A last shot of Baguio coffee
Vincent Francisco Navarro was the rising star of the Baguio art world. For “Re:View,” the yearend exhibit of Bencab Museum for 2015, the 23-year-old Navarro was the youngest painter selected along with National Artist Arturo Luz, Pandy Aviado, Emmanuel Garibay, Ramon Orlina, Kawayan de Guia, Rodel Tapaya, Leeroy New and Winner Jumalon.
For the exhibition, he painted a large monkey skull with wooden penis earrings, bead necklace and reversed cowries for goggles and titled it, “Where Have All the Monkeys Gone?” To welcome the Year of the Fire Monkey, Navarro said he wanted instead to show the loss of the monkeys in the Cordillera forest and how they became personal adornment.
At the start of the Chinese New Year on Feb. 8, Navarro was supposed to fly to New York to begin his residency as visual artist with the Asian Cultural Council. He wanted to study the art of the American Indians and had arranged a schedule to spend months in Washington, North Dakota and New York to learn about and with them.
Instead, Navarro had been confined since Feb. 2 for a bypass operation for his colon and small intestine. His condition, however, was worsened by lung infection so the operation did not happen. On the night of Feb. 16, he told his mother to kiss him and a few hours later, he moved on.
We call him “Baguio Beans” not only because of his lanky figure but because of his early works which are mosaics of coffee farmers using ground coffee, an offshoot of his thesis for a fine arts degree at the University of the Philippines Baguio. He then expanded to coffee mosaics of famous personalities. His coffee mosaics even earned him a brief grant to New York City.
He then started his series of oil paintings of tattered jeans and bloodied camouflage uniforms. His painting of a tainted barong Tagalog written with revolutionary text was a semifinalist of the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence (Made) in 2015.
He loved teaching children how to create art, working as a volunteer for the Cordillera Green Network (CGN) where he taught mud painting and pottery to children in Mt. Province, Kalinga and Abra provinces.
“I never heard him complain. He was always gleeful,” said Hector Kawig of CGN.
“He was very knowledgeable about the national art scene,” said his friend Rocky Cajigan. “He always had stories of awe about them.”
Sometimes Navarro told stories about himself. He used to accompany his mother, a ticket seller in one of the local theaters in Baguio, by becoming a “lagarista” (cinema reel porter). When the movies faded, he became a “komboy” (porter) at the Baguio market.
The past two years, Navarro was very prolific, coming out with at least five paintings a month. In his last months, he was into his insect stage, creating a huge fly with Marilyn Monroe lips on a crab carapace.
He also recreated the famous photo of the beautiful Sangley girl but with a huge moth covering her face. His last works were of intricate lace and silver plates with pedestrian food on them. He also painted children on silk handkerchief.
He was at the height of his talent and success when he died. But like a shot of strong coffee, his death will leave us sleepless for a long time.
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