message to the people who are beginning with their art collection?
Celso Pepito: My heartfelt appreciation to those who started to collect paintings. You are not only helping the artists in the country, you are also helping our country defines its true cultural journey. If possible, please collect works that really appeals to your senses.
Never buy a work of art only because you want to help the artist but also because you really love their works. Interact with the artists. Know he sentiments behind their creative process. Help them develop their sense of usefulness in society.
Traveler on foot: You are celebrating 30 years as an artist, what can we expect from you in the years to come?
Celso Pepito: Thanks be to God for allowing me to remain intact as an artist after 30 years of toil in the creative industry. I can only promise you more creative endeavors in line with my commitment to be of help in the development of my society. I look forward to create a bigger and more substantial artistic output in the future. To help see Cebu as a great example of a city who truly takes pride of their local community of artists and to contribute in bringing the Filipino artistry into the arena of world art.
Thank you very bay Glenn for the privilege of sharing my thoughts on the many aspects of being a painter and a citizen of this country. Mabuhay ka! Cheers!