For artist Robert Alejandro, life is a series of surprises—ups and downs, twists and turns in his career, and near-misses at health. It is also a life of second chances. Seven years ago, Alejandro was diagnosed with colon cancer; and last December 2020, the cancer metastasized.
“There are days when I feel that I’m not sure if I am even supposed to be alive,” Alejandro shares. “Being at death’s door last December as the cancer metastasized all over my body, it’s a wonder even to my doctors why I am still here, alive and kicking.” Miraculously, his overall wellbeing slowly improved when he took on a cancer-fighting diet.
The artist now lives with a renewed sense of life and optimism that has inspired his friends, followers, and even random strangers. “I now live life thinking that ‘I could go any minute,’” Alejandro admits. “It may sound morbid to some, but I feel it’s a great way to live life. I now value every minute—even if it means spending the whole day on the couch watching TV.”
Just a few months after gaining strength from his December ordeal, Alejandro picked up pen and paper. He even started to host his online workshops on Facebook Live again. His regular workshops helped many adults and children get through the early stages of the nationwide lockdown last year, and the sketching of an animal, a frontliner, or a living room let his audience forget the uncertainty of a pandemic even for just one hour.
This, of course, led to even more art. “With this renewed life mindset (not knowing when the end is), I’ve come to think and do what is on my ‘bucket list.’ What else is there for me to do? I feel that this is a good question, because I’ve done quite a range of work.”
Alejandro’s “range of work” is something generations of Filipinos have grown up with; from his designs for family business Papemelroti and his graphic design, to his reporting for TV shows The Probe Team and Art is-Kool, to his founding of AngINK (Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan) with his artist friends.
So, what else was left on the proverbial bucket list? “Finally, during the pandemic, I am able to do the ‘gallery thing’—an online exhibition and sale of my art,” Alejandro shares. “I started sometime in early 2021, and now I am working on my second exhibition. I call it ‘Art for All’; I like the idea that someone can actually purchase an artwork of mine for 5k, or less than that.”
“I am also grateful that Fundacion Sansó has agreed to help me with this under their Art+Design=Empowerment program. The artist is tasked to ‘contribute to a community. I feel we’re such a good fit—I’ve always wanted a life that is inclusive, an inspiring life.”
Alejandro’s exhibit, “Art for All 2”, will launch under Fundacion Sansó’s Art+Design=Empowerment (ADE) program this November 8, 2021. At each ADE exhibit, the guest artist chooses a target beneficiary or community, and part of the proceeds will go to them. ADE was created in April of this year as a mindful and inclusive approach to art, and takes inspiration from Juvenal Sansó’s work in applied arts—textile design, costume, and set design—which helped him through his early career.
For Fundacion Sansó director Ricky Francisco, Robert Alejandro was an immediate choice as the third guest artist for ADE (the first two guest artists were BidiBidi and Melissa Yeung Yap). Alejandro’s strike anywhere, Renaissance Man-like approach is the perfect fit for the program.
“I consider Alejandro’s participation in ADE extra-special personally, because his work has influenced me since I was a child…and even as an adult, it resonates with me. Growing up in Baguio, what I normally saw as souvenirs for tourists were kitschy stuff…when I thought of Filipino design then, those are what I recall. When I went to Manila to buy school supplies one summer, I recall seeing this shop—Papemelroti—with an aesthetic that was really different from anything I saw before.”
“I saw the drawings and designs…they were all Filipino. They had the color of Filipino skin. They had black hair. They were normal Filipinos, and some of them were even in tsinelas. And they were all happy and caring, and fresh and fun—all these, which we value as a people. They reminded me of Amorsolo, but accessible. And this made me realize that with good design and good art, we can ennoble the ordinary.”
The target beneficiary of Alejandro’s exhibit is Museo Pambata, the children’s museum which the artist had worked with many times in the past. “Maybe it is by divine design that Museo Pambata is close to his heart, and we recognize that his community are generations of Filipino kids he inspired and continues to inspire,” Francisco says.
Museo Pambata, like many cultural institutions in the country, was hard hit by the lockdowns when school field trips ground to a halt. With the concept of “museums helping other museums,” Francisco launched the “Flowers for the Children” program last year, wherein two of Mr. Sansó’s floral giclées were released, and part of the proceeds from the sales were donated to the children’s museum. In a way, the third ADE cycle serves as a continuation of this.
“Art for All 2” lives up to its name with an exhibit composed of 96 of Alejandro’s works; each one priced very democratically. This approach and the overall theme—Filipiniana—is pure Robert Alejandro. One can acquire an original majestic botanical painting for P42,800; or a watercolor of an elegant Filipina in Balintawak dress for P35,000; a delicate, engraved glass box for P25,000; and a mixed-media collage for P5,000.
If these prices are still too high for the budding enthusiast, there is Alejandro’s delicately illustrated travel book, The Sketching Backpacker, for less than P500, and even limited photocopy prints with the artist’s seal for only P200. This entire exhibition fulfills Alejandro’s wish that anyone—everyone—can afford to collect his art.
And in true Alejandro fashion, a series of online “chats” about Illustration, Book Making, Graphic Design, and Space Design accompany this exhibit from November 13 to the first week of December. “I feel that maybe a young person somewhere in Mindanao or Visayas or Krus na Ligas might have a passion to draw and design, but may be at a loss of what to do with this talent,” Alejandro explains. “Perhaps my story may encourage someone out there to pursue one’s passion and live a fulfilling life.”
Art + Design = Empowerment’s exhibit “ART FOR ALL 2” BY ROBERT ALEJANDRO launches at Fundacion Sansó at 10am on November 8 and will run until November 20, 2021. For more information and for complete online talk schedules, contact Fundacion Sansó at email@example.com, or follow them on Facebook @FUNDACIONSANS0 and on Instagram @fundacion_sanso and @fundacionsanso.