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Filipino Oil paintings

 THE ROBER TO T. Villanueva Painting Collection is a microcosm of the state of Philippine art in the 1950s. It must be re­membered that the Filipino artist's first ap­pearance on the international scene was in painting, when in 1881, Juan Luna's Death of Cleopatra won second place in the Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts. Three years later Luna, and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo , won first and second place respectively in the Madrid Exposition- Luna with his Spolari­um, and Hidalgo with his Christian Women Exposed to the Populace. Since then, oil painting has been the premier art of the Filipinos. Luna and Hidalgo are undoubtedly the two greatest oil painters the Philippines has pro­duced. But they painted in a European light. Not till the coming of Amorsolo (1892-1972) would Filipinos see their landscape depicted in its natural light. Amorsolo captured the exact illumination of the Philippine sun and became the most popular Filipino artist of his time.

By 1928, the modern art movement had already made itself felt in the Philippines but the old school would have nothing to do with modern art. It was not till after the country had recovered from the ravages of war (Man­ila was the second most destroyed city in World War Two; only Warsaw was more heavily damaged), that traditional and mod­ern art were exhibited in the same art galleries. The history of Philippine art during this period is the history of two art institutions: the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) founded on February 14th, 1948 , and the Philippine Art Gallery (P AG), established in the early part of 1950. The Villanueva Painting Collection is representative of that period.

Of the 161 oil paintings that comprise the collection, seventy-four are by Romeo V. Tabuena, who was one of the permanent mainstays of the Philippine Art Gallery. He was the most versatile and most prolific painter of the period; his masterpiece was a painting called Carabaos in Blue. Tabuena did not stay long on the local scene, leaving the Islands for the United States in 1952, and then settling permanently in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico . In 1959, the Philippine Art Gallery, the Cultural Division of the Foreign Affairs and the Asia Foundation held a 1949-1959 retrospective exhibit of Tabuena's oil paintings. The works were dis­played chronologically and grouped accord­ing to their places of execution-Manila, New York and Mexico . The Tabuena oil pain­tings in the Villanueva Collection were the ones in that exhibit. They only cover the period from 1949 to 1956 because the works from 1957 -1959 never made it to the exhibit; the artist sent only photographs of these oil paintings. Although he seemed at home in any school of painting, Tabuena never deve­loped his own distinctive style. He has been absent from the local art scene for twenty­ eight years.

Hernando R. Ocampo led the group that was dubbed the Neo-realists. A writer turned painter, Ocampo first attracted attention when he won sixth place in the first Art Association of the Philippines exhibit. In the third AAP exhibit, he won the first and second prizes, and he won the first prize again in the fourth year. Ocampo's work revived the vehement objections to modern art, which actually was anything but mod­ern, since its philosophy dated back to Plato's Philebus, in which he says: "I do not now intend by beauty of shapes what most people would expect, such as that of living creatures or pictures, but.. .straight lines and curves and the surfaces or solid forms produced out of these by lathes and rulers and squar­es. . .These things are not beautiful relatively, like other things, but always and naturally and absolutely."

People could not comprehend Ocampo's world of colour and form without reference to a physical object. His works were visual music. To people with a knowledge of art history, criticism of them was a return to the Biblical proscription against graven images and Islamic art, which has always been abstract. He died in 1978.

In his Iberia , James A. Michener dedicated a few pages to "a talented Filipino. . .etcher extraordinary and one of Spain 's major ab­stract artists". That "Filipino" was Don Enrique Fernando Zobel de Ayala y Montojo Torrontegui Zambrano, known as Fernando ZobeI. There is no doubt that Zobel was a great art scholar, a dedicated artist, a fine painter and a gentlemen. His problem was the critics. When he had a show of his black and white calligraphic paintings, a critic claimed that he had finally arrived. Like the great Chinese brush painters who outgrow all colours as they progress, the critic said, Zobel no longer needed colour to paint. His blackest black and varying shades of grey were a prism of colour. When he reverted to the use of colour, another critic raved: "Zobel has ma­tured in his ambitions and his thoughts as well as his sensibility. All this has led him to the use of colour. . .Zobel manages, not only to integrate colour into his way of working, but to use it directly in translating another facet of that universe that is his own. The universe, so clearly expressed in his black and white work, is now newly revealed, complete like a poem." Zobel belonged to the wealth­iest family in the Philippines , and the critics figured that anyone as fabulously rich as Zobel could not but be equally fabulous as a painter. Zobel died in Rome on June 2nd, 1984 .

Another Spanish painter with local roots is Juvenal Sanso, whose Sorcery won first prize in the Fourth Annual AAP Art Exhibit. Born in Catalonia , he came to the Philippines when he was four and studied art in the Philippines , Rome and France . Since 1946, he has been painting in the realistic tradition though not in the traditionally realistic fash­ion, for a Sanso painting has a realism all its own. He paints realistically, but there is an unreal atmosphere in his paintings. He was moved by the "horrible beauty" of the post­ war slums: "the strange beauty of rust and rot, the galvanized iron slowly disintegrating into ochres, siennas and earth greens,  wood and bamboo decaying into fibers sponginess." It is an experience to see through Sanso's eyes.

 


 
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