SAPRID & GOMBURZA
John Benjamin Tesoro
February 17, 2021 (late post)
In 1972, the Burgos-Gomez-Zamora Associations, Inc. created by then President Marcos and the Friends of Burgos Gomez, Zamora, Inc., decided to honor the memory of the three priest-patriots by commissioning renowned sculptor, Solomon Saprid to create a sculpture commemorating the centennial of their martyrdom. In the artist’s mind, the three executed priests symbolize Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Being bonded together signifies cohesion and unity of the revolution against Spain that was finally achieved via their martyrdom.
Tethered by a common rope from behind, the master’s signature work in bronze cubistic style depicts Father Zamora with his head shrouded in a garrotte hood, laying close to the ground, doubled up in asphyxiation as Father Burgos cringes in a kneeling position while Father Gomez stands defiantly tall and erect, his face upturned to the east vociferating his protest to the winds.
Renowned as the Master of “frozen motion,” his creations appear to be deceptively kinetic and have just completed an action. Whether the fisherman has hurled his net into the lake a second ago, a mother happily spinning around with her daughter or the mythical “tikbalang” about to be overwhelmed by a tenacious Herculean mortal male, most viewers cannot help themselves but stand and wait for the figures to move. Even though the Gomburza appears to be in a static position, potential energy abounds in a couple of figures. Especially, with the latter priest who is obviously straining against his bonds, his expression contorted in his effort to be free. If you were fortunate enough to sight some of Saprid’s actual studies for his sculptures, you will tend to notice that the finished product is certainly very close to his initial vision in the form of his sketches and scale models. Not surprisingly, having a background in animation and illustration, his sense of proportion and sequence is exceedingly honed that transitions seamlessly into the 3D form.
Solomon rather let his masterpieces do the talking for him. He does not self-promote but rather let his contemporaries and peers do it for him. National Artist Hernando Ocampo hailed him “Philippines’ best living sculptor”. Through a scholarship program, he held a Master’s Degree in Education, Majored in Mass Communication, at the Ohio State University, USA 1954, became head of the University of the East's Teaching Aids Department for 9 years, Vice-President, Society of Philippine Sculptors, 1971-1976. Then in 1974-1976 was President of the Art Association of the Philippines, Board Member of same, 1978- 1980 and Chartered Member, AAP. He garnered several awards and prizes plus prestigious solo and group exhibits. But his major works have gifted this country his most treasured achievements: His newly proclaimed National Monument: The GOMBURZA, the Asean Birds in Bangkok, Thailand, Mural, Philippine Asia Trading Building, Mural, Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation Bldg., Mural, Far East Bank and Trust Company, Mural, New Central Bank Building, Copper Statue for the Australian Biennial in Sydney, now in the collection of Westinghouse in Philadelphia, Mural, Board Room, Philippine Central in New York, Mural and Statue at the Philippine Center also in New York. Taming of the Tikbalang at Greenbelt 5 beside the Ayala Museum in Makati, Statue of Christ in the Indiana University Museum, Eros for Abbott Lighter in Hong Kong, plus several more. (Please refer to ACHIEVEMENTS page)
From the Saprid Sculptures & Sketches booklet’s Introductory page by Ma. Salva R. Limbo and Leonides Benesa who wrote in 1972: “Nothing short and phenomenal is the rise of Solomon Saprid to the front rank of contemporary Philippine sculpture...All told his output in the last few years has been really prodigious. His works are in continuous demand by architects and builders who appreciate their richness of execution to offset austerely modern interiors. This has not prevented Saprid from producing small-size sculpture in high relief for numerous homes and offices, figures in the round for lawns and gardens, of life-size statues in a variety of motifs ranging from the religious to the paganistic.”
His choice of subject matters encapsulated the mythical and historical themes of the Filipino people. The diversity of his artworks range from the folkloric to the literary, variety of genres to the occult and from religious to the profane. The evidence of his artistic influence is the proliferation of several counterfeit pieces being sold here and abroad. Not surprisingly though, some of the lots are actual original sculptures that were stolen from private collections. Some fabricators thought it was enough to simulate a welding trademark which produced a surface similar to candle drops only they were often rougher. Some shapes of his pieces were much elongated and stiff albeit showing an internal tension which emanates a sensation that the posture of the subject was captured at the exact moment it was about to display movement and thus, emerged a style that embodies most of Saprid’s creations: “arrested action.” Another flaw which counterfeiters fail to emulate is that Saprid pieces stand independently without extra support therefore, in order for the forgers to successfully have their fake pieces “stand,” they attach clumsily disguised props such as extra appendages or overly exaggerated musical instruments like flutes or even frequently used weapons, especially for archery since they do not possess the same ingenuity common to most gifted and creative individuals. Moreover, true masters’ skill level is at a much higher tier which is fittingly labelled as “talent.”
Although, the turning point of Saprid’s career was the GOMBURZA, it was initially misunderstood and much maligned due to a misguided negative public feedback caused by its original setting. The people overlooking the project thought it best to have the sculpture elevated on a six foot pedestal because the frequent student demonstrations during that era made it susceptible to vandalism and so the monument was raised to above normal life-size which neither sets off its height nor give perspective to it in relation to the surrounding areas which made the figures look squat and static. Presently, the intended setting has been achieved when finally set properly at ground level so that the intention for the audience to be able to see the respective countenances and dispositions while magnifying the emotional strain of the arrangement. What made this masterpiece truly incredible as one of the best conceived Saprid’s works are the bronze sections of every figure were composed of separate triangles cut from a 3/15 of an inch bronze sheet. Not a single one of other geometric shape was applied. As aforementioned, the form represented the three main island groups of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao along with the three priests who sacrificed their lives for the independence and unity of these islands.
In addition, Saprid is no less proficient in other media. He has always used wood alone or intermittently, combined with metal. En route to his mastery in bronze, he also experimented with silver, lead, ceramics and adobe; howbeit, amalgamation in its entirety.
To these day, overseas collectors express their appreciation in owning a Saprid art piece after all these years. They cannot help but marvel at the complexities of the craftmanship in attaining a unique effect in demonstrating that the artist must be the one controlling the chosen medium rather than allowing the material to dictate the direction of the intended composition which is why some artist’s supposed “completed piece” still appears unfinished. Made worse if the observer were to scrutinize the sculpture from all angles and notice that its rear requires additional attention before declaring it as concluded and not rely on the biased supporters’ ceaseless positive critique to bail the artwork’s imperfection by showering it with technical jargon full of praise that confuses the normal onlooker to the point of questioning their own personal perspective regarding their own inherent aesthetic value and judge cognitively on what is genuinely pleasing to the eye. But differing personal opinion can never be resolved and that is the reason some people lean towards Picasso than Michelangelo, Pollock than Da Vinci. Anyway, this irresolvable ambiguity is what truly makes us human and differentiates us from God’s lower creations.
To paraphrase Angel G. de Jesus from Business Day, March 8, 1979 who may have said it best when he described Saprid’s metal work as unique and the blow-out look derived from strands and filaments laboriously welded together to create work in which matter and space convey a feeling of ethereal, poetic beauty and elegance. The observer’s eyes do not see the rough metallic texture, enamored as the person is by the beauty of the composition, which is emphasized by the color of the metal. It is remarkable how strips of metal can be so constructed as to produce such a sensation of movement and grace.