GROUP SHOW : Lee Aguinaldo (1933-2007) Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (1932-2011) Ang Kiukok (1931-2005) Jerry Araos (1944-2012) Jose Blanco (1932-2008) Inday Cadapan (1939-2004) Robert Chabet (1937-2013) Honrado Hernandez (1950-2005) Sid Hildawa (1963-2008) Abdulmari Imao (1936-2014) Anita Magsaysay Ho (1914-2012) Mario Parial (1944-2013) Raul Piedra (1951-2009) Nik Ricio (1945-2014) Don Salubayba (1979-2013) Lino Severino (1932-2004)
By Earl Rommel Digo
Anita Magsaysay Ho (1914-2012) exactly a century ago saw the passing of a century of form and content in the visual arts. The birth of modernism didn’t come with this list of names- but it flourished with the mentorship of triumvirs Victorio Edades, Carlos “Botong” Francisco and Galo Ocampo to a couple of names.
Thus we discern here two crisscrossing trajectories within Philippine modern art. Some of the discourse may be local, while others are arrived at with an eye towards developments in the international art scene. The dual themes of traditionalism and modernism provide a lively, dynamic dialogue from the rich spectrum of styles of these artists that spans these aesthetic poles –that continues in this new millennium. – all of which can be appreciated from -within a wide reference- of semiotic, iconic, contextual and evaluative viewpoints…. To quote Clement Greenberg: “each art had to determine through the operations peculiar to itself, the effects peculiar and exclusive to itself.”
1.) The first trajectory is defined by the prominent artists who in their themes and subjects refused to conform to the progressively urban spirit of Manila. These names include the lone woman of the 13 Moderns, Magsaysay Ho, considered “the female Amorsolo”. She received her academic training with Amorsolo, Fabian de la Rosa and Irineo Miranda at the University of the Philippines, then at the Cranbrook Academy in the United States.
During the early 1940s, Magsaysay Ho’s works showed the influence of Amorsolo in choice of subjects and in treatment of light and color. However, these works had very modernist tendencies, such as the use of expressive distortion and concern for design and rhythm in her otherwise “representational paintings.”
Of the other names who kept with folk genre as subject and theme with or without modernist influences the exemplar was Jose Blanco’s (1932-2008) bucolic style which appears to reflect the conditions of the country while resisting of being absorbed by the strong personality of his long time mentor and fellow Angono resident Carlos “Botong” Francisco. Mario Parial’s (1944–2013) subjects were of folk genre, which was the forte of his mentors Vicente Manansala, Antonio Austria and again Carlos “Botong” Francisco.
Lino Severino (1932–2004) and Nik Ricio (1945–2014) both looked further back to the ephemeral reality of the past, and Salubayba dug the deepest to release the reality of our myths. Severino found inspiration from the antique facades in his town, and visually dissolving them into ephemeral memory. Unlike other artists of the “traditional” “bahay na bato”, of which there are quite a number, Severino did not aim for a strictly picturesque appeal. One might say that the structures, from simple to complex forms provided a serendipitous outlet for the mathematical discipline of his other occupation which is being a pilot. Later, the Vanishing Scene series became increasingly abstract, thus the modernist impulse, and steeped in deep hues of blue and brown. The artist would even use texts recalling the wall graffiti which proliferate in these mostly abandoned structures. Ricio recaptured bygone eras through graphic design.
Abdul Mari Imao (1936–2014) is in an interesting vantage point because he was firmly grounded in two strong traditions: the Muslim artistic tradition of the south, particularly the Tausug ukkil design (Maranao okir) design system, and the Western modernist tradition, particularly that of the School of Paris in its many permutations. Imao defines one facet of the presence of many languages and religions which result in a polyglot situation that enabled the visual artists to borrow and incorporate artistic formulations from all over. Our colonizers may have marginalized traditional and indigenous beliefs, practices and forms but they refuse to die, and the name Abdulmari Imao adds to the pluralism that continues to define Philippine art. Imao explored the magnificence of the southern groups in his own contemporary idiom, even combining ornament and calligraphy to create sculptural variations of the name of Allah.
The young Don Salubayba (1979–2013) connected myth and history rekindling themes that inevitably are made into archetypal instruments of identity.
2) The other trajectory consists of artists whose themes and subjects have eschewed conservative acceptance, or who worked beyond comfort zones. Ang Kiukok’s (1931-2005) violent visual metaphors on the human condition, Inday Cadapan’s (1939-2004) perpetually agitated portrayal of women reflecting the various dilemmas besieging the modern Filipina–from prostitution to political issues, and Jerry Araos’ (1944-2012) ideologically informed litanies against dehumanization confronted urban issues outside or within the definition of protest art.
This second trajectory culminates in those artists who broke past the commonplace, through limits, conventions, such as Dean Honrado Hernandez (1950-2005), sculptural explorations of art and the architectonic and Sid Hildawa’s (1963-2008) dissonant rediscovery of the decorative.
Raul Piedra’s (1951-2009) remotely silent explorations of textures deleted subject matter altogether. Its aim is to create nonobjective art, or abstraction for abstraction’s sake.
Lee Aguinaldo (1933-2007) who may arguably be the most innovative among the non-traditional themed artists, what with the techniques that he developed including “flicking” paint from a palette knife on the canvas; “galumphing”; which incorporated a few pop images and was largely influenced by Jackson Pollock, and for his hard edge minimalist style which influenced a new generation of abstractionists in the 1960s.
When enfant terrible poet and painter David Cortes Medalla left the Philippines for Europe in the 1960s it fell to Roberto Chabet (1937-2013) to keep the avant-garde fires burning. His position as studio arts professor at the College of Fine Arts in the University of the Philippines from 1969 to 1971 enabled him to pursue this mission.
The uncompromising aim of Conceptual Art- which goes way back to the late sixties and early seventies- has been both its strength and the cause of intense criticism. Yet Conceptualism has also been explored by the ethnographic ally oriented Don Salubayba and the proletariat oriented Jerry Araos via the very character of installations (i.e. ephemerality, which has almost always been used by Salubayba and spatiality, which has always been worked on by Araos ) thus both artists have both challenged traditional ways of seeing. Conceptualist tendencies these days are not peculiar only to installation, but also to process art, performance art, and appropriations. Conceptualism has also led to today’s anti aesthetic” tendencies that have been used to contest definitions of art given by bodies that disseminate art.
It should be noted that three of the artists in this tribute were at one time or the other connected with the institution called the CCP, an institution which started as one of the many Marcos schemes for nation building. Chabet was the institution’s first museum curator. Artist, Architect, Dean Honrado Hernandez (1950-2005) served as director of the coordinating Center for Visual Arts of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1989-90, and his progressively modern outlook of his sculpture is tempered by his consistent defense of national identity in the classroom, yet within a broader Asian outlook and context, given his doctor of Philosophy degree in the Science of Art and Design at the Tsukuba University in 1988; then Artist, Architect, Poet and Founding Member/Curator of Kulay-Diwa Art Galleries Sid Hildawa CCP Thirteen Artists awardees and Visual Art Director of CCP in the late 2000.
This tribute ends with Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (1932-2011) who can be placed at the fulcrum of both trajectories. Early in his career, he did not then rebel against the classical tradition of his years he took up fine arts in the University of the Philippines, which was still dominated by Fernando Amorsolo, for he took up further studies at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain, the academy which was attended by the leading Fiilipino painters towards the end of the Spanish rule. As a pioneering abstractionist, Alcuaz had much in common with many other Filipino abstractionists of his generation. Because many of them shared a traditional background, the Escuela de Bellas Artes or Academia later transformed into the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, they could not easily shed their academic training. Thus, like a refrain, there’s Alice Guillermo’s description of Alcuaz’ Manila Hotel suite) “And then there are always the two rooms, one for the abstracts , the other for the figurative…”
These artists have conveyed new ways of seeing through all the various ever evolving techniques and processes of image making. Never before had there been so many ideas about what art could be or how it could be made; never had new art been the subject of such impassioned controversy. Inevitably, all that had seemed startling or threatening came to look normal, even classical, within a few decades. In the end, the new may have even lost the power to shock.
Still, a century’s legacy has left its mark given the artists who left us within the span of a decade.
Liongoren Gallery steps into the new year remembering these late eminent art personages with a group show intitled “IN MEMORIA” from January 12 – February 23, 2014. It is located at 111 New York-Stanford Streets Cubao, Quezon City. For inquiries call 912.4319 or 439.3962 / 964.3496.