UP CLOSE: Looking at Paulina
By: Raymund R. Fernandez

Reprinted from the Sunstar Horizons, February, 1995

Paulina Constancia Lee paints with a high measure of sincerity. It is the strongest quality of her work. You would have to know a bit of Paulina to realize this. But if you did, you would see how vivid an account she has rendered of herself through her one person show, "Solo."

Paulina was born December 1, 1970, the youngest of the six children of Judge German and Mrs. Vilma Lee. She graduated from the Mass Communication program of St. Theresa’s College and took further credits in fashion design and merchandising from a school in California. She looks to fashion design as one form of creative outlet.

She does extensive work on canvas. Since 1992 she has joined a number of group shows. She is currently member of the Cebu Artists Incorporated (CAI). She is also a member flutist of the Cebu Youth Symphony Orchestra Development Program.

Despite the length of the resume one feels the great distance this artist, will still have to travel. Her works exude a youthful exuberance that is almost unbelievable. And older viewers may easily be tempted to reflect on the length of time since we have felt such innocent exuberance.

Still, there is a freshness in her color and an obvious looseness of style that is refreshing. After watching so many pieces that have dealt with art with utmost seriousness, one appreciates this artists naiveté and lightness.

With that same innocence Paulina rebels against the idea of comparison. She claims limited exposure to the canons of western art. Yet her works bear an unmistakable similarity to Matisse. Her paintings are structured within the required 2 dimensionality of Modern art. (Perhaps one needs to explain: Since the impressionist movement of the late 1800s painting became slowly but consistently flatter. Artist Maurice Denis is often credited with the dictum: "The canvas is flat" Thus techniques that attempted to create the illusion of 3 dimensional space on the canvas such as linear and aerial perspective became less popular.) The ornamental background upon which sits the simplified figure reminds us of early Matisse. Yet perhaps there is another reason for the wonderfully simple flatness of the works. Paulina has for a long time worked with cloth. Being a fashion designer, Paulina exercises a firm or perhaps unconscious grasp of the concept of decoration.

It was Matisse who defined composition as "the arrangement of objects on the picture plane in a decorative manner." And, likewise, one sees in Paulina’s works a natural sensitivity to composition and balance. As with the ideals set by Matisse, one is conscious of the fact that one is viewing paint that has been applied to a flat surface. (In conservative realist painting, one sees the illusion of the subject rather than the reality of the paint and the canvas.)

I would be tempted at this point to dismiss the works as entirely derivative, yet, there is something in Paulina’s works that is more than Matisse and I must admit amazement at how smartly it had been arrived at. In some of the works, most visible in "Flavor of the Road" one sees that Paulina has superimposed her ornamental background with local and indigenous motif. In this case, motif which may have been derived from the painted decoration of traditional "dirty" ice cream carts. Here one is reminded of other works by young contemporary Cebuano artists. Particularly some early works by Errol Marabiles. (Secretly, one hopes there will be an emergence of this trend among young artist). And here also, one begins to see little openings of possibility in the works. One suddenly realizes their potential validity. The works become original. Instead of continuing the tired and obsolete polemics of modernism, they pose new arguments against it. The works become contemporary. This is hardly an easy feat, especially as one considers that it comes from one so young.

And there are other aspects of Paulina that one may see reflected in her works, her eclectic tendencies, her predisposition to experiment with media, and her affinity to music as seen in her experimentations with the sculptural form.

On interview Paulina expresses a disinclination to intellectualize her art. She expresses a strong tendency towards unconscious experimentation and describes herself as "unschooled" I find these views bothersome. Obviously, she feels the need to search for originality. True, there have been Filipino artists who have searched for this originality by ignoring their exposure to western art. But exposure to western art has become inevitable in our time, its opposite, a total impossibility. One ignores this exposure only at the risk of allowing western imagery in order to find ways to subvert it at a very conscious and, quite admittedly, intellectual level.

Through this disagreement I am reminded that the Bisayan language has a beautiful word which also means "history". The word is "kaagi" which literally means the path one has traveled." As I view Paulina’s art I see it as one of many paths that emerge in the search for "our" art.