“Without art, life is boring, and I must keep my mind busy. At my age, I create my art with a vengeance. That is what I know.” — Cipra Kamatoy
Maharlika highway is a long stretch connecting towns in the provinces of Batangas, Laguna and Quezon. Tucked in the small town of Alaminos, Laguna, is Museo ni Cipra. A museum, especially in these parts is an oddity. People typically seek out hot springs in Los Baños or weekend recreation resort areas.
The sign is round and unobtrusive, and easy to miss. If you are into the arts, your eyes will zoom in on the sign that reads Museo ni Cipra. It is located in the gated community of Acropolis South right off the highway.
A guard at the gate directed us to a house designed in the style of the 1920’s-1950’s American Art Deco. We lingered, admiring, before tugging on the bell attached to the gate. We hoped someone would be there to show us the museum.
A petite woman with a shock of bobbed white hair answered the door. Not exactly what we expected. We asked to view the artworks on display in the museum.
“Who are your parents?” she asked. It is a question locals usually ask in these parts, and which requires a reply. We told her.
She looked at me and smiled. “I saw your parents on their to way to church on their wedding day. It was during the middle of World War II. They were riding in a calesa when the horse bucked and your mother embraced your father,” she laughed. “She was looking for an excuse to get an embrace back.”
That was our ticket into Cipra’s world. The welcome took on a more personal note, and we were treated to a guided tour by the owner and artist, Cipra Kamatoy.
Museo ni Cipra is a duplex with an open deck on the second floor linking two structures. Kamatoy takes credit for the design and planning of the museum and the homes in the family’s residence compound within the subdivision.
“Except for that house I designed as per the client’s specifications,” Cipra said, pointing to a 2-story box-type house on a corner lot. “I designed all the homes I built.
“I had my works on exhibit at the Ayala Museum some years ago,” Cirpa said, as we entered her art space. She pointed to her wall of achievements. “I did a few group shows after that, but not much else. I opened this museum on December 2, 2007.
She spread her arms wide. “This and whatever space I have in the other homes is where I keep my artworks.”
We were in for a treat.
Isms and More
There are many isms attached to the different styles of visual arts described in the book of “ . . . isms” understanding art by author Stephen Little. The ism that would best describe Cipra’s art in Little’s book is Constructivism.
‘Constructivism’ in the more general sense describes abstract, geometric works of art which are constructed, or organized, from distinct components and contemporary materials, such as plastic, metal, glass and other industrial materials.
If Cipra’s Art Deco structures outside were awesome, her art display on the ground level of her museum is a visual experience that overwhelms the senses. The room is a collection of geometric, cube, circle, diamond, rectangular and square shapes; lines weaving meticulously into and around, encircling or boxing in each metal works; small, medium and large sizes of artworks in black and white and brilliant colors. Free standing sculptures on the floor or propped on a pedestal and brilliant-colored artworks on the walls intermingle with metal and wood. Even the stunning diamond shaped window had a replica painting displayed beside it.
Cipra takes prisoners, in the artistic sense. Her art mesmerizes with its adept kinetic motion in all shapes that captivate the observer.
Chat with Cipra
Cipra, at 83 years old, had very little schooling in Fine Arts. She is a dentist by profession and continues to see patients in Manila. She also studied Architecture and it clearly shows in the homes she designed and in the precision of her art creations.
“I’m just one semester shy of a degree,” Cipra lamented. “I could have been a licensed Architect.”
Cipra and her partner of 54 years, Amor, reside in the main house fronting Museo ni Cipra. Amor keeps it all together for Cipra — the professional and creative sides; the artist’s sacred space — insight and input the creative mind might otherwise ignore, especially while in the throes of creative projects.
“Nobody ever said it would be easy living with an artist,” Amor commented.
Nestor Tano has been Cipra’s welder for art projects these past twelve years. Nestor’s wife, Margie, Cipra and Amor’s Girl Friday, supervises the running of household chores. Without these two trusted people, things would fall apart for Cipra and her artistic projects.
To avoid standing for too long, Cipra creates her art on top of a metal swivel on the coffee table of the living room.
“I made a mess out here and it was suggested I move my art in the bedroom,” Cipra said. “But my bedroom didn’t inspire me. I needed to look through the window of my living room, look up from my art and see the colors of nature surrounding my house.”
The conversation flowed and Cipra told her story.
“I started doodling and drawing on paper at a very young age. I knew what I wanted to be,” Cipra began. “When I was 9 years old, I researched everything about the arts. I wanted to learn about art at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, but I also found out that artists were mostly poor and usually hungry. I had to suppress my love for the arts. I needed to think practical; I had to earn a living.
I became a dentist and did insurance underwriting on the side. That was where the money would come from later when I could afford to indulge in my passion, my art.”
Her decision at such a young age proved to be well worth the wait. She is now happily in the home(s) she designed, doing what she loves best.
Cipra Kamatoy has danced around the art-block for the past 8 decades. Not only is she a dentist and almost an architect, she is a sculptress and painter. It doesn’t stop there. Cipra is into stained glass design, furniture making and upholstery, cooking and baking and whatever occupies her artistic fancy. She is all that and much more.
“I started composing music using the do re mi system, you know, like in the ‘Sound of Music’,” Cipra laughed, putting in a disc of her music in a CD player. “That was how I did it until a music arranger asked me to put down my notes on sheet music. I didn’t know anything about signs used in musical notation. So I enrolled in a music course to learn about notes to avoid embarrassment.”
The conversation turned back to her love of painting. “I consider myself a colorist,” Cirpa said. “I paint by instinct. I initially put the colors together in my head. Before I get out of bed the next morning, I sketch my design in a notebook by my bedside. If by then I don’t have a concept or design figured out, I am very sad.
“There is one disadvantage to art conceptualization,” Cipra said with a grimace. “You will lose precious sleep until you figure it out.
“Recently, I took on commission work,” Cipra said. “I didn’t realize what hard work it is. I have to paint to please the client, not myself.”
It was time to leave. Cipra and Amor bade us goodbye. “Let’s do this again,” Cipra said. We promised we would.
An Artistic Exchange
On our next visit, we brought with us a visual artist for another round of Cipra, Amor and lunch.
Mario Fernandez is an artist returning home. He was based in New York City and Europe for many years. He now resides in Pangasinan, quite a distance from San Pablo. He heard about Cipra and wanted to visit her.
The two artists went through the museum. Cipra pointed at her guestbook. Mario obliged.
“He didn’t put his address down,” Cipra said, as her guest hurried to view the artworks on display. Mario returned to fill in his contact info, and hastily returned to the business at hand, as if a candy store awaited him.
Mario said little, but his expressive eyes gave him away. His one-word comments were like music to Cipra’s ears. The visiting artist was absorbing and taking in the numerous artworks on display. Cipra escorted him up the spiral staircase leading to the second floor.
“I like a lot of Cipra’s works very much,” Mario finally whispered, admiring the artworks and antique collection. He stood in front of one of Cipra’s works; a four-paneled glass screen painted with geometric cube designs and long stemmed flowers snaking in between the lines.
They continued on to the other side of the duplex that was also a guesthouse for friends coming from Manila and other countries. There were more artworks but the contents in this duplex concentrated more on Cipra’s talent with craft making; furniture, upholstery, quilt covers and tiffany style lamps.
Satisfied that he inspected every nook and cranny, Mario was led to the main house. There was more to see. Cipra took him up the stairs to view her collection of crucifixes and tiffany lamps.
“Your Art Noveau tiffany lamps match your colors — you’re a good colorist,” Mario said. He chose his words sparingly, saving his thoughts for later.
“Tell me about yourself,” Cipra said.
“I knew a lot of poets and artists in New York,” Mario said.
Mario talked about his more than 30 years living mostly in New York, but clearly he wanted to focus on Cipra. It was all about her, not him.
His eyes zoomed in on a painted canvas on the floor along with other works. “I love that!”
Mario approached the finished work and asked if he could pick it up. One half of the painting was done in an abstract background of black and white pyramid shaped cones. The other half was white floral arrangement with barely a tinge of pink on the sides of the petals and green stems on black.
“That is my favorite piece, “ Cipra replied with enthusiasm.
A dialogue began in earnest between the two artists.
“Your recent works remind me of the Tantra Kundalini Symbolism,” Mario said, pointing to the lines weaving in and out in precision of other works on the floor. “It uses physical energy to attain a higher energy. It is the union of the female and male sexes or male to male and female to female interaction.”
Mario didn’t stop with his assessment. He continued talking, going over the finished canvases.
“The colors weave in and out like the intricate geometric design of cloths woven by our tribal ancestors. Your designs are also reminiscent of ancient American Indian sand paintings displayed in museums in the U.S.
“You have works that are quiet and others that have a punch. There’s also a kind of naiveté and unschooled talent displayed in your art,” Mario said.
“Do you know the Bauhaus Movement and any artist involved in it?” Mario asked.
“I know the work of Frank Stella,” Cipra said.
“Your art reminds me more of Josef Albers’ works,” Mario said. “He was with the Bauhaus movement. I think he taught there too.
“Do you know the hottest artist in New York these days is a 94-year-old abstract painter? Her name is Carmen Herrera. She sold her first painting at the age of 89. Collectors and buyers clamor for her work. She said she is now rich.”
Cipra smiled. “Without art, life is boring, and I must keep my mind busy. At my age, I create my art with a vengeance. That is what I know.
“Anyway,” Cipra said, veering away from the delicate topic of age. “I’m enjoying painting and I have a new concept I’m still working out in my head.”
“I think you’re coming to yourself, Cipra,” Mario said. “And you’re having a good time doing it.”
Indeed, she is.
Mario embraced Cipra and said goodbye.
“Cipra’s paintings are color experienced,” Mario said as the car pulled away from the artist’s home.
When asked for a more specific description, Mario gestured with hands weaving, like salmon splashing in and out of water, repeatedly striving to reach upstream.
“Her paintings produce a brilliant, hallucinatory experience. They radiate light and appear to dance and shift in space. You know, similar to tripping the light fantastic.”
Much like dancing with the movement of the colors that radiate from the paintings? Much like going through a corridor of psychedelic hues and dancing lightly to Cipra’s tunes?
“Yeah,” Mario agreed. “Something like that.”
The trip was for all intents and purposes groovy and copacetic. It was a happy, insightful journey.
Next time you visit these parts, be sure to introduce yourself to the very cool lady who resides there. Remember this when you’re on the road: if you blink, you will definitely miss the Museo ni Cipra sign. Take your foot a notch off the gas pedal and back track to Acropolis South Subdivision.
Feast your eyes on Cipra’s art, her architectural design; listen to her music and stories. Partake of her scrumptious food, if she offers. It will be well worth your time to meet the incomparable Cipra Kamatoy. She is most definitely ‘woman extraordinaire’.
Take heart all artists. There is hope, after all. If we’re lucky enough to reach Cipra’s mature age, we can accomplish so much. Feed and nurture the creative talent lurking inside you. Use it, but don’t lose it. Let loose your imagination, your aggressions, do whatever it takes to get there. Use Cipra as your guiding light to get where you want to be.
You want to have a crack at being an inspired artist? Pay the artist a visit and you’ll feel like Alice going through Cipra’s Wonderland and come out the better for it. You won’t regret it.
Editor’s note: Since the above article was written, Cipra built the second Museo ni Cipra located in San Pablo City, Laguna, and opened its doors in September, 2013. Sadly, Cipra passed away in April, 2014. We are indeed fortunate to have known this incredible woman, and are the better for it. The above article involved a series of interviews with Cipra Kamatoy. Many thanks to the editorial contribution of artists Tony Marino and Mario Fernandez.
Museo ni Cipra I is located in the Acropolis South Subdivision, outside of Alaminos proper. Drive to the gate and park in front of the first white house on the left, and pull on the rope attached to a bell a couple of times. Museo ni Cipra II is located in the Mabini Extension of Barangay San Lucas in San Pablo City.
The museum(s) are open 7 days of the week between 9 am and 5 pm. There is an admission fee of 50 pesos per adult and 25 pesos for students and children. Have a care and contribute to Museo ni Cipra to help defray the costs of caring and maintaining Cipra’s artworks.