From one colonizer to another - after
more than three centuries of Spanish rule, the Americans came. They set out
to conquer the Filipinos through education and governance – the public
school system and a system of government.
With the establishment of
public schools, there was an increase in demand for illustrations and
cartoons for books and publications. With the influx of new corporations,
advertising and commercial design were in demand and were incorporated in
the curriculum of fine arts schools.
With the arrival of the new colonial power came a shift in art
patronage – from the native ilustrados to the Americans. The new
patrons, including the tourists and foreign investors, favored landscapes,
still life, and genre themes that show the beauty of the land and its
people. Portraits were still favored by the public officials, usually
depicting them in dignified poses.
Everything changed with the advent of World War II in Asia with
the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941. It was the
Japanese colonizers’ goal to place the country under the autonomous Greater
East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere under their leadership. For the four years of
the Japanese occupation, from 1941 to 1945, the colonizers, as a means of
propaganda, used the visual arts. They produced posters, leaflets, flyers,
comics, and illustrations that were dropped from passing airplanes. These
included colored drawings, watercolor, photographs, photomontages, or
calendar illustrations. They came with accompanying verses or propaganda
slogans that conveyed messages that suggested the following: cooperation
between the Philippines and Japan; rejection of Anglo American influences;
dissemination of Niponggo; appeal to the youth; and, the might of the
After the devastation of World War II came the period for
rebuilding. A new Republic was in place. Different art forms emerged and
became popular like printmaking. The conflict between the conservative
Amorsolo School and the Modernists continued.
The sixties and the seventies became a period of experimentation
and exploration of new media, techniques, styles, forms of expression, and
concepts in art. It also marked the increased consciousness of visual
artists to bring their art closer to the people through forms like murals,
prints, and cartoons.
Fabian dela Rosa (1869 – 1937)
was the first painter of note for the 20th century. He was noted for his
realistic portraits, genre, and landscapes in subdued colors. He was
enrolled at the Escuela de Bellas Artes y Dibujo and took lessons
from Lorenzo Guerrero.
But it would be his nephew, Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto (1892
– 1972), who would capture the attention of the public and the buyers. His
paintings, bursting with yellow-orange and golden sunlight, captured the
Philippine landscape in all its glory. If de la Rosa’s work were of subdued,
cool colors, then Amorsolo’s landscapes are bathe in the glorious Philippine
sunlight. He is the first and among the few Filipino painters who have
captured the different striking colors and character of the country’s
magnificent sunlight. Besides his landscapes, Amorsolo also idealized the
rural life of the working men and women. He depicted farmers and fisherfolks
doing their work without much effort, seemingly enjoying themselves in their
arduous tasks. His depiction of the ever-smiling dalagang bukid
is another trademark. Amorsolo was able to show the ideal beauty of the
Philippine landscape, the Philippine rural life and the Filipinas.
Painters during that time also dabbled into advertising and book
design, new forms brought by the Americans. Amorsolo made several book and
magazine cover designs. He also designed for commercial products, the most
famous of which is the "Markang Demonyo" for Ginebra San Miguel, a local
The Americans established the University of the Philippines, the
country’s State University, in 1908. The School of Fine Arts was established
in 1909 with Fabian dela Rosa as its first Dean. It would function as the
local academy for art. Amorsolo, being a faculty member and subsequently as
the Dean of the U.P. School of Fine Arts from 1952 to 1955, it was
inevitable for students to emulate the works and style of Amorsolo. Hence,
the "Amorsolo School", was born. Followers included Jorge Pineda, Ireneo
Miranda, and Toribio Herrera.
Amorsolo had a long artistic career. Spanning for more than half a
century, his influence is still evident in some of today’s painters. He was
named as the country’s first National Artist in 1972.
Modernism would have its seeds planted in the 1890’s with
Miguel Zaragosa’s two pointillist works. Emilio Alvero later
produced several Impressionist still life paintings. But it would take an
architect to give modernism its needed boost in the country. Juan
Arellano would be known as an architect but his Impressionist landscapes
are as impressive as his buildings.
In the 1920’s, several young painters were starting to question
the Amorsolo school style that became the standard for painting. Wanting to
veer away from the aesthetic standards, they strove to develop new idioms in
In 1928, Victorio C. Edades (1895 – 1985), fresh from a
trip to the United States opened a show at the Philippine Columbian Club in
Ermita, Manila. Edades would be influenced by the 1913 Armory Show, an
exhibition of modern art at the United States. Included in this exhibition
was Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase, which
created quite a stir in the U.S. The Ash Can School, a modernist group in
the U.S., who chose to depict people covered with sweat and grime, would
also influence him. Edades’ work, The Builders, caused quite a
controversy in 1928. Instead of the smiling farmers and fisherfolks of
Amorsolo, it depicted distorted, naked working men covered in sweat and
grime. With obvious disregard for linear perspective, the painting will be
known as the first ever Modernist painting in the country. Contrary to
Amorsolo’s ever-smiling dalagang Pilipina, Edades showed the hardship of
life for the working class.
In 1934, Edades recruited two young dropouts of the U.P. School of
Fine Arts, Carlos "Botong" V. Francisco and Galo B. Ocampo,
to help him execute a mural. Together, they formed the
Triumvirate of Modern Art in the country. They produced several
collaborative murals such as Interaction. In 1938, Edades, Ocampo,
and foreign-trained Diosdado Lorenzo established the Atelier of
Modern Art in Malate, Manila.
In 1935, modernist Diosdado Lorenzo (1906 – 1984), had an
exhibition of works with "moderate distortions" at the Philippine Columbian
Club. His choice of subject matter was conservative – landscapes, nipa huts,
and women. But Lorenzo discarded the idealized style of Amorsolo.
Surprisingly, some of his works were sold. The public now was slowly
starting to accept modernism. Lorenzo, a graduate of the U.P. School of Fine
Arts, would continue to paint traditional subjects done in the modernist
style of strong, vigorous brushstrokes, using bright oranges and greens.
Galo B. Ocampo (1913 – 1985), with his Brown
Madonna, Filipinized Western canonical iconography with his Brown
Madonna done in 1938. The painting has a distinctly Philippine landscape
with a bahay kubo in the background, an earth colored skin
Madonna wearing a patadyong, with anahaw leaves as a halo, and a
brown-skinned child - a reinterpretation of the typical European-Western
looking mother and child portrayals. His Flagellants series depict scenes of
Lent, juxtaposing images of war and penitence. Ocampo studied at the U.P.
School of Fine Arts. He commissioned to design the coat-of-arms of the
Republic of the Philippines. He also served as Director of the National
Carlos "Botong" Francisco, (1913 – 1969), Angono-based
painter, depicted Philippine history in his "History of Manila" mural
at the Manila City Hall. His trademark fluid lines and brilliant colors
filled up the entire pictorial space of the mural, defying the rules of
linear perspective set by the local academy. He is known for his depiction
of important Philippine historical events such as the First Mass at
Limasawa and for his depiction of local activities such as Fiesta
and Bayanihan. Francisco studied at the U.P. School of Fine Arts but
opted to teach at the UST School of Architecture and Fine Arts together with
Edades. In 1952, his mural for the First International Trade Fair held in
Manila entitled 500 Years of Philippine History was greeted with
international acclaim. It was even featured in TIME magazine. Unfortunately,
it was cut up into small pieces and none remain to this day. Botong was
proclaimed as National Artist for Painting in 1973.
Public debates were sparked by these new developments. Edades,
appointed as Director of the newly opened University of Santo Tomas Fine
Arts School in 1935, would be a staunch proponent of modernism in art,
proposing that art should not only show the beautiful and ideal but also the
ugly and the real. Guillermo Tolentino, sculptor and faculty member of the
U.P. School of Fine Arts, wrote that distortion in painting is a cardinal
sin. He also alluded that the works of the modernists were "ugly." The two
parties, staunchly defending their aesthetic beliefs, exchanged strongly
worded letters and essays through the local newspapers. These provided for a
lively art scene in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
World War II halted all these developments. In response to the
Japanese propaganda, according to Dr. Alice G. Guillermo, Filipino painters
reacted by producing the following works:
- paintings that may be implicitly supportive of the Japanese occupation
such as Vicente Alvarez Dizon’s A Day Begins done in
- genre scenes that seem neutral such as Crispin V. Lopez’s
Baguio Market made in 1943 showing Japanese soldiers interacting with
women vegetable vendors
- paintings that bring out national identity such as Emilio G.
Santiago’s Christmas Eve made in 1942 which shows a traditional
Filipino scene that evokes nostalgia
- paintings alluding to the social conditions of the time such as
Pilar M. Santiago’s Evacuees made in 1941, Irineo Miranda’s
Home from Work made in 1944, and Simon Saulog’s
Conspiracy made in 1943 which shows a group of men in an evening
meeting which suggests to the underground anti-Japanese movement
- Amorsolo’s sketches of war scenes and his famous planting rice scenes
which do not depict any of the atrocities happening during those days
- Paintings depicting war atrocities like Demetrio Diego’s
Capas, Diosdado Lorenzo’s Atrocities in Paco and
Execution at the Cemetery, and Dominador Castañeda’s Doomed
Family. All these paintings were done after the war
After the war, the debate between the Modernists and the
Conservatives, with Edades and Tolentino as main protagonists, continued.
The Triumvirate of Edades, Ocampo, and Francisco became the core
of a group of artists informally known as the Thirteen Moderns. The other
Moderns (according to Edades’ list) were Diosdado Lorenzo, Vicente S.
Manansala, Hernando R. Ocampo, Cesar T. Legaspi, Demetrio Diego, UST
faculty members Bonifacio Cristobal (1911) and architect Jose
Pardo (1916) , Arsenio Capili (1914 – 1945) who died during the
war, two student-assistants – Ricarte Purugganan (1912 - 1998
), and Anita Magsaysay-Ho (1914), the only woman in the group.
The Thirteen Moderns were reacting to the academic style of Luna
and Hidalgo and to the sweet style of Amorsolo. Not a formal grouping, they
worked in different styles and used different media and techniques.
Edades, as Director of the UST Fine Arts, recruited artists like
Lorenzo, Ocampo, Francisco, and Manansala as faculty members. UST was the
bastion of modern art in the country until the early 1970’s. Meanwhile, the
UP School of Fine Arts continued to be conservative, with no less than
Amorsolo as its Dean in the 1950’s.
The formation of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) in
1948 and the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG) ensured the continued rise of
modernism in the country. Headed by two women, Purita Kalaw-Ledesma
and Lydia Arguilla, these two institutions gave modern art its much
needed boost during the post-war years.
The AAP held annual and semiannual art competitions and
exhibitions with the modernists usually winning the top prizes. This spurred
more conflict between the Modernists and the Conservatives. To appease the
two camps, the AAP decided to create two categories: one for Conservatives
and one for Modernists.
The PAG gave the modernists a home and a venue. It eventually
became a center for visual artists and literary luminaries of the time.
Writer-critic-painter Lydia Arguilla (1913-69) facilitated the first
exposure of Filipino modernists in the international art scene by organizing
an exhibition of paintings and sculptures of twenty-one Filipino artists in
New York City and Washington, D.C.
Vicente Manansala (1910 – 1981) is considered as the
major proponent of Cubism in the country. Some of his famous works include
Jeepneys and Madonna of the Slums. Filling up the entire
pictorial space, Jeepneys successfully conveyed the feeling of heat,
pollution, noise and claustrophobia caused by the city’s menace – traffic.
Like Ocampo’s Brown Madonna, Manansala’s Madonna of the Slum
is a Filipinized mother and child. He not only indigenized the European
icon, but also placed them in the urban poor setting – the slum area. The
painting shows poverty after World War II and the uncertainty and fear felt
by the mother and child. They hold each other protectively. Manansala’s
style is characterized as transparent cubism – rarely breaking down the
human figures into geometric shapes, showing different aspects of the
figures through transparent planes.
Hernando R. Ocampo (1911-1978) is a self-taught
painter and a writer. His works are probably the first purely
non-representational art produced in the country. His abstract paintings are
characterized by the use of geometric and biomorphic shapes using brilliant
colors of red, yellow, green, and orange. Even the titles of his works
became non-descriptive, using only numbers and letters to indicate the year
it was made. His most famous work, Genesis, depicts colored
planes forming various figures. It serves as the theater curtain for the
Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Cesar Legaspi (1917 – 1994) will be remembered for
his depiction of the masses. His famous Gadgets shows half-naked
factory workers interspersing with machine parts. Different hues of red and
orange were used to simulate the feeling of heat in factories. The workers
look stoic and emaciated, all of them going about their work in a
machine-like expression. Indeed, here in Legaspi’s work, the workers have
become the gadgets.
Demetrio Diego (1909 – 1988), an illustrator by
profession, made Capas in 1948, a heart-wrenching depiction of
Filipino and American soldiers imprisoned by the Japanese at the infamous
holding site for prisoners during World War II.
Manansala, Legaspi, and Ocampo became the Big Three in the
modernist movement after the war. Together with another modernist, Romeo
Tabuena, and Anita Magsaysay-Ho, they formed the Neo-realist group
based at the PAG. Other stalwarts soon joined them such as Manuel
Rodriguez Sr., Arturo Luz, Nena Saguil, Cenon Rivera, Jose Joya, J. Elizalde
Navarro, Lee Aguinaldo and David Cortez Medalla.
Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s works are characterized by sharply
outlined figures of bandanna wearing peasant women going about in their
daily chores - running after chicken, planting, harvesting. The women are
thin, with long necks, slant eyes, and flat noses. They are definitely
Filipinas. Magsaysay-Ho is probably the first Filipina artist to gain
national and international recognition.
The works of Romeo Tabuena are characterized by
simplified figures of rural landscapes, carabaos and farmers.
Fernando Zobel (1924-84) was an artist, critic and
educator. A member of a prominent business family, he helped numerous young
and struggling artists by collecting their works when nobody else were
acquiring. His collection of modern art is now housed at the Ateneo Art
Gallery, the country’s first museum of Philippine modern art. His works
include Carroza, an almost abstract depiction of a carriage carrying
the Virgin Mary, a typical scene in Philippine fiestas.
Nena Saguil (1914-1994) moved to Paris and
would continue to produce her signature works of cellular-looking objects.
Her works are filled with orbs, spheres, circles, mandalas, cells, and moons
all floating around the canvas, her very own interpretation of the cosmos.
Jose T. Joya (1931-1995) would become the country’s
foremost exponent of Abstract Expressionism, in the tradition of the
American Jackson Pollock. His exposure at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in
Michigan inspired him to create purely abstract works through the
drip-painting method popularized by Pollock but with tropical colors
producing a work with Filipino sensibilities. He also did genre and mother
and child works on ceramics.
1955 was an eventful year for Philippine visual arts. The AAP
Semiannual Competition and Exhibition at the Northern Motors Showroom was
marred by "The Walkout" of conservative artists. After the opening of the
exhibition, they took their entries and put up their own exhibition across
the street. It was their sign of protest for what they perceive as a bias
for Modernist works in the awarding of the Rotary Club’s Golden Anniversary
Awards, all of which went to Modernists Galo B. Ocampo, Manuel Rodriguez
Sr., and Vicente Manansala. In 1959, the AAP decided to stop its practice of
awarding for two categories, perhaps realizing that there is just one
standard for judging art and not two.
In the sixties and seventies, several young artists were now on
the rise such as Bencab, Antonio Austria, Manuel "Boy" Rodriguez Jr.,
Roberto Chabet, Norma Belleza, Jaime de Guzman, Danilo Dalena, Imelda
Cajipe-Endaya, Justin Nuyda, and Angelito Antonio among others.
These new generation ensured that Modernism, in particular, and Philippine
painting, in general, will remain alive and well into the next decades.
If Amorsolo dominated Philippine painting for the first decades of
the 20th century, in sculpture it was Guillermo Tolentino
(1890-1976). Trained in the classical style in Rome, Tolentino’s
masterpieces include the Oblation in the University of the
Philippines and the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan. His Bonifacio
monument is classical in execution but romantic in content. Bonifacio,
holding a bolo and a pistol, stands quietly, dignified, resolute, but
defiant. He is surrounded by dynamic figures of oppression, struggle and
revolution. Here, in Tolentino’s work, Andres Bonifacio remains strong
amidst the turbulent storm of the Revolution.
His Oblation, the symbol of the country’s premiere State
University, reflects the classical ideals - discipline, order, symmetry, and
restraint. It stands naked - resolute and proud, with arms wide open to
accept knowledge and change.
In 1973, Tolentino was named as a National Artist for Sculpture.
Several sculptors followed the standards set by Tolentino, such as
Anastacio Caedo and his son Florentino.
But it would be Tolentino’s student, Napoleon Abueva (b.
1930), who would go against the standards, set by his teacher. Working with
a variety of materials and techniques, Abueva integrated the sculptural and
functional qualities in his works. He produced highly stylized, simplified,
and eventually abstract works under the influence of Moore and Brancusi. His
works sometimes contain elements of eroticism, fun, wit, and playfulness.
His Kaganapan shows a woman in the height of her pregnancy. He did
away with the traditional, idealized, voluptuous muse of classicism and
replaced it with the beauty of a woman bearing a child.
In the sixties and seventies, several sculptors followed the
modernist road set by Abueva such as Solomon Saprid, J. Eizalde Navarro,
Lamberto Hechanova, Edgar Doctor, Arturo Luz, Eduardo Castrillo, Jerry Araos,
Virginia Ty-Navarro, and Francisco Verano. Their exploration and
experimentation of different materials, techniques, styles, subject matter,
and concept ensured a lively atmosphere for sculpture in the country.
During the first half of the century, Filipino artists did not
seem to be interested in the art of printmaking. It was only in the early
1960’s that interest in printmaking seemed to develop in the country. Two
people were responsible for this: Manuel Rodriguez Sr. and Rodolfo Paras-Perez.
Manuel Rodriguez Sr. (b. 1915)
was given a grant by the Rockefeller Foundation to study printmaking in New
York. In 1962, he came back and decided to teach and spread the art of
printmaking to his fellow painters and students. He single-handedly taught
an entire new generation of young printmakers. He devoted so much time to
teaching printmaking that he almost neglected painting. He believed that
this relatively new form could help bring art closer to the masses. He
opened Contemporary Arts Gallery in Manila, a gallery cum workshop in Manila
specializing in prints. He specialized in etching but could teach all the
different techniques of printmaking. For his enormous influence in the
reemergence of printmaking in the country, he is known as the Father of
Philippine Printmaking. Some of his notable works include The Traveller
and Nipa-Hut Madonna.
Rodolfo Paras-Perez's (b.1934)
return to the Philippines in 1962 from art studies in the United States
proved to be an important boost to printmaking in the country. Unlike
Rodriguez who favored etching, Paras-Perez specialized in colored woodcut.
One of his notable works is The Kiss which shows two figures locked
in a torrid embrace. Paras-Perez is also one of the country’s leading art
critic and writer having penned books on several artists like Dominador
Castañeda, Galo B. Ocampo, Vicente Manansala and Fernando Zobel. His
influence on other young and aspiring printmakers was more indirect than
Rodriguez, not through workshops but through several exhibitions he had
during the sixties.
In the late 60’s, several art schools offered printmaking. Manuel
Rodriguez Sr. taught at the Philippine Women’s University, which eventually
became the unofficial center of printmaking in the country. He was also
instrumental in the formation of the Philippine Association of Printmakers.
Most of the young printmakers in the sixties were Rodriguez’s students in
PWU or in his workshops. These include Virgilio Aviado, Lucio Martinez,
Lamberto Hechanova, Restituto Embuscado, Mario Parial, Adiel Arevalo, Petite
Calaguas, Emet Valente, Brenda Fajardo, Nelfa Querubin, Ivi
Avellana-Cosio, Nonon Padilla and his sons Manuel Jr.,
Marcelino and Ray Rodriguez.
These printmakers ensured that printmaking as an art form will
not be relegated to the sidelines of the Philippine visual arts scene.