The present lot Elysium (Lot 18), painted in 1960, Elysium was created at the height of Jose Joya's career, amidst some of his most triumphant accomplishments. Large works from this particular year are exceedingly rare to come to market and represents the time when Joya first embarked on his remarkable journey of abstraction after being influenced at the height of the Abstract Expressionist Movement. Indeed, most works from this period and year belong to old family collections or are found in institutional collections.
Joya recreates the norm of traditional panoramic landscape painting here, breaking away from conventional norms, recreating a boundless abstract horizon across a broad pictorial realm, replete with textural impasto and visual complexity which are reminiscent of geometric outlines. He paints fluidly, demonstrating the expressive way he approaches the world with gestural black calligraphic lines, contrasting against the fluid and different tones of grey, white and subtle hints of brown and jasmine-yellow. Elysium is fused with both spontaneity and improvisation, resisting any typical methods of characterization. Joya redefines his own artistic legacy, distilling any remaining subjective elements into purely sensory impressions of light and gestural movement. True to Abstract Expressionist elements, the painting exemplifies Joya's working styles along with his inner psyche and process of exploration. The title itself seems to allude to and suggest the emotions of the artist during the execution of this evocative work with its reference to a state of perfect happiness and paradise, or as in the classical mythological interpretation, the abode of the blessed after death.
Elysium was first displayed in 1960 during the 13th Annual Exhibition of the Art Association of the Philippines, at a time when Joya played an important role in the Philippine art scene in the 50s and 60s. He was part of the 'new wave' of modern artists who exhibited at the important Philippine Art Gallery (PAG), which was not only an art gallery but also a venue and meeting point for artists and intellectuals to discuss and exchange cultural ideas.
The painting was subsequently acquired and given as a gift to the parents of the present owners who were stationed in Manila at the time, and who brought the painting back to the Netherlands in 1965.
Born 1931 in Manila, Joya displayed amazing aptitude for drawing and art from a young age and was the first ever person to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Philippines School of Fine Arts. Among his numerous accolades, Joya won several prestigious art prizes and scholarships which funded exchange programs in Europe, including a one year grant to study painting in Madrid from the Spanish government's Instituto de Cultura Hispanica. Fernando Zóbel, himself a formidable abstract artist now residing in Spain, was pivotal in influencing the travel-study grants to Madrid awarded to Joya and other young Philippine artists during the 1950s, such as Arturo Luz, Nena Saguil and Larry Tronco. Most significantly, Joya won a Fulbright-Smith Mundt scholarship in 1956 which allowed him to embark on his Master's degree at the Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, which Anita Magsaysay-Ho had attended before him. Like Magsaysay- Ho, the period which Joya spent in America proved to be fundamental to his development in abstract expression.
"Before his Cranbrook trip, Joya almost always painted figures and objects. Now he was painting almost exclusively nothing but landscapes… in the most usual manner. [T}hese are landscapes that answer to no local definiteness; rather they are the landscapes to anything in the external world, but are the essence of something felt in the blood and the nerves. If they constitute essences of the natural world, they are so after the sight and awareness of the natural have been sifted through the magical prism of a profound sensibility. What the eyes see are the adumbrations of spatial elements, contours, configurations and tensions of colours, balances. Hence, the results are musical – in some large works, movingly symphonic."
The Philippine Collegian
July 22, 1959
Regarded as one of the foremost and influential artists emerging from the Philippines, José Joya was selected to represent the Philippines in the 32nd Venice Biennale in 1964, and is widely considered as one of the most accomplished and inspirational modern abstractionists from the Philippines. His gestural, Oriental-influenced compositions merge the best of Western and Eastern art traditions into a visually stimulating and remarkable body of work. Elysium is a powerful and significant work from his considerable oeuvre, the weightless beauty of the painting evoking a lush homage to abstract painting while affirming Joya's seamless integration of the modernist aesthetic with an abiding Eastern sensibility.
"...In Joya, the power of abstraction, which is either only potential or false in others, becomes an actuality. And his abstraction is total and absolute: his pictures are not of the things of this world. Saint Augustine says very finely of Love that it calls us to the things of this world. In this world of Joya there is a lot of Love and it is the Love that calls us to the things of this world."
- Francisco Arcellana, January 13, 1961