ARTIST EX­TRAOR­DI­NAIRE

See the col­or­ful world of J.A. Tan

Makati Leads - - Makati 360 -

Peo­ple ex­press them­selves in dif­fer­ent ways—through ges­tures, fa­cial ex­pres­sions,

speech, and draw­ings. Artists, par­tic­u­larly, are more adept and skilled in ex­press­ing them­selves through their re­spec­tive fields: Bal­leri­nas dance, au­thors pen nov­els, thes­pi­ans dis­play emo­tions on stage, mu­si­cians cre­ate melodies, and vis­ual artists draw, paint, sculpt, mold clay, and sketch.

Jose An­to­nio Tan, bet­ter known as J. A. Tan, is a pro­fes­sional vis­ual artist. But un­like his peers, what sets J. A. apart is his life­long con­di­tion and bat­tle with autism.

AN ARTIST WITH AUTISM…

…is how J. A. de­scribes him­self. “I have come to the re­al­iza­tion that I have al­ways used art as a way of help­ing my­self ex­press my thoughts, feel­ings, and ideas,” he says. “I con­sider it an in­te­gral part of my ex­is­tence as each work is a per­sonal

jour­ney of my­self with my­self, and my­self with the world, bring­ing a feel­ing of peace and hap­pi­ness since things be­come clearer to me through the im­ages and vis­ual pic­tures be­fore me.”

His mother, Marie Zelie Tan, says that J. A. has al­ways been into art, even as a young child. “He liked doo­dling, pa­per and pen­cils, and en­cy­clo­pe­dias,” she rem­i­nisces fondly. J. A., the youngest of three sib­lings, was a quiet child who pre­ferred soli­tary ac­tiv­i­ties and would have “draw­ings of ev­ery­thing he sees.”

When he was 2 years and 9 months old, J. A. was di­ag­nosed with high-func­tion­ing autism—a form of autism where they feel they can live in­de­pen­dently as adults. His mother, de­spite as­sur­ances from J. A.'s grand­mother that boys take a longer time than girls to start talk­ing, lis­tened to her in­stinct and con­sulted a pro­fes­sional. “He only started talk­ing when he was 5 years old,” she re­lates, “but when he started speak­ing, it was in com­plete, gram­mat­i­cally cor­rect sen­tences.”

FULL CIR­CLE

Upon his di­ag­no­sis, J. A.'s mother de­cided to seek pro­fes­sional help in the Philip­pines, only to be met by ob­sti­nate road­blocks. “I was told by a pro­fes­sional to con­sign my­self to the fact that my son was ‘use­less' be­cause he was autis­tic,” she shares. But she was de­ter­mined to raise her son prop­erly, with all the right equip­ment and sup­port, and was re­ferred to Dr. Magda Camp­bell of Belle­vue Hos­pi­tal in New York.

She re­mem­bers walk­ing in New York City, her eyes clouded with tears as she passed

by the United Na­tions head­quar­ters to get to the hos­pi­tal. To her relief, Dr. Camp­bell pro­vided a pos­i­tive opin­ion—a stark con­trast to other doc­tors' un­help­ful apolo­gies that there was noth­ing else they could do for him. In­stead, Dr. Camp­bell ad­vised Zelie to bring him to a small school—“a reg­u­lar one, a Montes­sori school”—and pro­vide him with all the ther­apy they could give.

For Zelie, it is a spe­cial anec­dote, be­cause many years later, she would be walk­ing down the same street again, tears and all, only to go in­side the U. N. head­quar­ters, where her son would be hon­ored for his work, “Vic­tory”—a spe­cial art­work that was is­sued as a U. N. stamp on April 2, 2012. Only eight artists from all over the world were cho­sen: five Amer­i­cans, one Scot, and two Cana­di­ans.

A UNIQUE EX­IS­TENCE

J. A. is now based in Van­cou­ver, Canada, but he has never for­got­ten his Filipino roots and would al­ways proudly say that he is FilpinoCana­dian, as op­posed to be­ing merely a Cana­dian cit­i­zen. He still has ties to the Philip­pines and main­tains strong friend­ships with his class­mates from St. Scholas­tica's Col­lege in Manila, thanks to Skype and Face­book. He has also made it a point to re­turn to Manila ev­ery two years and stage an ex­hibit of his works.

“Th­ese vis­its have helped me cope with the chal­lenges I faced in a new coun­try,” says J. A. of his fam­ily's move to Canada in 2006.

“I speak in col­ors— each color has a

spe­cific mean­ing in my works,” he adds. He uses plenty of bright col­ors in his work— even his white is of the brighter shade, in­stead of a muted one. J. A.'s paint­ings, like his life, have a lot of lay­ers, and he is par­tial to tex­tured paint­ing, be­cause that is how he sees his life. Ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ists Pablo Pi­casso and Joan Mitchell are some of J. A.'s idols and in­spi­ra­tions.

J. A., as with any other artist, uses his art to ex­press his thoughts and emo­tions. It is also his way of calm­ing him­self—a san­ity saver, if

you will. “Through the art­works that I was en­cour­aged to cre­ate, the world around me made sense as I could break it down into im­ages—some­thing very use­ful for a vis­ual per­son like me,” he ex­plains.

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