In solidarity with the National Arts Month, Manila Art Scene and Project Saysay featured the lasting wisdom of some of our National Artists. These were published in both social media portals of MAS and pSaysay every two days. Below is a compilation of these posts:
Acknowledged as the Grand Old Man of Philippine Art, National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, according to Nick Joaquin, “made the largest and solidest contribution to Philippine art”. Although born and raised in Manila, his common subjects were countryside scenes, boasting “delight in aliveness” and “blinding brilliance,” Joaquin noted. Amorsolo’s colors, Joaquin furthered, capture the hues of Philippine sunlight, an epitome of the technique called ‘backlighting,’ developed in the 1920s. The said technique was Amorsolo’s “greatest contribution to Philippine painting,” Joaquin claimed.
Amorsolo himself bequeathed the Filipinos a wisdom about beauty: “The world marches, tastes evolve, the interpretation of beauty by the artist varies also according to the times because with these also vary the artists.”
Regarded as the “Father of Modern Philippine Painting” by cultural scholar Visitacion de la Torre, National Artist for Visual Arts Victorio Edades championed modernism in the country amid conservatism that dominated the Philippine art scene at the time. He engaged himself in the newspaper debates with the conservatives like essayist Ariston Estrada, critic Ignacio Manlapaz, and artist Guillermo Tolentino from the 30’s to mid 50’s. De la Torre noted that Edades had “the courage of a lion and the determination of a bull”.
The writer, citing historian Alfredo B. Saulo’s article quoting Edades in 1935, stressed the artist’s questioning of the belittlement of the conservative artists to the works of the modernists as ugly: “Nature is a thing of perfection, thus, any attempt to embellish it or to dismiss its flaws becomes an exercise in illusion. Why should the dark side of reality be omitted? Is it not part of life?”
Carlos ‘Botong’ Francisco
“STEEPED in the customs and folklore of the Philippines” is how art writer Rafael Ma. Guerrero described National Artist for Visual Arts Carlos ‘Botong’ Francisco’s works. Guerrero furthered that years after World War II, Botong “developed his native muralist style, which have become the hallmark of his art: the unerring eye for composition; the lush, tropical sense of color; and an abiding faith in the folk values typified by the townspeople of Angono (Botong’s hometown)”. In spite of the artist’s “aversion to dogmatism,” Botong’s fellow artist, and student J. Elizalde Navarro noted that “there was a certain logic” in Botong’s works, particularly the “controversial foreshortening of the human bodies in his murals, which appeared in theory as a distorting flaw, but in practice served as an optical device that neutralized the oblique angle” when a viewer views a high-hanging mural.
Virginia Ty-Navarro, author of Carlos V. Francisco: The Man and Genius of Philippine Art, recounted Botong’s words of wisdom to his students: “As long as you created something that comes from within you, you have created art.”
The youngest recipient of the Order of National Artists, sculptor Napoleon Abueva was described by cultural writer Visitacion de la Torre as “restless, daring, imaginative, and blazed new paths in his chosen art” worthy of the title “Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture.” De la Torre claimed that Abueva was “the first post-war sculptor to break away from the academic canons of his elders.”
In an interview with art critic Cid Reyes, Abueva related the process his sculptural works undergo: “For me the real spirit of sculpture is in direct carving, when the form gradually emerges from a solid block of wood or stone, when it is finally freed”.
National Artist for Visual Arts Vicente Manansala knew early enough that painting meant total commitment, related by art historian Rod Paras-Perez. After graduating from the University of the Philippines Fine Arts program, Manansala jumped between illustration and teaching works, until he committed his life to painting. Paras-Perez continued that “painting was for him (Manansala) both a compulsion and the most precious possession.” Manansala developed the style called transparent cubism characterized with “delicate tones, shapes, and patterns of figure and environment … masterfully superimposed,” noted by artist-curator Imelda Cajipe Endaya.
Paras-Perez related how Mananasala “passionately and vehemently” asserted his idea of beauty to contemporaries Victorio Edades and Diosdado Lorenzo: “so beauty for me is absolute. Because there is really an essence of beauty, and the time does not matter.”
Art critic Alice Guillermo noted that National Artist for Visual Arts Jose Joya did not “merely inhere in the sheer physical action of driping, splashing and slashing as in the action painters, but rather in the psychic energy” that he himself poured into his works. Joya’s use of rice paper and other indigenous materials reflect the “growing national consciousness that produced works paying homage to the Philippine tropical setting and the folk celebrations marked by color and movement,” Guillermo added. He “successfully transcended foreign influence to become a true expression of the Filipino spirit,” the art critic continued.
Although when art critic Cid Reyes interviewed Joya, the artist answered: “I don’t know if we have any painter who approximates what you call ‘Filipino spirit’ — whatever that means. I don’t know. … The mystery of art is something you can’t really pinpoint.”
Hernando R. Ocampo
A self-taught artist, National Artist for Visual Arts Hernando R. Ocampo “kicked the door of modern art wide open for other artists” through his stylistic evolution “from radically simplified representationalism to abstract symbolism to the rarefied sphere of purely plastic or non-objective art”, this according to art writer Emmanuel Torres. His paintings “show that art could be nationalistic using an abstract idiom rather than a more conventional, mimetic means of representation”, Torres noted. In a separate interview with art critic Cid Reyes, Ocampo answered: “You don’t even have to look for [your style]; it’s who you are.”
Ranging from paintings, sculptures, and photography, the works of National Artist for Visual Arts Arturo Luz exude “refinement, minimalism… confidence, precision, and wittiness”, pointed out by former National Museum director Corazon Alvina. During his stint as director of the Design Center of the Philippines, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, and Museum of Philippine Art, “subsequent developments in curatorship for fine arts have been built on the foundation Luz established when art museums were only beginning to emerge in the Philippines,” Alvina noted. The Luz Gallery,
likewise, “became the moving spirit of the [modern] period by nurturing and exhibiting young artists, but imposing rigorous, almost fastidious, standards of excellence,” Alvina added.
In an interview with art critic Cid Reyes, Luz said: “Being influenced is a natural process; if you try to fight it, I think you’re already one step behind, because you can’t.”
National Artist for Visual Arts Jeremias Elizalde Navarro was a “prodigious visual artist of remarkable versatility who works in various media and styles ranging from the representational to the abstract”, according to art writer Emmanuel Torres. His versatile works—from painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, illustration, graphic design, collage, mixed media relief and assemblage—were reflective of his “pioneering spirit in seeking inspiration in Asian — especially Southeast Asian, rather than Western or Euroamerican, internationalism”, Torres added. The National Artist told Torres in an interview: “To me, a real artist shoots in so many directions, and he shouldn’t give a hoot about what people will say. I don’t believe in style. To me, it’s a point of submission.”
Credits to Olivia Parian for the designs, and the author for the research. Individual research and image sources are in the actual social media posts.