|The talented Mr. Noche|
published October 20, 2013 - MST Sunday Lifestyle
Most of us only have a knowledge of the literary legend, National Artist Nick Joaquin, from his published work. But visual artist and former Manila Standard art director/ editorial cartoonist Dario Noche worked with him at the Philippines Free Press, day in and day out, and drank with him after office hours.
Joaquin, according to Noche, was a ruthless editor. He would not just edit words and phrases—he would cross out entire pages of typewritten copy. “But while he was very serious at work, he was generous and gregarious. He never got rich because he helped anybody who asked. He laughed boisterously. He was well-regarded among the people in the office.”
Such privileged access does not seem to be an exception for Noche. He believes this is the story of his life.
There was no objection from his parents when he decided to discontinue his architecture studies at Mapua (“the math was difficult!”) and take up Fine Arts at Feati. After all, nobody in the family was an artist in whatever form. His father was a BIR examiner and his mother, a school teacher.
Opportunity came knocking even before graduation. In the late 1960s, a teacher’s friend was looking for a staff member to act as illustrator and layout artist for Free Press.
“I was the teacher’s favorite, and so I was recommended,” Noche says.
His stint at Free Press was life-defining. He experienced being in the company of brilliant writers such as Joaquin, Teddy Locsin, Kerima Polotan, Greg Brillantes, Pete Lacaba, Ninotchka Rosca, Pablo Tariman and Luis Teodoro.
“It was there I honed my English, really.” He relates, adding that he did not simply lay out the page by putting the stories until he filled up the entire space. Instead, he read every single piece and analyzed why the editor crossed out this phrase, or substituted this word for that, or let this one pass.
He stayed on until the First Quarter Storm, and by then he had grown some kind of social awareness. Joaquin and Lacaba organized a union and soon established Asia—Philippines Leader.
Years passed, and Noche found himself employed at the US Embassy’s publications department, designing material that carried the US “message” at that time.
It seemed odd to him at first why the output of Philippine publications was starkly different from that of the embassy when the latter was also run by a Filipino staff.
Later on, he concluded that the difference lay in the attitude: quality control means not saying “Pwede na yan!” when improvements can still be made.
It was around this time that Noche realized there was going to be a major shift in the publications industry, and he needed to learn a few things in order to adapt and stay competitive. For the first time, computers were being designed to be user-friendly and people were learning Pagemaker and Photoshop.
Armed with innate talent, raw passion, and a willingness to embrace technology, Noche moved on to a more regional/ international working environment. For instance, when Asiaweek was established by a New Zealander, Noche was requested to be part of the graphics team.
When Asiaweek ran into problems, he was among those asked to apply for a post at the Straits Times, where he got an offer to work in Singapore. He chose however to work from the Manila office, because his children were still very young at this time.
Other gigs helped: he designed the cover for the biography (written by Joaquin) of former President Gloria Arroyo, former Senator Edgardo Angara, and businessman Antonio Cabangon Chua.
Noche wanted to try doing commentary by way of comic strips. He pitched this idea to then—Manila Standard editor in chief Jullie Yap Daza, whom he knew from way back.
“We don’t do that,” was Yap-Daza’s answer, but she asked him to be a contributor nonetheless by sending editorial illustrations to the newsroom, whenever and however many he felt like sending.
He got bored with this non-commital set-up soon, and so Yap-Daza finally convinced him to join the paper full time. As art director, Noche changed the look and feel of the paper—while also churning out editorial cartoons every day, working closely with the editorial team.
“It was tougher because you could not take a vacation. Every day, whatever the weather, however you’re feeling, you had to be there.”
Working for a daily broadsheet, Noche’s biggest creative challenge was injecting a new angle, a new representation of the same old issues. This he did successfully until his retirement in 2009.
Passing it on
Noche knew better than encourage his children to pursue careers in the arts. “But I did not discourage them, either. They knew very well that this type of work would not make them wealthy.” One child ventured into advertising but soon found himself as an art director. Another took up fine arts and is now also a visual artist holding exhibits of his own. Yet another child just graduated as a full scholar from Ateneo with a degree in…mathematics.
Noche says parents should be supportive of their children without being dictatorial or restrictive. “Let them look for what they want…just show them that you’re always there. Pretty soon they will find their place.”
According to Noche, the standards for visual arts change over time. For instance, when he was starting out, there was a strong western influence. And then the First Quarter Storm occasioned patriotism and nationalism. Now, because of globalization, the standards are likewise global. “That’s bad for you if you’re not so good.”
The challenge to artists today is to stand out among many especially when creation, through various tech tools, has become more facile.
Simultaneous ventures and killer instincts
Noche is part of the group Art Ventures @Conspi, which holds exhibits, shows and sketching sessions at Conspiracy Bar along Visayas Avenue in Quezon City.
Free at last of the daily pressures of holding on to a job and bringing home the bacon, Noche has more time in his hands to do what he loves to do—create something that’s without a deadline. He paints, sketches, draws, takes pictures, and everything in between.
“That’s what I should have done long ago, and I hope it’s not too late to start now.” Indeed, Noche says, being “commercial” does not mean you have no capability to express yourself.
He refers to his stint as art director for Erehwon Center for the Arts (erehwonartworld.com), a foundation and a corporation based in Quezon City that seeks to advance Philippine visual arts especially for up and coming talents. Erehwon, which is “Now Here” read backwards, has an Art Policy Council and offers project space residency, exhibition spaces, permanent collections, publications, public art, art tours and art venues.
“Looking back, I realize I would have been more prolific had I not been bogged down by work. It’s not a dichotomy of earning money or pursuing your passion. You can actually do both at the same time.”
Noche says he did not have, so to speak, the “killer instinct” needed to become prolific and prominent in the art industry. “This was because all doors seemed to be open for me and all I had to do was step inside. It was like I did not have to try so hard to snag my engagements.”
That’s highly arguable, of course. What Noche does not emphasize is that the doors did not open by themselves; they were a series of causes and effects that originate from one thing—that he was good at what he did that people knew they could not go wrong inviting him into a team.
And not everybody has to be a killer. It suffices that one sits and works with his hands, oblivious to the world.
On that Saturday after the interview, Noche sounded a little disappointed. “We are supposed to have our regular nude sketching event right there,” he gestured toward his favorite bar, which was still padlocked by mid-afternoon. “We just weren’t able to get a model.”
“So where are you going to stay until the place is opened for the evening?” I asked.
“That’s okay. There are people inside, probably hanging out already. I just have to knock.”