Toti Cerda: The Master Sketcher sketches the Masters
“The first principle in drawing is concentration on essentials: the artist states his ideas with maximum directness; he resorts automatically to the basic elements of his art; and he exposes his sensibility without the decorative disguises that may be part of his finished creations. Drawings are often a species of visual note-taking, intended only for the artist’s own use. In recording observations of nature, illustrating abstract concepts, suggesting the outlines of a work to be executed in a different medium, their natural vehicle is the sketchpad.” Thus wrote the critic Harold Rosenberg, reviewing an exhibition of American drawings.
In his show on view at the Galerie Anna, Filipino artist Toti Cerda presents a collection of his drawings titled “Bocetos.” A boceto is the Spanish word for drawing or a sketch, as “bozzetto” is the equivalent Italian word. Cerda’s sketches, however, are not mere sketches of landscapes or studies for the composition of a still life, nor are they merely portrait sketches of certain individuals. What gripped his interest and imagination is the recreation or imagination of what were possibly the sketches done by Philippine and Western masters in order to create their iconic masterpieces. In so doing, Cerda places himself, as it were, in the shoes of those masters. Moreover, he was aware that this gesture may be construed as a brazen act of over-confidence, as though Cerda regarded his own technical skills were equal to those masters.
In the catalog essay of a drawing show curated by the critic Barbara Rose, she states that drawing is “a private and intimate art.” Cerda, however, conceived this show, naturally enough, for public exhibition. When he created his drawings –or rather, the “drawings” of the departed masters - he meant for them to be shared with the public. Cerda thus performs an act of “intervention” between the masters whose drawings (if they existed at all) suddenly resurrected, and the contemporary audience, now wondering if the masters had actually left any of their studies for posterity and history. Furthermore, one can stretch an analogy, but in reverse. When Rauschenberg asked the acknowledged master Willem de Kooning for a drawing which he planned to erase – itself an unthinkable act of desecration – the younger artist intended the gesture as a refutation of the very idea of originality: who is the actual creator of the work henceforth titled “Erased De Kooning Drawing”?
In Cerda’s case, there are the confounding factors, by turns, of reverence and homage as against arrogance and superciliousness. The audience may well ask: is Cerda placing himself on the level of the masters? Is it possible, in fact, that Cerda is an even more accomplished draftsman than the masters he purports to emulate? Were the bocetos of these masters to emerge on the market, would they be as good or would they put Cerda’s bocetos to shame? Such are the conceptual tensions elicited by Cerda’s own bocetos, while at the same time, eliciting the aesthetic pleasure that surely such exemplary draftsmanship will unfailingly deliver.
While at this, it is noteworthy to mention that Cerda is himself a master of another most difficult medium: watercolor. Indeed, in the “Hall of Fame” section of the competition “Kulay sa Tubig,” Cerda was declared winner above all other “hall of famers.”
Just who are the masters in Cerda’s own hall of fame? They come of course as no surprise: Juan Luna and his “Spoliarium” and “The Parisian Life,” Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s “Christian Virgins Exposed to the Populace,” “Edades’s “The Sketch,” Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Vermeer’s “Girl with Pearl Necklace,” and Magritte’s “The Son of Man” (familiar to most as the man with the apple on his face). In Cerda’s bocetos, their iconic images better known are deeply embedded and affective in a mimetic and non-paraphrasal manner.
To his credit, Cerda is throughout unself-conscious about being a “Luna,” a “Hidalgo,” a “Da Vinci,” et al. He never steps out of character, while remaining true to himself as “Toti Cerda.” As an added fillip, Cerda sketches the portraits of these masters.
Judging from this “Bocetos” show, the viewer realizes that a humble sketchpad can throw up such jewels of draftsmanship…