By Terence Repelente
Page Design by Pinggot Zulueta
Every day, at around 6:30 a.m., artist Pete Jimenez wakes up, drinks a hot cup of coffee, and walks around his “workshop cum tambakan alley” in Quezon City. It has been, according to him, a daily ritual to explore this small open space, his sanctuary, filled with random found objects and industrial materials such as riot shields, Volkswagen frames, rusty steel rods, and metal planks. These are “good finds” from all over the country. If he’s not in his workshop, on the weekends, he’s probably out of town, in Antipolo or Norzagaray, in his favorite junkshops, looking for worn-out material, rust-covered scrap, that specific piece of metal that speaks to him, which he will eventually turn into beautiful art. “Basurero ako eh (I’m a scrapper),” he jokes. “Pero ‘yung material (but the material), it has to connect to me first.”
He describes his process as unconventional: “I do it in reverse. I look for the material first, and then let the material tell me what to do.” He hoards as many as he wants, keeps them all in his workshop, for days or weeks or months. They just stay there while he waits for them to talk to him and say “Do something with me.” That is why, most of the time, in his morning walks, Pete does not really do anything physically. He just looks around. Subconsciously, however, while walking around, he already does quick sketches. So when he finally decides to create something, he finishes in no time.
A Wild World
This unconventional process is evident in his current show at Finale Art File, “Oh Baby Baby, It’s a Wild World,” whose title has a funny origin. When the gallery asked him for a title, he had no idea. “I was driving along EDSA, stuck in traffic, Cat Stevens’ ‘Wild World’ was playing,” he recounts. “Uy, ang ganda nun ah, classic, sabi ko (That’s it! I said to myself).” He Googled the lyrics and found out it was a breakup song. “Eh hindi naman ako makarelate doon (but I couldn’t relate to that).” But he found new meaning in the song. Instead of interpreting it as a breakup song, he equated it to growing old as a father and letting his daughters—he has two—explore the “wild world” and warning them, telling them to take care of themselves. “Magulo ang mundo (The world is messed up), but there’s still beauty in a messed up world.”
It has been a habit, or maybe an artistic style, for Pete to name his solo shows after albums or songs. In 2017, he had a show called “That’s the Way Aha-Aha I Like It,” referring to the ‘80s charttopper from KC and the Sunshine Band, and “Rust Never Sleeps,” an album by Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young and American band Crazy Horse. He is known for using puns and witty titles in naming his artworks. “Malaking influence sa akin ‘yung pagwowork sa advertising industry, sa postproduction, copy writing, the need to come up with a witty tagline for a brand,” he explains.
But what do his artworks mean? Are they political? Maybe, Pete says. Spoonfeeding is not his thing. One of his works in the current show, Sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan, Bisikleta ang Kailangan, is a clear reference to the infamous Ariel Ureta urban legend during Martial Law. Another is Banana Republic, a rack stacked with hundreds of banana-looking rubber gloves, which could be interpreted as a protest on the semi-feudal condition of the Filipino working and peasant class in our import-dependent and export-oriented country. Then there is I Am Not A Robot, a sculpture made of 15 rusty Volkswagen hoods, which can be a commentary on society’s dependence on phones, social media, and the internet. And the most eye-catching is Marine Life, a colossal work, his biggest yet, made of old and tattered riot shields, which previously belonged to the Marines, stacked up against the wall with lights at the back, creating a luminous, sea-colored glow, a feeling of being “submerged.” Needless to say, the work can be read as a subtle jab on the ongoing West Philippine Sea conflict with China.
What matters most is his unconventional process of creating, the pleasure he gets from using objects that have been previously discarded, the rawness of rusted material, his art of sculpting with steel.
Some of these, Pete made on purpose, the others accidental. Nonetheless, he welcomes different interpretations. “Maybe these commentaries subconsciously emerge, but I just treat them in a whimsical way. They weren’t necessarily political when I was making them, but I relate them to current events.
Overall, the clever names and whatever meaning his audiences derive from his works, Pete treats as secondary. For him, what matters most is his unconventional process of creating, the pleasure he gets from using objects that have been previously discarded, the rawness of rusted material, his art of sculpting with steel. “The steel material has an innate shape or form. In itself, it is already sculptural, artful,” he says. “You don’t even have to maneuver your way around it. It’s as natural as possible. It’s just a matter of presenting it in a very raw manner.” Pete recalls an important lesson from the late National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva, who was his professor when he was still a student at the University of the Philippines Diliman:
When you are looking at a modern sculpture, you do not have to interpret it. All you have to do is look at it and appreciate the form. Remember that sculptures always occupy space. When looking at one, look at it in a 360- degree angle, go around it, and make all the angles look interesting.
Another element—probably the most important—in his work is its rawness. Often he would leave rusts, scratches, or even barnacles in his materials untouched, which, according to Pete, is a statement on the temporality of life. “I want to show people the rusting steel to remind them that life is very temporal,” he says. “Kahit precious na steel, kinakalawang (even the most precious steel eventually gets rusty). I want to present my works as raw as possible.” In a way, through his experimentation with naked materiality, form, and the unconventional process, partnered with wit and cleverness, shows some interesting truths about our beautiful yet wild, wild world.