DARING to deviate from conventional art forms, artist Joe Datuin boldly ventured from realism to “abstract impressionism,” allowing the 49-year-old Thomasian painter/sculptor to make a concrete impression in both the local and international art scene with his unique Filipino artistry.

Unlike the vibrant use of colors and flowing lines in his current works, Datuin’s earlier works were bleak and reflective of the environment he grew up in. Although he was born in Pangasinan, Datuin said the sordid and dark mood of Tondo, Manila greatly influenced his style.

The young Datuin was very fond of drawing cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Popeye. But it was his father, a sign painter, who became his huge influence.

This prompted Datuin to take up Fine Arts at the UST Faculty of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 1973. Here, he soaked up as much knowledge as he could from many of the country’s renowned artists, including Angelito Antonio, Mario Parial, and even National Artist for the Visual Arts J. Elizalde Navarro. He also considers Pablo Picasso as one of his major influences.

“I look up to Picasso not because of his style but because of his achievements,” he said. Years later, critics would declare him as a “Pablo Picasso reincarnate,” and perhaps rightfully so.

Even before he graduated, he was already winning numerous competitions, including the UST-CAFA Annual Art Contest in Sculpture in 1974, the Archdiocese of Manila Poster Design Contest in 1975, and the Philippine National Bank Nationwide Painting Competition in 1976. Upon graduation in 1977, he received the Benavides Award, given to students who had done the school proud by distinguishing themselves in national or international events.

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Realizations

Datuin first worked for ABS-CBN as art director and taught in CAFA from 1978 to 1985. Although his job became hectic at times, Datuin did not let it affect his true calling—painting and sculpting.

He also worked as an apprentice at the Design Center Philippines, where, under the guidance of National Artist for Visual Arts Arturo Luz, he learned more about his craft.

Datuin’s skill and dedication aided his art-making. In 1980, he bested over 6,000 entries to win the Moscow Olympics Poster Design Competition. These achievements may be enough for some artists, but Datuin wanted to advance Philippine art to the “big leagues.”

In 1992, Datuin’s art experiments gave birth to a whole new style—”abstract impressionism.” His seminal work, Eureka, with its play of primary colors, shapes, and composition, summarized his bold creative shift, which propelled him the limelight and opened more career opportunities for him.

“Archimedes yelled the word ‘Eureka!’ (which was actually the name of his wife) when he discovered the principle of displacement in his bathtub, announcing that he finally found it. And like him, I have found what I’m looking for, too,” Datuin said.

Datuin further developed his style using different techniques, incorporating them in his paintings and sculptures. His favorite medium on canvas is acrylic paint; and for sculptures, stainless steel. But once in a while he tries other art forms such as stained glass, marble, and photography.

Globetrotting artist

Aside from winning local and international contests, he was also cited in the European art book Annuario D’Arte Moderna Artisti Contemporane (ACCA, 2003), and in the prestigious art compendium Twentieth Century Filipino Artists and 100 Years: 100 Artists An Expression of the Filipino Soul (CCP, 1998).

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Datuin’s jet-setting days to the USA and Europe started in 2000 when he, with other Filipino artists, formed the group Art Philippines which aimed to introduce Filipino art to the world. He has been hopping from one country to another since then, studying other countries’ art forms and introducing ours to them.

“Our art doesn’t differ from other countries’, their only advantage is they have better materials,” he said. “But Filipino artists can easily catch up because we have world-class qualities.”

In his latest solo-exhibit at the Beato Angelico Art Gallery from Aug. 24 to Sept. 3, Datuin showcases some of his prized oeuvre over the years. Among them is his abstract quadriptych painting “Pillars of Peace” that depicts love, justice, humility, and unity. Also on display are his earlier works such as “Itay Ito Ang Gusto Kong Mundo” and “Tolomeo,” which incorporate still-life landscape and naturalistic elements.

According to Mary Anne Bulanadi, director of the gallery, the exhibit is a retrospective as the artist has chosen to return to his beginnings.

“I believe in the greatness of his art and I’ve seen the strength of his colors and shapes even from his old realist expression to his now cubist style,” Bulanadi said.

Datuin first considered Homecoming as the title of the exhibit in tribute to his Alma Mater, UST, but he thought Realizations is more befitting as it shows his aesthetic reflections and the near-fulfillment of his life-long dreams as an artist. “Para sa akin ito ang tunay na realization—ang pagbabalik,” he said.

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However, Datuin believes that Filipino artists must not stop improving their art.

“You will really starve in art especially if you are not up to the challenge because success is not overnight,” he added. “But even though I’ve made a name for myself, I’m still a struggling artist.” Glaiza Marie A. Seguia with reports from Chuck D. Smith

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