December 22, 2014 
 
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The American and Contemporary Traditions in Philippine Visual Arts
Eloisa May P. Hernandez
Articles
       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 Japanese military.

       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.

A.  Painting

       Classicism:

       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 alcoholic drink.

       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:

       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 expressing themselves.

       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 Museum.

       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 1942
  • 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.

B. Sculpture

       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.

C.  Printmaking

        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.

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Reference/s:
Gatbonton, Juan, et.al. Art Philippines. Crucible Workshop

Guillermo, Alice G., Flores, Patrick, ed. War in Manila: Visual Arts in a Time of War. Perspectives on the Vargas Museum Collection. Department of Arts Studies, U.P. Diliman and the U.P. Vargas Museum

Rod Paras-Perez. Edades and the 13 Moderns. Cultural Center of the Philippines

Tiongson, Nicanor G. CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Visual Arts, Cultural Center of the Philippines.
About the Author:
Eloisa May P. Hernandez teaches Humanities at the Department of Art Studies of the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She worked for the Coordinating Center for Visual Arts, Outreach and Exchange Division, and Museo ng Kalinangang Pilipino at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
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