Youth lives on hope, old age on remembrance - French proverb
Noel David is neither a young man nor an old man; he is of the baby boomer generation, a generation long past its wild youth but still a long way before it waddles into senior citizenship. He teeters between hopefulness and remembrance, between hoping to inspire the next generation and paying homage to his friends who have gone.
A former animator and now a web designer and web animator, David belongs to one of the first families in BF Homes, moving here in 1971 where his family's house became a "tambayan" or hangout of his friends. Then came the heyday of the subdivision in the 70s and 80s. Dino Garcia, a good friend who moved here in 1974, recalls that "BF then was like a small community where everybody knew each other."
But, like a bad dream, their friends started dying--David counts 41 friends that they have lost--and sensing the bad feng shui in his area, which faces the Manila Memorial Park, he eventually moved out in 1987 after the death of many friends. In the intervening years, he lost touch with those that were left behind.
Fast forward to 2009 and the era of social networking. It was inevitable that the past would soon catch up with the present as has happened countless times in Facebook. And so it did for the BF old-timers who happily and giddily reminisced about the good ol' days in their own Facebook page, "You know you grew up in BF Homes Parañaque when."
Something stirred within David. "A sense of belonging triggered the first mural--a thread in our page about reminiscing. Someone suggested that I paint our group and they said they would support me so I created a page just for that project. I wanted to refresh whatever memories I had of this place so after almost a year I got all my old friends back under one roof in Facebook. This is a project initiated in Facebook with my barkada so we decided to name it the BF Barkada Project," he explained.
But more than just memories, he knew he wanted to give back to the community. He found his inspiration in "It", Stephen King's bestseller about a shape-shifter who terrorizes children. For David, it was more than just a book. "Its themes, about the beauty and innocence of youth and having no substitute for friends, fired up my imagination. I saw a lot of parallelisms in the book and life in BF."
A second inspiration came from a former acquaintance, Cathy Duran, who eventually became his confidante and soulmate. "Being a visual-oriented and copy-based Creative Director in an ad agency, she provided me the right direction for my works. We knew each other back in the skating rink in the 70's but never really had the chance to be friends. 23 years after, we got re-acquainted in Facebook and found out that we shared so many things in common."
A further motivation stemmed from his desire to exorcise the deaths that drove him away from the village. He sought to create a talisman that would counter what he believed to be the "sphere of influence" of the cemetery on the houses that faced it. "I wanted to put my work in alignment facing the twin cemeteries.
"The first mural was actually an experiment--if I didn't lose anyone within the year then it proves my theory. Dino's sister may have had a stroke but she survived and the mural helped her," he muses. He didn't lose anyone. "After my friends died, I was scared," he confessed, "so maybe in honoring them I was able to seek repentance for this place."
David chose to locate the mural in the basketball court--then an open court in the old days--because it was formerly the center of activities of the small community. He finished the first mural in 9 months and launched it in February of 2009. The 15 ft by 30 ft mural, which he has registered since with the National Library, features 176 people, BF pioneers and old-timers and friends of the BF Barkada.
It hit a nerve in the collective memory of the people who saw it, some of whom came from the US. Many were moved to tears. They were back in their youth. Boy Concepcion, former-bad-boy-turned-priest and one of his good friends, came and blessed the mural.
The launch became a reunion, which became a party, which became a series of get-togethers online and in person. And the ripples promised to get bigger. But the biggest thrill belonged to David himself--not only was he able to gather his friends under one roof virtually and digitally, he was able to prove to himself and his doubters that he could successfully create something never done before. He had launched a new art form.
David's mural falls under the second definition, which is a large "photograph attached directly to a wall," rather than "painted or affixed directly on a wall or ceiling." But it is neither a photograph nor a traditional painting but something in-between. He has yet to find a definition for his type of artwork; for now, he simply calls it "digital painting."
One thing is clear--it is product of the digital age and a product of his animation background. After five years in his job, he left animation, feeling too old for cartoons and wanting to do something more realistic. He yearned to explore new kinds of art and venture into unknown territory so he started experimenting.
Then he got his eureka moment.
Finding the program Illustrator to be limited, he accidentally discovered another use for a second program, which he then combined with a third to create his own art form, a trade secret he has assiduously guarded by working on the mural in secret, with the assistance of Cathy. "So the technology that I learned from animation, I applied it here, only I use it like a painting rather than an illustration," he disclosed.
"A lot of artists use vector painting but mine has evolved into something different and I added a dimension of traditional painting in it; that's what makes it more difficult. (Unlike photos, vectors are shapes that do not get pixelized even when enlarged.) I wanted my work to be different from the rest.
"Only animators can do something like this since they are used to doing things freehand without tracing," he points out, "but they won't waste their time on it since they are paid by the second in animation and animators are honed to be factory workers.
"I try to take away the computer effect from the work to make it more airbrushed but it can't be all that perfect because I am using a wireless mouse, something I got used to. A tablet might give me more control but I use another process to give the mouse more flexibility in shading."
Apparently, this was just the start. "I had a lot of congratulatory feedback and many wanted to join especially after the last elections. People saw that and asked how could they join and luckily some knew me and referred my work to others. They formed another group. By that time I already had a new computer and had developed a new technique. You have to evolve; so I think this is the most perfect I've done so far."
David also developed a new-found confidence in his abilities. "After part one, I knew one man can do all that." He also got a little help from his friends. "I didn't have any intention of making a second one but Father Boy inspired me. He said 'Brod, if God gave you a certain talent you should use it.' I said, "Hey man, you forgot, I'm an atheist, I don't believe in God.' He answered, "It doesn't matter, God believes in you.' I thought he was right so I decided to do a second mural."
Still, it wasn't easy sailing for him. His principal sponsor backed out and his computer broke down. His sister came to his rescue, giving him money to buy a new one. He undertook commissions for family portraits to pay back what he considered to be a loan despite his sister's generosity. He won't make excuses for putting in the families who helped sponsor the second project--they still belong, after all, to the BF Homes community. But he did not want to just solicit--he wanted to give back something in return.
Because he envisioned a bigger project in terms of the number of people in the mural, his good friend, Dino, volunteered to help him. A new committee was formed to oversee the project, which he called Dekada Setenta, for those who were born and grew up in the 70s. David targeted 350 faces, 52 more than the Guinness record of 298 being held by a Pennsylvania mall (the final number reached 361). "If you total the two murals, I would've done more than 500 faces. Imagine this--we're the only one with a gym full of faces watching you. This makes it unique."
Unique and poignant. Whereas the first mural was more about experimentation and wardship, this time he wanted the second mural to be about celebration, remembrance, and friendships. "Basically it's about remembering a certain era when everything was new. It was just us then; there are only a few of us left. I put value on our youth and friendship which I think is missing today. What better way to immortalize that than by putting it into one single mural."
Among the friends he is honoring in the second mural are National Artist, J. Elizalde Navarro (a former Kyoto St. resident) whose style inspired his work; and, Lorli Villanueva, the award-winning actress of Oro, Plata, Mata fame, to whom he wrote, "to my close friend...who opened my eyes to the world of arts and culture...." Along with them is Fr. Boy. The lone outsider in the new mural is Louie Ysmael, his former boss for a good ten years.
What you will not find in both murals is a portrait of the man himself. David insists that the project is not about him but about the friends whom he is saluting. Because of this, he used an alias to sign his work.
As the project evolved, so did his technique. "The new mural will be twice as bright or twice as finished as the first one; it's more detailed and the personalities come out better. Technique-wise, Part 1's results evolved into something more stylized and vivid, creating that striking difference in Part 2." He had to upgrade his hardware as well. "We are printing it on heavy canvass with one of the most powerful computers--a quad core with 6 gigabyte and that's not even enough. I'm adding another 2 gigabytes," he revealed.
He applied for recognition to the Guinness Book of World Records for the record number of faces done in his unique style of digital painting. The record keepers could not find another work of its kind in the world but told him of the Pennsylvania mall record. They also told him of their conditions: pay an application fee of USD 2,000.00 or find a sponsor, otherwise his reference number will be banned. He balked and did nothing.
David remains defiant. "Why do I have to pay them? Now that I know the facts, I'll just make the mural and let them disprove it." Turning reflective, he is grateful, nevertheless, for having come so far. "We had so many dreams back then that were never realized. I had reached a dead-end. Still, I had a chance to have a life and that is a far greater reward for me."
A far greater reward, too, is the sense of accomplishment he has gotten and the inspiration and challenge this may bring to his generation and the next. "I did the mural for the youth today so they can be greater than what they are now; so that they can dream. Maybe when they see it they can be inspired. May this be legacy for them to follow. Just stay off drugs.
"I still see some from my generation who're still the same, doing drugs, and it saddens and sickens me. A friend of mine died of drug overdose just last month. Suddenly, after 30 yrs we see we're still like this, it's sad. We could've been somewhere else."
In explaining his work in his Facebook page, he said: "Looking back at the 70's,I have realized how much of those times affected us. It has shaped and molded us to what we are now.Some of us succeeded while others failed.Some are living while others have moved on.Some have tried to forget it while others lived with it. Further down the road, only the memories of the faces will stir the senses when one sees the Mural at that part of the woods called BF Homes.
"I have gone back to the deep abyss of my memory, to wander to a place I once called home, to seek familiar faces I called friends and leave them pieces of that memory to last a life time.
"A feng shui master told me that if you do something out of the purity of your heart and of the highest of ideals, then the blessings go back 100% to those whom you intended to honor. That is why I did the mural, to change their lives."
Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance. (Richard von Weizsaecker)