John Paul Albert Narciso Dalisay, “Pope” as he is fondly called, was born 1984 in Butuan City and grew up in Davao City in the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao. An award-winning sculptor, Dalisay is a self-made sculptor, always eager to experiment, keen to discover new techniques, and quite diligent in mastering the art. Originally an all-wood medium sculptor, he has now diversified into other mediums such as clay, plaster, concrete, stone, adobe, paper, resin, and sometimes, combinations of the above. His biggest development as a sculptor and as a craftsman came when he left his hometown in 2011 and moved to Cebu City. There, he worked alongside top designers and had the privilege to observe and work under Cebuano master sculptor Jet Florendo.

One of the sculptures of Pope Dalisay
One of the sculptures of Pope Dalisay
  1. When did you discover your talent as a sculptor?

I can’t say that sculpting was an innate talent for me. I also don’t really consider it much as a talent, but rather, a skill. Skills are not discovered but gained. I became good at sculpture and the techniques revolving around sculpting through continuous and constant practice, hard work, and perseverance in learning the theories and skills. What I believe was talent and a God-given gift was the VISION and my ability to transform this vision into matter, that is, the eye and hands in seeing and creating ART in and from objects.

I grew up in Davao in a simple and modest family. When I was young, my dream was to become an inventor and a doctor. Yet you know, childhood dreams don’t usually come true and are not usually what you’d expect; so now, all grown up, I first became a nurse and now a sculptor, and that’s quite close to my original dream though. So in a way, I am living my dream…  Nevertheless, I am happy with my accomplishments and where I am right now in my life and my career.

Being an artist is not the usual “go-to” career, I never expected that I would be in this field. It was not planned, but it was plain circumstance and a result of the twists and turns of life. What motivated me and also keeps me inspired was the principle of “excelling in everything you do and make”, and so it got me here.

  1. You have been winning prestigious prizes for your artwork, and were even surprised to have won two prizes in two consecutive years. Can you tell us about this experience, and also the choice of the art-work that you submitted for the contests? You have also done exhibit in the Manila Art Gallery, and been invited to exhibit your works in Museums. How’s it like to be recognized by art critics and society as a whole?

I am just starting to come out as a full-time artist. My debut came in 2015 where I had my first group exhibit in Manila. Later that year, I won my first-ever Sculpture Grand Prize in a National-level art competition (Art Association of the Philippines 68th Annual Art Competition) with my piece “IN OUR IMAGE”, a philosophical and spiritual composition.

In 2016 things also went well as I won another Sculpture Grand Prize in the very sought-after GSIS national art competition with my abstract rendition of “Ecce Homo”.

The exposure and recognition proved to be quite useful. Happily, people and art connoisseurs were starting to take notice and have been responding positively.

I had my fair share of sales and commissioned works for which I thank God so much. Later that year I was also given the opportunity to exhibit at the 2016 Manila Art Fair, where I was paired with renowned painter Roger San Miguel, and it was such an honor. The crowd was very intrigued and all praises for my work. I am quite happy with the whole experience.

I am also quite careful as not to allow it to turn my head, I make sure that my feet are firmly on the ground. I remind myself that the goal in art is not to get famous or to acquire selfish gains; it is to become selfless, and be a note that resonates the song of humanity.

  1. I know that you are not satisfied with keeping your talents to yourself, as you also share your talents through offering art work-shops. Can you tell something about this activity, and what’s the reaction of those who take part in the workshops? 

I believe that talents are God-given gifts; and God’s gifts are meant to be shared for them to be complete. It is this principle that motivates me to share what I know and understand, to teach the skills I have learned and discovered. Most importantly, I want to share the love/passion and the value of art with people, especially with the youth. Essentially, sharing is not a one-way affair, it is also reciprocal; in these moments I also gain as they have gained. Moreover, workshops are fun! Everyone enjoys it, especially kids!

  1. Do you have a favorite piece of art, and which is it?

A piece that comes out of my shop is like a child that came out of its mother’s womb. My works are like children of my own, born out of the time and labor of love that I invested in them. All of them are equal in my eyes. But equality is not always similarity, each of them have its own different value. So far, if I were to have a favorite in terms of aesthetic and subjective value, it would be the piece I made “Corpus Christi” which was made out of driftwood and salvaged old pieces of timber. The piece was very significant because it was very symbolical of “Jesus Forsaken” and it is quite moving as it gives bearing to the verse John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…”). I felt I did not have the stomach to sell the piece like a piece of merchandise, so I donated it to a government hospital in Davao. Hopefully it will inspire hope to those who needs hope.

  1. Most of your works are wooden sculptures and I find it curious that you see the potential in wood, this is not a talent given to everyone…

I have always had an affinity for wood and woodworking. I think it is a very noble material and medium for art. What do you think makes wood stand out from other materials like stone, metal, concrete, resin, etc.? Let me tell you… Wood is the only material that once had life, coming from trees! A tree will give its life to provide wood; it is very noble, the woodworker honors that. Wood is also such an interesting material as it is already art in itself, it already has a story behind it; the hand of the sculptor is only but a tool in revealing the art within it. Moreover, I don’t mean to be cheeky here but carpentry or working with wood was the profession of Jesus and his foster father Joseph. There must be really something special about being a worker! One thing’s for sure though, working with wood requires a lot of patience, understanding, and LOVE!

  1. With your works what do you really want to achieve, or to prove, and impart as a message?

What I intend to communicate through my works is my fascination and intrigue about the mystery of Humanity: what makes us human and our trying to make sense of it. My subjects usually revolve around Humanism and Humanity in its complexity, beauty and tragedy. My attraction to the elegance of the female form, the intrinsic bond between mother and child, and the depth of Christ, form my favorite subjects and often appear in my artwork.

Interview by Jose Aranas

Pope Dalisay currently resides in Pangasinan, North of Luzon, and is working full time on the sculptural arts. He is committed sharing his passion for the arts with the youth. For more information, you may visit his page at www.facebook.com/pope.dalisay.

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