Every time I hear or read the name, Jerry Araos, the words ‘Oh My God!’ spew out of my mouth. I met him in my senior year in UP Manila. He was also friends with my blockmates so there was no escaping the reach of Typhoon Jerry. I wasn’t even twenty years old. Back then, I was still trying grasp my sense of self which was nowhere in sight.
I was reading Art+ where an article about the art therapy workshop I was coordinating had a one-page exposure. It was art therapy for teens with Autism. I flipped through the pages and I landed on a familiar sculptural style. My eyes scan the page and it read ‘Remembering Jerry Araos.’
Aside from being a multi-awarded National Artist, Jerry Araos had a short teaching stint in UP Manila but he definitely made a presence. I had a brief research stint for an art gallery owner after graduation who knew Jerry and he told me that Jerry would described the flooding situation in San Juan as ‘last week, kada-pek-pek, ngayon naman kada-suso.’ (Last week, the flood was up to the cunt. This week it was as high as the breast.) You’d think he was a pervert but he mostly did things for shock value.
I remember feeling shivers whenever caught in his energy field. The moment he would see you, he would express his appreciation so loudly that it made you cringe at how everyone’s eyes are searching across the parking lot for his current target. I didn’t feel comfortable because I was still young and naïve. Not to mention, narrow-minded. Yes, I bore on false bravado but of course, people saw through the veil just the same. I didn’t feel comfortable because I didn’t know his intentions. I wasn’t comfortable with his affections because I was too full of myself.
He was overly comfortable with invading personal space and expressing how happy he was too see you. Yes, it would border a little too much for my sensitivities being a young adult barely into her twenties. And then I would be a witness to how expressive he is with the other female students in the parking lot. I dismissed it as being a player like snobbish convent-bred schoolgirl.
As odd as his affections were, he never crossed the line simply because it was never his intention. He once pinched my thighs as I sat on a bench at the pillars. It was so unexpected that it made me jump. I got frightened and chose to stay away.
He always expressed his appreciation for seeing you. Yes, it was over the top but he wanted you to notice. The sad thing is that my fear of Jerry never allowed me to see past his antics.
His teaching stint was cut short because other female students reported him as inappropriate. He quit with his dignity intact but by some smidget of reasoning, it made him sad. His face was like a disappointed child and I remember feeling sorry for him.
I saw his sculptures at the CCP Lobby some years ago and I remember telling myself that the geniuses are always the crazy ones. He made carved creations of hardwood from old houses. He was always on the search for depth and meaning in his work. He didn’t create for money or for fame. As he would tell you the stories of where he found the wood for each piece, you would know that he created for expression and passion. You can see his intensity in the smooth curves of his sculptures. He was also looking for it in people too in his own crazy way but most of us were too dense to see past the audacity that he was known for. He was making us uncomfortable to make us see something about ourselves but I was too blind for the likes of me.
I remember feeling proud that I knew him as I told my friends back in Singapore when I was still living there. It felt like he was one of the exciting events in my life. Of course, I didn’t elaborate on the other details. They didn’t need to know.
On the day of my thesis defense, there was no fanfare. I didn’t want people to know. I just wanted it over and done with so I can graduate and get started with my life. When the defense was done, a few buddies and himself were outside by the steps. I sat along with them and hung out. They asked about my thesis and I just shrugged. It was a painless defense but it wasn’t something that I had put my heart into. I wasn’t particularly proud of it. They offered me their congratulations and he handed me a gift. It was a photograph of one of his sculptures. He told me to read the back where he wrote ‘Perfection does not end when there is nothing left to be added but when nothing is left to be taken away.’ His play on the words of Antoine de Saint Exupery. I said thanks and walked off because I was too self-absorbed and simply concluded that he was trying to invade my space again.
Growing up, I always kept mementos in a remembrance box and I remember packing that photograph in it. It would always stand out whenever I would dig through it from time to time. That box is now lost in an ocean of boxes and trunks in my mother’s warehouse.
The real reason why I walked away that day was because I was afraid of the truth he knows about me and everyone else. Like most artists, he created to disturb; to make us uncomfortable so we can shake in our boots and open our eyes to the lie we convince ourselves that we are never enough. We live our lives protecting the fear of accepting our own perfection. The very root why we can never see the perfection of others. Because we lack the courage to reflect back our own.
Sometimes, the message gets lost in the medium.
On the other side of sappiness, he probably didn’t care LOL!!!!!! Yes, Jerry Araos. You weirdo! I remember you…. and I will never forget you.