“I got a second life and created more artworks with meaning and relevance. I received God’s gifts, including the things I was led to do to heal myself,” says Jonahmar Salvosa.
The artist has painted more than 10 artworks depicting breastfeeding mothers, frontliners embracing their children as well as a self-portrait, which dramatizes his own recover from COVID-19. He says he was able to overcome the infection, which lasted from the end of February to the end of May, through prayers, acupuncture, and traditional Philippine medicine.
Salvosa created the majority of the pieces from April 15 to May while he was still trying to power through the virus. “I made eight watercolor paintings and several black and white studies of mothers, fathers, nurses, and soldiers coming home and expressing their love for their children despite self-imposed barriers like face shields, masks, and plastic suits,” he says, adding that he borrowed some of my heart-rending images from what he saw on TV. He added touches that reflect his mindset at the time. For example, he placed what he described as a “supernatural shielf” around a watercolor painting of a mother and child because he wanted it represent divine intervention.
Before May ended Salvosa was still weak, but he finished an esoteric self-portrait in oil, with images of how he got healed by following a “strict combination” of prayers, acupuncture and traditional Philippine medicine—the last two he learned from Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan of the Philippine Academy of Acupuncture at Manila’s La Consolacion College in 2011.
“Wala akong gamit sa pangalawang studio ko sa Marikina kung saan ako na lockdown,” Salvosa says, sharing how he was able to create. “Buti nakabaon ako ng watercolor at graphite, kasi magaan, bago ako umalis sa aking studio sa Antipolo.”
Salvosa makes black and white studies in graphite before making his colored plates with the same images. He laboriously followed the same ritual even if he could paint only for two to three hours a day when he was still recuperating. “Tinatago ko ang mga studies ko. Importante sila sa akin,” he adds.
Bout with corona
Looking back, Salvosa also attributed his ability to overcomen to an artwork he finished in 2009. Entitled “Bukas (Tomorrow),” the 36 x 36-inch acrylic work depicts a mother who breastfeeds her baby with determination and perseverance while wearing a mask and space suit during a plague.
It was one of 20 artworks, out of 1,000 contenders, that received main prize from the Freedom to Create Contest in London in 2009. All the winning artworks were exhibited in the British capital.
“There was no plague in 2009. There was no crisis to guide me then. I painted the image that I saw in my mind before the contest. I saw a mother and child who were surrounded by pestilence plague, and pollution. I saw her with a mask and a space suit, but undeterred in feeding her baby during a plague” the artist recalls. “Naisip ko kakaiba ito. Kaya gumawa ako ng studies. Iba’t ibang masks ang sumulpot hanggang nakapili ako ng final image na gusto ko. Kaya nakasali ako sa contest.”
Salvosa battle with COVID started in the last week of February, starting with a terrible headache that penetrated his neck and back. “I could hardly breathe. I lost my sense of smell and taste. I coughed painfully for three weeks. I still cough now and then. A low grade fever kept coming back from late February to April,” he narrates. “There was no celebration on my birthday on March 29, because I was still very weak. Up to May, I could not yet smell and my taste buds remained dull.”
He can only guess as to where he got infected. He says it might be while he commuting in and out his home in Antipolo, at the train stations, or at the malls he frequented. As president of the 28-year-old Agos Kulay Maynila (Watercolor Society of Manila) since 2007, he would also lead Agos’ 92 members in regular sessions every other Friday at Makati’s Ayala Museum prior to the lockdown.
To temper his fever while recovering, Salvosa did self-acupuncture on 10 different points in the evening and partook of coffee enema during the day. He also explored Philippine traditional medicine for cough and fever. “Every evening, I drank three to four tablespoon of Virgin Coconut Oil to detox. I drank fresh coconut juice for electrolytes. I boiled garlic, ginger, onion, turmeric, and honey for my cough and dry throat,” he shares.
He also transformed his studio in Marikina as his virtual hospital and drug store. “My vegetable garden became my pharmacy. Everyday, I drank one tablespoon of juice extracted from malunggay (moringa) leaves to drive out the virus,” he says.
Making use of coconut milk, he cooked alugbati, banana blossoms, eggplant, kalabasa, langka, moringa, okra, and sigarilyas everyday. “I made salad with half-cooked vegetables, fresh tomatoes, onions, and native vinegar. I had a stock of bananas (latondan and saba), mangoes, and pakwan, as sources of vitamins; and kamote and mais as instant food,” he says. “I ate with sili and calamansi because I had no sense of smell and taste. I had to eat to boost my immune system and to survive.”
Unabashed, Salvosa talked about God as his miraculous healer. “My healing from the unusual coronavirus was a miracle. Prayers gave me strength to fight it daily,” he says. A Catholic Christian, he prayed for nine days to Nuestra Senora de Penafrancia after he found a book of prayer in his car while in Marikina. He says the act connected him with the Divine.
One day, he went to his backyard and embraced an old avocado tree. He talked to it and asked for energy and healing. He was aware it was a form of animism. “But I wanted to breath freely because I was still catching my breath. As I embraced the avocado tree, multiple images suddenly danced before my eyes,” he recalls, adding he knew it was time for him to paint despite his sickness.
He saw (medical) front-liners frantically resuscitating patients in hospitals; a sad and worried mother and child; a child longing to see a frontliner dad; children waiting for frontliner moms; security guards, janitors, nurses, and doctors fighting the plague; angels as protectors, and demons as the coronavirus.
“The images ignited my impulse. I rushed to my studio; laid out my paint brushes, prepared my graphite and watercolor, and rolled out papers to recapture the images in my mind,” Salvosa says, adding, “Painting was a major part of my healing. I think I survived to paint what I saw.”
Describing his gift of receiving ready-made images from his mind, Salvosa says his mind is like a TV screen. “I keep seeing images in my mind. I’m used to watching them. As in movies, they move continuously and fast, with wings. Most of the time, I could hardly hold them,” he says. In 1971, he bought a cassette recorder to record the images in his mind, identify them with words as subjects, colors, compositions, including the ideas behind them.
With these works, the artist is defining new expressions of love in the time of a pandemic. Known for his willowy figures, dreamlike scenes, and wash-like rendition of strong but welcoming colors, Salvosa has created artworks that surges through soft barriers such as plastic suits, facial shields, gloves, and masks.
All his recent watercolor and black and white paintings measure 20 x 15 inches, with exception of his self-portrait:
Click on the arrows for slideshow
Kahit Kapos Nakaraos Din depicts a nurse face-to-face with a daughter she carries wearing improvised head shields made of plastic water jugs.
Mahirap Man Nalampasan din Nila ang Covid shows mother and child with masks, green plastic raincoats, and head shields made of plastic water jugs.
May Pananga Kami has a mother with a mask, salakot, and plastic suit who breastfeeds her baby.
Oracioness Contra Covid, has an angel who guards a mother breastfeeding her baby, preventing the entry of a green monster.
Sakripisyo has a masked nurse in civilian clothes, embracing her baby who wears mask and plastic suit with battery-operated fan.
Shield of Love has a soldier with mask, gloves, and a plastic cape from head-to-foot, embracing his daughter.
Taimtim na Panalangin shows a mother who serenely breastfeeds her baby.
Walang Hadlang na Pag-ibig shows a soldier with mask and gloves embracing his child who wears a mask, her head and body covered by black (garbage) plastic bags.
When asked what he felt when he defeated corona after May 15, Salvosa says that his body didn’t feel heavy any more. “I didn’t have fever. I could sleep well. Before, I barely slept because I could hardly breathe. I started painting continuously. I felt relax,” he says. Making sure his healing mode becomes a normal health regimen, he adds he continued his acupuncture to boost his immune system. “I kept taking VCO, ginger and turmeric every day. I continued eating a healthy diet. I haven’t stopped praying day and night.”
In 2011, after studying under Dr. Galvez Tan, Salvosa started to gather a total of 100 patients at the University of the Philippines General Hospital to get a license to practice from the government-run Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Care (PITAC). “But I was also conflicted between healing and painting. I chose my art. I made that decision after Dr. Galvez Tan left PGH,” he says.
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Earlier, when he was 32 in 1985, he studied acupressure at the Pasig Public School. His teacher was mentored by a Chinese national at the University of Life. “My earliest interest in acupuncture began after the lecture of a Chinese acupuncturist at UP when I was a Fine Arts student,” says Salvosa, who graduated in 1975. Salvosa has received a total of 50 top awards since 1961 when he was an eight-year old student in Bicol up to 2009, when he turned 56.
The artist says he feels lucky that’s why he thinks it’s time to give back. “I think I should start practicing acupuncture and heal other people,” he says. “I think God is telling me something now.”