December 20, 2004

ROEL HOANG MANIPON

It can be said that Pacita Abad, prolific and eminent artist, has now come full circle. On the night of December 7, she passed away, two months after her 58th birthday and three years after being diagnosed with lung cancer. She spent her remaining days at the National University Hospital in Singapore, where she was in the visiting artist program of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute.

            During her bout with the disease, Abad remained productive and full of life, never letting the disease crush her spirit. She was diagnosed and operated on during a Christmas visit in the United States in December of 2001, after which she underwent a series of treatments involving surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. She described them as “chop, burn and poison” with a laugh. It is said that she never said a negative word during that time and considered her disease as a “minor irritation.” For Abad, the best treatments were art and life. “Painting, listening to blues music, drinking champagne with friends and travel are my best therapies,” she said.

“She maintained her vivacious spunk, ebullient smile and contagious laugh, while continuing to exhibit her enormous zest for life and intense passion for her artwork. During this time, Pacita took refuge in her studio and focused almost entirely on her painting,” wrote Jack Garrity, her husband of many years and in many journeys.

            Shortly after her diagnosis and as soon as she was able to lift her right arm, Abad started painting in her Singapore studio, a series of bold and introspective collages and trapunto paintings she called “Endless Blues.” These were exhibited in November of 2002 in Singapore and documented in the 160-painting, 188-page book of the same title. A month later, she mounted a installation of 26 paintings. The Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) then invited her to join their three-month Visiting Artists Programme, during which she learned, painted, collaborated with printmakers from other countries, and completed 56 new pieces of work.

In April 2003, Abad declared her desire to paint the Alkaff Bridge, which spanned the Singapore River. By late November, her wish was granted, and although in a hospital, she wanted to work on it immediately. The steel-tube bridge weighed 230 tons, spanned 55 meters and rose 35 meters above the river. Despite the daunting nature of the task, she finished painting it with the help of a project team and with many sessions with doctors and trips to the hospital. By January 2004, the bridge, now covered with vibrant hues and circles, was inaugurated, became a tourist attraction and became to be known as Pacita’s Painted Bridge.

            Pacita also went to her native Batanes in May 2003 to oversee groundbreaking of her new stone studio. Then she had exhibitions in Indonesia, Norway, Finland and Sweden among others.  Indonesia, she opened a big exhibit in Jakarta, launching her collection of 45 batik inspired dinner plates, cups and saucers. The collection had 13 unique batik patterns from different villages along Java’s northern coast. Pacita also became artist-in-residence at the Centre d?Art Marnay Art Contemporaire, Marnay (CAMAC), which is situated on the banks of the River Seine for six weeks.

All the while, she had been traveling, learning new things and taking inspiration from her visits. After her treatments, she would go off to other countries. She went to Kerala in southern India for three weeks after her initial radiotherapy course. In the summer, she went to Beijing and Shanghai after her chemotherapy session. She went to Bali, Malaysia and Vietnam with friends during Christmas season. Then she would paint.

The essay “Passsion to Paint: The Colorful World of Pacita Abad” in her last book Pacita’s Painted Bridge describes her wondrous energy:  “Even in the hospital, Pacita could not stop. One night she was restless, but when awakened she said sharply, ‘Don?t bother me, my brain is designing.’ When asked the next day what she was designing, Pacita enthusiastically described an installation show that she was planning for Tokyo. On another day, Pacita was energetically moving her right arm back and forth and when asked why, Pacita replied that she was exercising her painting arm, so that it would be ready when she returned to her studio. Such was the incredible creative energy and joyful spirit of Pacita, coloring the world with an insatiable passion to paint!”

            In her life, Pacita Abad created over 3,500 works of art. On the morning of December 10, a gathering of friends celebrated her life and works at Pacita’s Painted Bridge. Memorial services were also held by friends in Washington D.C. and Jakarta. The day before, December 9, her body was cremated at a family ceremony. Her ashes were then brought to Manila for a memorial service on the evening of December 17. Finally, a funeral will be held on December 19 on Batanes, where Pacita was born in a post office. She will be laid to rest on a wind-swept hill in Tukon, Batanes, next to her studio-museum.

            A foundation was established to continue Pacita Abad’s artistic legacy. The Fundacíon Pacita “aims to support the development of committed painters, printmakers, sculptors and multi-media artists under the age of forty from emerging Asian countries; and facilitate the study and understanding of Pacita’s artistic career.”

            It can be said that Pacita Abad had come full circle. Although the paintbrush has been laid down and kept with her passing, her paintings will continue to delight and inspire and be a testament of how Pacita had made the world more colorful and vibrant, and touched minds and hearts. Indeed, her spirit is still with us since she first streaked blankness with hues until time indefinite. After all, a circle never ends.