WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2008

BY MADS BAJARIAS | I find that it takes a fair amount of self-reflection and maturity before an artist attempts a self-portrait. When 23-year-old artist Mark Andy Garcia sent me a picture of his “Self-Portrait with A Two-Edged Sword” to view, I was struck by what I believed to be a strong biblical undercurrent in the image of the “two-edged sword” being held by a seated figure with a bleeding heart.

I haven’t read the Bible in the long time but I vaguely recall that the image of a two-edged sword was meant to convey how the Word of God was sharper than the deadliest weapon. Many past masters have used the Bible as an inspiration for their art, and the young Garcia follows in this long and illustrious tradition.

                                                           "Self Portrait with Double-Edged Sword" | oil on canvas | 48 x 36 inches | 2008  

I had the good fortune to ask Garcia a few questions about “Self-Portrait with A Two-Edged Sword.”

Tell us about the medium you used and the dimensions of this piece.
MAG: Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches, painted in 2008.

Where and when was this painting first shown?
MAG: It's being shown at West Gallery in Quezon City until June 11.

Does this work refer to a Bible passage about the word of God being sharper than a two-edged sword? If not, what does the two-edged sword mean?
MAG: Yes, it’s something like that. The image of the Word of God being sharper than any double-edged sword is from Hebrews 4:12. But there is also a personal context to it: in the portrait, the double-edged sword in my hand refers to my being both a Christian and an artist who seeks to find the truth.

Do you consider yourself on a spiritual mission? What mission is this?
MAG: I belong to the Lighthouse Bible Baptist Church. It is the mission of each member of the New Testament Church to spread the Word about the Savior and salvation through Jesus Christ. As an artist I take it as my personal ministry to create paintings with evangelical themes. I feel that it is my responsibility. It’s like being a preacher. A preacher tries his best to spread the Word of God to many different audiences. Sometimes, he is listened to, sometimes he is ignored or even refuted and scorned. It can’t be helped. That is like how I feel—I cannot control how people will react to me or my mission, but I am certain of my role and I perform my duty the best I can.

There is what looks like a bloody gash on the figure's left breast, can you tell us about that?
MAG: That is meant to represent my heart humbled in the presence of God. To be honest, it was only after I had finished the painting that I added the blood on the heart. My art is my journal where I record my thoughts and feelings. I am the first to feel blessed whenever I finish a painting which was inspired by the Bible or by the lessons from my pastor’s preaching. Even before I show the painting to anyone, I feel blessed, and it is as if my heart melts ("parang nalulusaw") when it is touched by the Word of God.

Can you tell us where the idea behind this self-portrait came from?
MAG: It was inspired by Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye will be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in all Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth.” I guess I combined the idea of Hebrews 4:12 about the Word of God being sharper than any two-edged sword and Acts 1:8, and I related these messages to my personal life as a Christian and artist and I suddenly realized that the process of thinking about all these ideas was beginning to produce something special. The result of this was the self-portrait.

What do you think is the appeal of this painting to those who have seen it?
MAG: I think the strong contrast between the image of the sword and the meek appearance of the seated figure is the reason that this painting has received the attention of many.

What age were you when you made this self-portrait? Some artists create a series of self-portraits as they grow older to mark the passage of time and the changes in them. What does this self-portrait say about this stage of your life?
MAG: I painted it this year. I am 23 years old. I agree that it would be interesting to do self-portraits as one grows older. I wonder how I would look like in the next one? (Smiles).

The distant houses to the right of the seated figure look like non-Philippine-styled houses, can you tell us why you placed them there on the canvas?
MAG: In Acts 1:8, three places are mentioned: Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. These places represent the journey of a Christian. Jerusalem represents the places where a Christian starts spreading the Word of God. It means the place where you, your friends and family live. When a Christian’s mission is done inJerusalem, he moves to the next town, represented by Judea. After Judea, the Christian moves farther and to more distant places represented by Samaria. Anywhere he goes, no matter how far, God will always be with him. As written in Matthew, “I’m always with you even unto the end of the world.”

Can you tell us when you started painting?
MAG: I started painting in 2003 when I was still a student. That was also the time I started joining art competitions. After I finished college in 2005, I worked as a graphic designer, then after seven months I worked abroad for a year. When I came back last year I made a decision to become a full-time artist. This was what I wanted to do—to paint.

Which painters would you say influenced your current style?
MAG: If you're asking which painters I admire, I'd say the Impressionists and Expressionists like Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch and Paul Cezanne. Who else? I can’t think of other names now. I like art which is based on personal experiences. I like artists who are true to themselves.

Where can people go to see your works?
MAG: My show is still ongoing at West Gallery, West Avenue in Quezon City, until June 11.

Thank you very much, Andy.
Salamat din sa 'yo.