Saturday, May 09, 2009

WILLIAM YU and His Art of Divine Worship

Published in Manila Bulletin

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."
- Michelangelo (1475-1564) 

His baritone voice progressively rises amid the placid stirring of his guitar, ascending steadily with the spiritual lyrics of his song composition. Then, slowly, the melodic sound ebbs away in a laid-back tone, as he tranquilly mumbles his prayer before an empty canvas.

Suddenly, in an almost daunting manner, he spreads his arms like a crane taking off from a marshland. His right hand, loaded with brush and paint, flaps across the windy air of his open studio, flailing and drifting in an élan but gentle manner.

Gestural and spontaneous brushstrokes, at the speed of 300 kilometers per hour, swiftly emerge on the surface of his canvas. Layer upon layer of loose forms and vivid colors begin to take shape. Then, in less than an hour or so, his divinely inspired enactment finally gives birth to an apotheosized creation.

The resultant processes of his composition sum up the momentary surge of passion – a spiritually inspired art making with a mesmerizing effect on the audience. The profound encounter with his creative feat characterizes the mystical amalgam of William Yu as a painter, “high priest” (exodus 35:30-32), and a performance artist.


William Yu’s artistic method called “Hallelism” has stirred controversy and raised eyebrows of some artists in the local art scene for infusing religious belief and ritual in the course of art making.

His ardent critics, on the other hand, labeled him as a charlatan born-again Christian for being outspoken of his faith in relation to his “hallelistic” art. However, to his friends and close associate of artists and those who witnessed his entrancing performance, he is like a Rabbi or a Bezalel (exodus 35:30-32) who conjures up the spirit to enlighten his act of worship to his Creator.

“Hallelism captures the heart of the viewers in an indescribable and riveting manner,” said Beverly Callaghan, a Canadian missionary who witnessed William Yu’s spiritual art performance. She described that William Yu, being the forerunner of new spiritual art movement, “embraces the process in the creative act of worship to the Creator of the Universe.”

“When I looked at William Yu’s paintings,” said a Chinese artist, Zhang Xun Lei, “the strokes and lines are so strong and free. He expresses his soul on his canvas that one could feel the presence of the spirit in his art.”

Hallelism, according to William Yu, is an act of creative worship to glorify God (Psalm 98:1-9) through painting. It is like any other charismatic or spiritual activities such as singing or dancing except that the artist uses art to praise and glorify God, the real Master of his creation. In the process of art making, William Yu sings and dances and, like a high priest, he summons the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide his hand in front of his canvas.

“Hallel”, as the etymology for Hallelism, is derived from the Hebrew word which means “to praise or worship God”. The artist coined the word “Hallelism” for his new concept of art that involves the worship of God through mind, body and soul (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Creating a work of art as an act of worship is the main concept of Hallelism. The ritualistic preparation before executing an artwork is vital to the whole process where the artist has to pray for the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8). The process in which the artist engages in his art is already an act of worship, and the result of that process (the artwork) is the product of divine inspiration.

The artwork in this context, however, is not the main objective of Hallelism but, indispensably, a part of the entire creative process of worship and adulation.

In similar manner, the creative process is not concerned with artistic style or technique for it is, according to William Yu, “an indefinite art with no definitive style and objective; it is constantly changing, and can only be deciphered through the infinite possibilities of coded symbols and meanings on the surface of the canvas.”


At the outset, William Yu, who hails from Baganga, Davao Oriental, is already known for his “picasoid” figures that, along with Filipino masters like Legaspi and Ang Kiukok, uses a palette knife, instead of paintbrush in rendering oil color on canvas.

His previous art characterizes an exaggerated geometric form of human figure with a seemingly twisted body posture. At times, it could be bleak or whimsical with feisty, brilliant colors. In this mode, the artist has captured the pathos and sensibilities reflective of Filipino values and culture.

His current oeuvre, on the other hand, is entirely different from his earlier works. The geometric shape of figures is dissolved deliberately into a rather loose and tangential juxtaposition of forms and colors. His composition is more contingent on the dynamic flow of brushworks in contrast to his earlier works with calculated use of palette knife on canvas.

In a more holistic approach, his act of painting is no longer confined to a one-dimensional activity, but as a performative process that involves the activity of body and soul, the “ora et labora” of art making.

Conversely, the form and substance of William Yu’s hallelistic art is not far from the abstruse and flattened surface of abstract expressionism. In executing his art, he employs the surrealist unconscious and random processes of art making by redefining its automatist technique albeit, done and inspired in the context of spiritual worship.

In this manner, he “desecularized” surrealism and abstract expressionism by invoking the guidance of the Holy Spirit during his creative enactment. By doing so, he redirects the creative energy from an ordinary experience into an extraordinary encounter with God, the artist’s Master Creator.

The dialectical development of his aesthetics, on the other hand, does not only focus on spiritual worship. William Yu, in his own right, acted not only as a painter, but also as a high priest who exorcizes the secular nature of art by infusing his religious faith and values, thus, bringing back the image of God in the midst of a secularized society.

In essence, his art transcends the conventional attitude of art making; it is a metaphysical and spiritual quest for the Divine Truth.


“Master Yu,” as he is fondly called among his Filipino and American friends and collectors in the US, is the artist’s artist, whose personality evokes humility, kindness and benevolence.

His generosity to his fellow artists is unconditional. He shares his artistic gift by helping those who are eager to learn how to paint; he welcomes them with open heart and gives them shelter until they are confident enough to stand on their own.

His childlike faith characterizes the “Beatitudes” that Christ teaches in “Sermon of the Mount” and, while living a very simple life with his family, he lives his faith in total surrender to God and allows God to shape his art in accordance to His will.

As a religious person, he believes that art can become an agent of change in our society so long as it is directed to God (John 15:5, Isaiah 41:13), as the source of inspiration for any artistic endeavor.

The significance of Faith in our time, according to William Yu, is an indispensable gift that liberates man from his uncertainties and sorrows; it gives him wisdom and direction in life amid the trappings of materialistic society.

To sum, unlike the canon of post po-mo art where the movement of spirit is horizontal, which is the portrayal of the banal, secular, and the absurd; William Yu, in his own way, is redirecting its course to its original direction – the vertical movement of the spirit between man and his Creator.

© Danny Castillones Sillada