Sunday, July 13, 2014

On week two of the Modern and Contemporary Art Festival, which showcases The Masters of Modernism and National Artists at the North Court, we are featuring works by National Artists Abdulmari Imao, Arturo Luz, and Aguilar Alcuaz joining works by sculptors Ramon Orlina and Eduardo Castrillo, and painters Raul Isidro, Angelito Antonio, and Dominic Rubio.

National Artist Federico Aguilar Alcuaz is a titan of Philippine visual art. Recognized for having influenced an entire generation of artists with a body of works that is critically lauded both here and abroad. Aguilar Alcuaz had the soul of an artist, attaining the pinnacle of mainstream artistic achievement. His complex and nuanced personality – the music lover, the bon vivant, the astute observer of the world around him – has cemented his legend as an artist without peer. He was recognized as an artist whose career spanned a multitude of subjects, forms, and media—including painting, sculpture, monumental tapestries, and ceramics. Known for his mischievous personality and his zest for life, which is reflected in a compelling oeuvre, Aguilar Alcuaz was a trailblazing genius with a cosmopolitan aura that, nonetheless, betrayed his pride in being Filipino.

National Artist Arturo Luz, on the other hand, distils figurations into their essential lines, shapes, and forms, in effect becoming the pioneer of Philippine minimalism. Transforming the acrobatic jugglers, circus performers, and cyclists of the peryas he used to visit in his youth into blocks, circles, colors, and lines, Luz is firm member of the international movement for minimalist abstraction—in the same vein as the likes of Gerardo Rueda, Isamu Noguchi, and Fernando Zobel. His series of circus performers are representative of his abstract approach. The abstraction of the human figures is compared to the abstraction of the instruments, and in this sense we have a sensibility of music and fun that is surprising given the artist’s reserved personal demeanour. They combine all these elements together in a minimalist celebratory gesture—which, in many ways, also conveys motion through the usage of arched lines.

National Artist Dr. Abdulmari Imao is considered the most “Asian” of National Artists. His pioneering practice uses recurring folk motifs drawn from his Sulu heritage, which connects to the wider world of Southeast Asian mythological traditions. Thus, this consistent and successful usage of folk themes goes beyond the clichéd appropriation of genre scenes common in Philippine art—creating and assuming Southeast Asian archetypes to retell the myths and legends of the culture of his birth. His most familiar motif, for example, that of the sarimanok is essentially a link to that story of a rooster in the first of seven heavens. That same motif persists in different Southeast Asian cultures—the serpent naga of Malaysia, the most evident example. These regional thematic linkages set the practice of Imao apart in the Philippine art community as something truly unique.

Eduardo Castrillo was born in 1942 in Sta. Ana in Manila. It was Castrillo’s father, Santiago, who first exposed him to the possibilities of visual art, particularly sculpture. Santiago Castrillo was a jeweler and a master craftsman, and the jewelry techniques he taught the young Eduardo eventually formed the crux of his metalworking techniques. Fashioning jewellery from metal sheets, the elder Castrillo taught his son that using pliable metal is perhaps a better approachthan the use of molds. It is also an ancient technique--pre-colonial artifacts from Surigao show that ancient Filipinos were already working with metal sheets to fashion out funeral masks. Castrillo’s later innovation was to eventually apply this age-old technique for large scale projects.

For the last three decades, Ramon Orlina has been transfiguring glass into art. He was the first to carve figures out of blocks of glass using the cold method, cutting, grinding, and polishing his work with improvised tools and instruments - a feat at that time yet unreplicated even in highly industrialized countries. Among his art awards is a special prize he won called "Mr. F Prize" in the 1999 Toyamura International Sculpture Biennale, Japan. Subsequently in the year 2000, he won the First Prize in the Sculpture Category of the II International Biennale of Basketball in the Fine Arts, Madrid, Spain. His masterpieces place him, in international appraisals of the art, among the gurus Dale Chihuly of the United States and Bertil Vallien of Sweden. He has been conferred two prestigious ASEAN Awards in the field of Visual Arts and recently in 2006 he was bestowed The Outstanding Filipino (TOFIL) Award for having led a life of excellence in the field of Arts and having contributed immensely to public welfare and national development.

In his early seventies, Raul Isidro can successfully lay claim to being one of the most senior living Filipino visual artists of our time. The 1979 TOYM and 2006 Outstanding Thomasian Awardee has not given a day’s rest since his first burst to fame in the late Sixties and early Seventies with his distinct abstractions that derive their inspiration from nature. Raul Isidro’s backstory is as compelling as any Filipino’s who had to overcome great odds to survive and prosper. Spending his youth in Calbayog, Western Samar gave the young Raul fortitude and the sense of independence needed to survive the often-hard weather and living conditions. Coming to Manila to study at University of Santo Tomas for a degree in Fine Arts, Isidro imbibed the spirit of Modernism via mentors like National Artist Victorio Edades and Angelito Antonio. Raul Isidro continues to amaze audiences by his formal adaptation of abstract techniques that evolve into more surprising interpretations of nature.

A founding member of the Guevarra and Blumentritt Group of artists, Neo-genre artists Dominic Rubio was born in Paete, Laguna, the Lakeshore town famous for its woodcarving tradition. He studied at the University of Santo Tomas College of Fine Arts where he majored in commercial arts. He first worked briefly as artist in one of the largest multi-national advertising agencies in the country, Puris Lintas of Manila. Later, he lived and worked in Pearl Farm, an upscale resort located Davao del Sur. It was here that as part-time in-house artist he found time to travel around the Caraga Region in Northern Mindanao, learning about the Mandaya and Tiboli tribes. He also lived with the Bilaans and the Badjaos farther down south of Mindanao. Rubio who has become a favorite among major collectors in Asia, the U.S. and Canada has held major exhibitions where his signature figures in turn of the century garb with elongated necks have been a big hit with audiences. Dubbed as “people types,” art critics have said that with these figures, Rubio has shown a proud race that can hold its own in the community of nations. Rubio’s works have done well in auctions such as Borobudur, Larasati, and Masterpiece.

An important figure of the late Modernist period of Philippine history between the 1970s and 1980s, Raul Lebajo’s paintings of highly imaginative landscapes and mind-blowing dream sequences gained him renown as one of the pioneers of Surrealism in the Philippines. He has also graced the cover of Asian Art News, the region's most prestigious magazine, for its first major article on Philippine visual art. Conceptually influenced by the philosophy of Magritte and utilizing the vibrant colors of Matisse, his works take on a more distinct character as ethereal abstract forms within a surreal plane and lined with a reverence for nature. Born in 1941, Raul Lebajo studied Art Studies at UE from 1966-67, but graduated with a BFA from PWU in 1969. A first-prize winner at the 1968 Shell National Student Art Competition, Lebajo has held shows all around the world, including the Le Plaza Hotel in Basel, Switzerland, the Chicago Cultural Center, the World Art Exhibit in Paris, France, the National Gallery of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Art Center of Silpakorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, and various commercial galleries in Germany, Hong Kong, and Japan.

In Classic Sanso, the artist does exactly that, presenting themes he has come to be known for in the past six decades. These are his landscapes and seascapes as well as his floral paintings. Water has always been an alluring theme for Sanso who admits being captivated by its beauty and mystery. He sees water as having numerous attributes being enthralling and full of energy while also having soothing, calming and most inspiring qualities. Likewise, flowers have been a constant stellar inspiration for the artist for the past six decades of his career.

Presidential Medal of Merit Awardee Juvenal Sanso is practically a personification of the Expressionist branch of Philippine Modernism. His trajectory has seen both critical and commercial acclaim in a storied career that both parallels and intersects significant developments in Philippine art. A foremost master, Sanso has had a long and stellar career capped by a number of awards and recognition including a King’s Cross of Isabella knighthood from the King of Spain, membership into the Order of Chevalier from the French Government, and a Presidential Medal of Merit from the Republic of the Philippines. Born in Catalonia in Spain, he grew up in the Philippines and is a product of the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines. He won successive gold medals for watercolor at the 1951 Art Association of the Philippines annual art competition before establishing a highly lauded career as a painter, printmaker, and sculptor.

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