...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
Highly revered and regarded with great acclaim, José Joya is widely considered as one of the most accomplished modern abstractionists from the Philippines, with his gestural, Oriental-influenced compositions merging the best of Western and Eastern art traditions. Joya was born in 1931 and even in his youth, displayed a strong aptitude for drawing and art. 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 resident 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 which allowed him to embark upon 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 foundational for his development in abstract expression.
Around his time in the US, he was exposed to abstract expressionist luminary artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning amongst others at the height of the abstract expressionism movement in New York.“He is the first Filipino painter to be linked to abstract expressionism or action painting of the New York School… used to the rigid disciplines of his classicallyoriented mentors at the University of the Philippines, Jose Joya found himself in America in 1956 and 1957. Suddenly he was bursting out of the patterns which thick spatterings and spatulates of colour and pigment, under the heady inspiration of the American action painters, who themselves were peaking morphologically during that period.” (Leo Benesa, What is Philippine about Philippine Art? 1995)
The movement's interpretation of non-figurative works inspired and influenced him, but to be differentiated and not typecast as a mere copycat, Joya appropriated the style but inserted his own stylistic techniques, imbuing his works with dynamism, vitality and energy, characterized by a deep sense of spirituality. Whilst Joya's immense variety of abstract art is undoubted, all his works convey yet a sense of restraint and balance.
Painted in 1964, Tivoli, Copenhagen (Lot 2507) is representative of Joya's work in the 1960s, and was created at the height of Jose Joya's career, amidst some of his most triumphant accomplishments. Likely executed during his travels in Europe, Joya visited the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen - one of the world's oldest gardens and theme parks and decided to pay homage to the beautiful park with its exotic architecture, historic buildings and lush gardens blooming with flora. The gardens are especially charming at night, lit up with thousands of lights and lanterns hanging from trees, creating a wondrous and timeless nostalgic atmosphere which exists to the present day.
Joya recreates the traditional landscape painting, breaking away from conventional norms, recreating a boundless horizon across a broad dominant orange pictorial plane, heavy with textural impasto and visual complexity, perhaps symbolising the thousands of fairy-lights coming alive at dusk. The painting is fused with both spontaneity and improvisation, resisting any typical methods of characterisation, with an emphasis on the gestural swirling lines of differing colours of white, turquoise and black which evoke a sense of movement in contrast to the larger overall main colour field. 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 weightless beauty of Tivoli evokes a lush homage to nature and place, while affirming Joya's seamless integration of the modernist aesthetic with an abiding Eastern sensibility.
"When an idea evolves, particularly an intense idea, I try to record the idea before it flees. The pictures are done spontaneously - the creative impulse of the moment is strapped to the canvas before it changes its nature."
- Jose Joya, Contemporary Philippine Art: From the Fifties to the Seventies, Vera-Reyes Inc., Manila, 1972