Almost every one of the century’s Filipino masters left an unexpected mark on the tradition of flower painting. Saguil’s mark belongs to an alternative universe. There is a consistency about the work of artists who use an intellectual approach to painting. Paris based Nena Saguil equates painting with the other arts: music and poetry. She trained at the University of the Philippines but was “born an artist” when she came to Paris in 1954, where she studied at the Ecole des Artes Americaine. She painted her work in a very distinctive style, filled with spheres, mandalas, circles, orbs and moons.
The images emerging from her oils, watercolors and ink drawing signify a contemplation of cosmic/organic order, of perpetually energized matter, hymns to the eternal rhythm of life with its cycle of destruction and creation, tension and relaxation. Saguil’s particular attention to painstaking detail is far removed from the more intuitive approach of other abstractionists. The meaning behind those various multiple dots and circles and molecular configurations in her paintings are not just there for purely plastic or formalist satisfy but signify a life force at work behind everything in a micro — or macro — universal context. The imagery here consists of biological signs representing fundamental life processes in a cosmic setting. It can almost be interpreted as the multiplication of protozoa as seen under a laboratory microscope. Even a cluster of multiplying quasi bacteria in an ethereal blue matrix perhaps. Such imagery is usually referred to as biomorphic and it became an important and fruitful element in much of Saguil’s paintings.
The palette is much more monochromatic and more restricted essentially to blues and her strokes cum markings are softer in touch. Saguil depicts circles and oblongs triumphing over the chaos of reality. A woman of spirited exploration for many decades, Saguil has never been beholden to any school or style, which is precisely why her art has always been full of surprises. Through the 1960s in particular, Saguil developed a personal pictorial language which would be central throughout the rest of her career. A longer, meditative view takes the viewer from the theater of the biological to the theater of space. A union with the cosmic and the center of the galaxy where stars are made, perhaps. And while there is that sense of cosmic drama about many of her paintings, they lead one into a meditative mood. Saguil wanted to paint heaven, to penetrate the celestial vaults in order to communicate with God amid the din and chaos of earthbound realities. At the end, Saguil did not seem to be mindful of her Spartan, almost marginal existence in such an expensive city as Paris because she was completely absorbed in her work, seemingly paying little attention to the outside world. To the end of her life she was still carrying on the ancient struggle between spirit and matter, between invention and finished expression.