By the time Jorge Bartolome Vargas (1890-1980) started his personal collection of artworks, the painting scene was dominated by the classical romantic style, lead by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto (1892-1972). However, in a few years these stalwarts of the art world were to be challenged by a modernism movement, with many of these upstarts being their former students at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) School of Fine Arts. By the time Jorge Vargas became the 1st National Executive Secretary during the Commonwealth Era (1935-1946), modernism was slowing being accepted by the elite, who believed in this vision of a modern Filipino. At the Vargas Museum (U.P. Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center), at the University of the Philippines, a visitor can see the classic masterpieces standing side-by-side with their modernist counterparts.
Although the first volleys of modernism started with the Art Deco movement in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the first true shake up against the established classicism started with Victorio C. Edades (1895 -1985). Edades first took up architecture at the University of Washington, but while in America he also earned a degree Master of Fine Arts in Painting. And there he joined Annual Exhibition of North American Artists in 1927, and he won 2nd place with his dark expressionistic painting “The Sketch”. Wanting to share his triumph in the Philippines, he mounted a solo exhibition at the Philippine Columbia Club in Ermita, in 1928. The critics were aghast, and the exhibit was panned. However, this didn’t deter Edades, as he continued to promote modern art; and he formed the triumvirate of modernism with Carlos “Botong” Modesto Villaluz Francisco (1912-1969) and Galo B. Ocampo (1913-1985), which in turn lead to the formation of the 13 Moderns in 1938. Aside from painting and promoting modern art, Edades was just as passionate about promoting modern architecture. In 1930 the helped organized the Department of Architecture at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and in 1935 he was appointed as the director of the newly named UST College of Architecture. And in 1940, Edades joined with National Artist for Architecture, Juan Felipe Nakpil (1899-1986) founded the School of Design. He eventually retired in Davao City, where he was declared a National Artist in 1976. While in Davao, he continued to teach at the Philippine Women’s College.
Hernando Ruiz Ocampo (1911-1978) was a self-taught painter who started in a cubist style, before becoming one of the first masters of abstractionism in Philippine art. He was part of the first “13 Moderns”, who pushed the envelope Philippine art towards modernism. Ocampo first studied law and commerce, before taking up creative writing. He established himself as a noted poet, playwright, fictionalist, editor, and a scriptwriter and director for television; in which he was known to have written for Palaris Feler and Fernando Poe Productions, and produced and directed for the Filipino Players Guild. Many of his articles could be found in Taliba newspaper and Manila Sunday Chronicle magazine. Ocampo also branched out to business, where he started working at the Philippine Education Company (PECO) in 1931, and he worked as executive secretary of the National Paper Mills Inc. in 1935. As an artist, he was honored with Republic Cultural Award in 1965; Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award in 1969; Diwa ng Lahi Award in 1976; Gawad CCP para sa Sining Award in 1979; and the posthumous recognition as National Artist in 1991.
Cesar Torrente Legaspi (1917 -1994) first finished his studies at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, before pursuing Art Studies in Madrid, Spain, and the Academie Ranson in Paris, France. While in Paris, Legaspi worked under the French-American surrealist Henri Bernard Goetz (1909-1989). Upon his return to the Philippines, he worked as an art director, before going full time as an artist in the 1960s. As an artist, he was honored the Gawad CCP Award for Visual Arts and Tanglaw ng Lahi award from Ateneo de Manila University in 1990, and he was recognized as a National Artist for Painting in 1990.
Vicente Silva Manansala (1910-1981) took his first art lessons under the turn-of-the-century genre painter Ramón Resurrección Peralta (1877-1940), before entering the U.P. school of Fine Arts in 1926. After graduating in 1930, Manansala continued his studies at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Montreal, Canada, and in Paris, France. While in Paris, he took an apprenticeship under the French avant-garde artist Joseph Fernand Henri Léger (1881-1955). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Manansala took more studies at the Otis Art Institute, in California, USA. Manansala’s first jobs in the 1930s were as an illustrator for the Philippines Herald and Liwayway and layout artist for Photonews and Saturday Evening News Magazine. As an artist, Manansala was honored with the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1963, the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila in 1970, and he was proclaimed National Artist in Painting in 1982.
Diosdado Magno Lorenzo (1906-1984) graduated with honors from the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1928, and he was soon exhibiting side-by-side with his mentor and the classicist painter Fernando Amorsolo. In the early 1930s, he pursued further studies at the Real Academia de Belle Arte de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain; and the Asociazione Internazionale Artistica in Rome, Italy. In 1936, Lorenzo helped organize the Academia di Belle Arti, which was the first art academy in Hong Kong. Returning to the Philippines, he started teaching at the University of Santo Tomas, where he became its director for 26 years. As he continued to paint, Lorenzo soon moved away from the classical style of his teachers, and started dabbling in a style that was a cross between impressionism and expressionism. This breakaway lead to Lorenzo’s inclusion of the first 13 Moderns of Philippine art. Lorenzo was awarded the Araw ng Maynila Award in 1969 and the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1970.
José Tanig Joya (1931-1995) graduated from the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1953, and became immediately part of the Neo-Realist movement of the period. In the 1960s, Joya served as the president of the Art Association of the Philippines, and he served as the dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts from 1970-1978. In 1962, Joya and Napoleón Isabelo Veloso Abueva (born 1930) were selected to represent the Philippines at the prestigious Venice Biennale. It would take 53 more years, before any Filipino artist would participate again at the Venice Biennale. As an artist, Joya was honored with the Ten Outstanding Young Men Award (TOYM) and Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1961, the ASEAN Cultural Award in 1970, the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila in 1971, the Order of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government in 1987, the Gawad CCP para sa Sining in 1991, and he was conferred the title of National Artist in 2003.
Manuel Antonio Rodriguez Sr. (born January 1, 1912) is considered the “Father of Philippine Printmaking“. Rodriguez first completed his studies at the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1939, where he was first exposed to the art of printmaking when he attended a serigraphy workshop under Hans Adolf Heimann (1882-1955). However, Rodriguez decided to pursue other studies such as architecture at the Mapúa Institute of Technology, and architectural draftsmanship at the Central Institute of Technology Foundation. But the draw of the arts was too strong, and in 1960, so Rodriguez studies printmaking at the Pratt Graphic Center, in New York; and he took photography at the School of Modern Photography, Little Falls, New Jersey, in 1978. While in America, he worked as a trainee at the print department of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York. Upon his return to the Philippines, Rodriguez opened the Contemporary Arts Gallery for graphic artists, and he established the Philippine Association of Printmakers in 1968. He later taught at the University of Santo Tomas and the Philippine Women’s University, where he established their respective graphic arts departments.
After the Triumvirate of Modern Art, a new group of artists were heralded as the vanguards of modern art. Lead by Edades, they became known as the “13 Moderns”: Carlos “Botong” Modesto Villaluz Francisco (1912-1969), Galo B. Ocampo (1913-1985), Vicente Silva Manansala (1910-1981), Hernando Ruiz Ocampo (1911-1978), Cesar Torrente Legaspi (1917 -1994), Demetrio Diego(1909-1988), Diosdado Magno Lorenzo (1906-1984), José S. Pardo (1916-2002), Ricarte Maramba Puruganan (1912-1998), Bonifacio Nicolas Cristobal (1911-1977), Arsenio Roxas Capili (1914-1945), and Anita Corpus Magsaysay-Ho (1914-2012). Soon more artists started shifting from the classical/academic style of painting towards the multitude of explorations in modernism, which became known as Neo-Realism in the 1950s.
Antonio Gonzales Dumlao (1912-1983) was a noted muralist, who entered the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1928, but left the very same year. Dumlao found the regiment at the university too stifling, and he decided to make it on his own. Soon Dumalo was working for Jean Bisson advertising Company and Antonio Garcia Engraving firm. Later on, Don Andrés Soriano y Roxas, Sr. (1898-1964) hired Dumalo as the art director of San Miguel Corporation. He later taught at the San Miguel Catholic School and Assumption College where he taught Basic Drawing, but he he didn’t stay too long, finding that teaching at the academe was just as tedious as when he was a student in U.P. In 1960, Dumlao was hired to work on the restoration of Juan Luna’s Spoliarium, which had just arrived from Spain. Dumalo also designed stained glass, and he rebuilt church altars Malacañang Presidential Palace, as well as the stained glass windows at the Golden Mosque, in Quiapo.
Nestor Garcia Leynes (born 1922) was a student of Fernando Amorsolo and the other masters at the U.P. School of Fine Arts. However, for the earlier part of this career, Leynes was more focused on commercial designs, in which he crafted works for the Ramon Roces Publications and did illustrations for magazines like Liwayway. Soon he moved from art director, to the head of the art department and finally the executive vice-president for art department at the J. Romero and Associates Advertising Agency. In 1980, at the age of fifty-eight, Leynes retired from the advertising field and painted full-time. In his retirement, Leynes developed his hyperrealistic style, with many themes of the idyllic Philippine rural life, much like his mentors before him.
Lauro Zarate Alcala (August 18, 1926 – June 24, 2002), also known as Larry Alcala, graduated from the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1950. Although he earned the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting, Alcala pursued a career in commercial design and cartooning. He soon became famous for his comedic comic characters such as “Mang Ambo “ (1963), “Kalabog en Bosyo” (1947) and “Siopawman”. However, what launched him to the national consciousness was his weekly page “Slice of Life”, in the Manila Bulletin Weekend Magazine. He zealously campaigned to develop the illustration and commercial design courses in the University of the Philippines, which would lead to the founding of the Visual Communication Department of the UP College of Fine Arts, where he taught from 1951 to1981. In 1991, Alcala pushed for the creation of a group of young children’s book illustrators, which would become the Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK). In 1997, the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) bestowed to Alcala the title Dean of Filipino Cartoonists, a title previously given to his teacher Irineo L. Miranda (1896-1964).
The road to the acceptance of modernism in the Philippine art scene was perceived as a war by the conservatives of the Amorsolo School, during mid-20th century, What started as an academic debate between Victorio Edades and the academic Ariston de la Rosa Estrada Sr., writer Ignacio Tuason Manlapaz (1901-1941), and painter and illustrator Fermin Vergara Sanchez;but this became a full blown debate between Edades and sculptor Guillermo Tolentino, which was highlighted in the Herald Mid-Week Magazine, Sunday Times Magazine, and This Week magazine. The modernist momentum shifted faster, when noted art patroness Purita Kalaw Ledasma (1914-2005) together with the graduates of the U.P. School of Fine Arts organized the U.P. School of Fine Arts Alumni Association; which quickly evolved into the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) in 1948. Soon he AAP was holding annual competitions and exhibits, where the modernists started to sweep the awards. This lead to the infamous AAP walkout of the AAP exhibition at the Northern Motors showroom, where Antonio Dumlao lead the traditionalists to walked out with their works and set them up on the sidewalks for public viewing. They later organized the Academy of Filipino Artists, which continued the sidewalk exhibitions for a few years in front of the Manila Hotel. Eventually this group started putting up their own galleries on Mabini Street, in Ermita, Manila. This first generation of Mabini Artists were Gabriel Velasco Custodio (1912-1993), Simon B. Saulog (1916-1995), Miguel Geronimo Galvez (1912-1989), Cesar Espinosa Buenaventura (1922-1983), Crispin Villafuerte Lopez (1903–1985), and Benjamin “Ben” Pagsisihan Alano (1920–1991).