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‘Pinyin (Dragon Dance)’: Internationally Acclaimed Artist Joe Datuin’s Advance Welcome For The Year Of The Dragon

‘Pinyin (Dragon Dance)’: Internationally Acclaimed Artist Joe Datuin’s Advance Welcome For The Year Of The Dragon
Jose 'Joe' Datuin’s 'Pinyin (Dragon Dance)' exhibit is running till Nov. 30, 2023 at the Nami Art Gallery, SMDC Fame Mall, Mayflower Street, EDSA, Mandaluyong City. Visit for details.

Jose “Joe” Datuin is best known for his signature stainless-steel sculptures that have earned him international acclaim, especially when he won the grand prize in the International Olympic Committee’s Sport and Art Contest in connection with the Beijing Olympics in 2008. His winning sculpture, “Dancing Rings,” interpreted the mighty Chinese dragon as interconnecting Olympic rings.

But not many of us know that he had interpreted the same iconography before, albeit in painting. In 2004, for the ASEAN artists’ exhibit at the Ayala Museum, Datuin contributed the abstract painting, “Pinyin,” which in Chinese means “dragon dance.” The 48 x 48-inch acrylic work rendered the Chinese dragon dance in interlinked geometric forms mainly in shades of red that appear to slither across the canvas. Additionally a sphere connected to a stick of a line seemed to symbolize the performers making the dragon dance, as in rod puppetry. Datuin recalls the work became the centerpiece of the exhibit and was quickly sold on opening day.

The work hasn’t been repeated till this year. Last Nov. 12, “Pinyin” opened at the Nami Art Gallery in Mandaluyong City with, appropriately enough, a dragon dance. On the walls of Nami hang 12 paintings in mixed media bearing very positive or optimistic titles: “Peace and Harmony,”  “Bountiful Harvest,” “Unending Grace,” “Wealth and Prosperity,” “Peace and Stability,” “Golden Harvest.”

They’re acrylic paintings, really, but what makes them mixed-media works is what differentiates this year’s “Pinyin” to the original one many years ago: instead of the sphere with a line that symbolizes the rod puppetry of the dragon dance, there’s Datuin’s signature stainless steel work but this time, it is a globe so fine and shimmering that upon its convex dimensions could be seen the distended image of the viewer, who thereby becomes the dancer and performer who operates the dragon costume.

Datuin’s fusion technique binding metal to the canvas provides an interactive dynamic between work and viewer, both entertaining and intellectually stimulating at the same time.

The color palette hews close to the fiery colors of the traditional dragon dance: “green for a good harvest, yellow for reverence, gold or silver for prosperity, and red for excitement and good fortune,” as the exhibit notes written by Datuin’s daughter Lorraine put it.

Datuin uses a metallic palette in the canvases to complement Oriental beliefs of good luck. “Metallic colors have a certain freshness and sheen,” he explained. He indicated the metallic palette likewise provides a certain depth to the rather flat effect of acrylic. “They’re a perfect combination,” he added.

Likewise adding extra dimension to the paintings is their canvas wrap. This is to “unleash” the dragon from the canvas, according to Lorraine.

Complementing the paintings are of eight sculptures in Datuin’s vintage stainless-steel medium that interpret the dragon dance in more concrete geometry and extra dimensionality.

Most of the sculptures are along his Olympic-winning “Dancing Rings” series, but two works, “Pearl of Wisdom” Chaser 1 and Chaser 2, depict dragons in pursuit of wisdom; this is, of course, biblical but still very Asian (the Holy Land is in Asia Minor), as when Proverbs in the Old Testament defines wisdom as “the pearl of pearls, and the New Testament likens the Kingdom of God to a “pearl of great price.”

Indeed, Datuin’s “Pinyin” paintings and sculptures bring together Near and Far East, wisdom and prosperity, in a symbiosis that flourishes through Datuin’s vibrant, suave and sophisticated art.


Infinity and now

The “Pinyin” pieces are an outstanding addition to Datuin’s accomplished body of works that meld and fuse icons and symbols, mediums and idioms.

For example, “Dancing Rings,” which won the grand prize in the International Olympic Committee Sport and Art Contest (Sculpture Category) in Lausanne, Switzerland, is not alone an interpretation of the interlinked five Olympic rings. He fused the pentalogy with the lemniscate or the Infinity symbol, the sideways figure of the numeral eight, which in various civilizations symbolizes eternal development and balance. It likewise symbolizes equilibrium, harmony, and, in true Olympic spirit, the interconnectedness of all things.

Born in 1956 in Dagupan, Pangasinan, and raised in Tondo, Datuin’s early exposure to art came from observing his uncles, who worked as signage painters for cinema billboards and announcements. Enrolling in the Fine Arts program at the University of Santo Tomas, he imbibed the modernist idiom of his mentors that included Bonifacio Cristobal, Leon Pacunayen, and Leonardo Hidalgo. In 1977 when he graduated from UST, he received the Miguel de Benavides Award for most outstanding fine arts student.

He taught at his alma mater for some time while working at the Design Center Philippines. In 1980, he received a special award at the Moscow Olympic Games International Poster Design Competition. In the 1990s, he got a Freeman Asian Scholarship for artist's residency at the Vermont Studio in New York.

Datuin’s artmaking has been distinguished by innovative use of metals while staying grounded in simplicity, endowing his works with universal appeal.