Like Ripples in a Stream.
At the launch of his first one-man show, "Oriental Brush Strokes," at Chef Jessie at the Rockwell Club, Cheng would either blend in with the guests, or sit quietly in a corner, as if he hadn't worked for five years on the 50 paintings on display around the venue.
In fact, the only indication that Ceasar was of any importance at all was how enthusiastically the guests--made up mostly of students from the workshops he holds at the Fully Booked in Fort Bonifacio--would gather around him, praising his work or calling him Teacher or even Master.
It's only when he's called that particular honorific that Ceasar's quiet exterior breaks, even if only for a moment.
"I'm not a master. It's a title given to you by an association in China. They call me master pero kinikilabutan ako sa title na 'yun (but that title gives me goosebumps)," he demurs. "I'm just a teacher. I'm comfortable being called a teacher but not a master."
Before becoming a teacher, Ceasar himself was also a student. As a boy growing up in the '60s, he would copy from komiks, illustrations that he would collect and pin onto the cabinet underneath his father's table. While he longed to take further lessons at the time, there were no art teachers to teach him. It was an ad in one of Chinatown's Chinese newspapers that would change the course of his artistic life.
"Meron kaming mga Chinese newspaper dati na may mga Chinese painting in it. Nakikita ko na it was different and I didn't know how to do it. Pero meron sa mind ko na gusto ko ito (We had Chinese newspapers that had Chinese paintings in it. I saw that it was different and I didn't know how to do it. But in my mind I knew that I liked it)," he recalls. "I saw an ad that they had Chinese painting courses at the Liberty Hall during summer. Nag-enroll ako, tinuloy-tuloy ko na every summer (I enrolled, and I continued it every summer)."
During those four summers, Ceasar would learn traditional Chinese painting from four masters from Taiwan: Liang Chung Ming, Liang Siu Chung, and Wen Bi Ing. He then took up the Lingnan school of Chinese painting under Master Hau Chiok, which would become the style that he would stick with.
"Lingnan is influenced by the Japanese and Western style of painting. Their masters studied in Japan and Europe. They incorporated the styles and color of the Japanese and the West," he explains. "Traditional Chinese painting is copying from the master over and over again. That's what they used to do. They copy and change it a little. Here, you have a different subject."
Teaching a new generation
Although painting is his true passion, Ceasar ended up taking Commerce at the University of Santo Tomas at the wishes of his father. Aside from participating in a few group shows here and there, Ceasar would abandon painting, working in the corporate world instead.
It was only in 2009, when his former teacher Hau Chiok migrated to Canada, that Ceasar would take up the paintbrush once again. Hau Chiok urged him to teach, and it was how his flagging passion was revived once again. He began conducting workshops at Fully Booked in Fort Bonifacio, and now he is also teaching Chinese Painting at the Confucius Institute at the Ateneo de Manila University. In much the same way that his teachers shaped his style, he now intends to do the same for a new generation. When he talks about what it takes to excel in this discipline is when he is no longer the shrinking violet.
"Chinese brush painting is said to be a discipline, a demanding, and to some, unforgiving form of art. It requires a mastery of techniques in brush strokes, use of ink colors, paper, and a clear idea of the subject to be painted, for once the painting is done, it is difficult to make alterations," he says. "In order to learn the rudiments and excel in Chinese painting, aside from having the time, dedication, and the patience, it is also important to have a good teacher to guide you. It will take a lot of practice and a good teacher."
"Oriental Brush Strokes" runs until July 31 at Chef Jessie, Amorsolo Square, Amorsolo Drive, Rockwell Center.
HERE TO TEACH Painter Ceasar Cheng says time, dedication, patience, and a good teacher are needed to excel in Chinese painting. (Images by Pinggot Zulueta)
Sa puti, watercolor, 2009
Mother and Child,watercolor, 2012