PEOPLE | HER STORY

What's Driving Miss Daisy? Art Fit For Heroes

Michelle Baltazar

Artist Daisy Gonzalez Cumming is driven by her passion for arts and culture. She combines that with Philippine history in her latest painting of revolutionary hero Apolinario Mabini.

There is a lot to love about Miss Daisy. Or Daisy Gonzalez Cumming - if you don't know her. Or Daisy Gonzalez Cumming, the painter, philanthropist, mother, friend, mentor, benefactor, wife, community leader, adviser, dancer, cheerleader, grandmother, teacher, fundraiser, fashionista, event organiser and artist - if you haven't met her.

In short, when it comes to this dynamo of a persona, calling her an overachiever would be an understatement.

It is unusual that she cannot be described as a singer - most Filipinos are - but she is yet to strut this talent on stage.

But then again, one of her daughters played the lead role in hit Broadway musical Miss Saigon so the genes are definitely there. Perhaps the reason she hasn't been on stage is because she's been hitting all the right notes on one singular passion: art.

Auntie or Tita Daisy, as many call her, exudes joie de vivre or joy of life. Her sense of play and her boundless energy means she doesn't venture too far from her paintbrush and easel. After creating a painting of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal a few years ago (which now lives in a receiving room at the Philippine Consulate of NSW's office), she painted another hero, Andres Bonifacio, last year. And before the ink dried on that project, she ventured on her third: a painting of Philippine hero Apolinario Mabini ahead of Mabini's 150th birthday anniversary celebration in July.

The local community and press gathered for a preview of this painting at the Consulate office in Sydney last night (April 30). In a few months, she will hand-deliver the painting to the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA), the country’s primary agency and highest institution governing culture and arts. Last year, she was feted by the NCCA for her Bonifacio painting (see article here).

The Consul General Anne Jalando-on Louis praised her trifecta of artwork celebrating Filipino heroes (Rizal, Bonifacio and Mabini). She said there are not many people in the community who are both big on vision and big on action. "Daisy is one of them," she said.

Indeed, early this year, she taught a group of Filipina women, all in their 50s or 60s, how to paint. For the first time, these women - many of whom never picked up a paintbrush nor sat in front of the canvas to create something from scratch - are now proud owners of their own art, under her tutelage and weeks of teaching.

She rarely does things by halves, but when she does, they are still magnificent. The Mabini painting, just like the Bonifacio one, is made up of two halves, each measuring 6 feet in height and 4 feet in width. Combined, the 6" x 8" acrylic painting on canvas is a beautiful piece that highlights the life story of 'the brains of the revolutionary' (In 1899, Mabini drafted the first Philippine Republic Constitution and became the country's first foreign affairs minister. He was just 34 years old and was Emilio Aguinaldo's adviser at the time).

As the guests applauded, the artist, also known by her many other achievements, thanked everybody present for supporting her art. She said that she may be 70 years old (though with more energy than someone half her age) but she will keep doing what she loves doing best. "I may be 70 but I'd like to leave a legacy that our country can treasure." 

After the formalities, everyone gathered to enjoy a sumptuous feast of lechon kawali, lechon paksiw, adobong manok, palabok, fish escabeche and, for the diet-conscious, sushi and sashimi. Guests also got a first-hand account of the making of the painting - from the photos used to make the montage to the inspiration behind the colour palette and the different aspects of the painting.

And just when you think this was going to be time for her to relax and unwind, she makes another announcement: next year, she plans to paint an art series to honour the heroes of ANZAC and unveil them in time for the ANZAC celebrations.

You gotta love her zest for life - and how that, in turn, makes Philippine-Australian arts and culture all the richer.

Photo Credit: Bob Reyes, except for two images by Violi Calvert.

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