University of the Philippines, Quezon City: The Start of a Creative Career at the U.P. College of Fine Arts

1950 Juan Nakpil – Gonzalez Hall, with UP Seal by Napoleon Abueva

In the late 1980s, I entered college life at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA), which was still housed at the 3rd floor of the Main Library building, the Gonzalez Hall. Named after the 6th U.P. president, Bienvenido M. Gonzalez (1939-51), the Gonzales Hall was designed and built in 1950, by the National Artist for Architecture, Juan Nakpil.

Juan Felipe Nakpil (1899-1986) was the son, of the musician and composer, Julio Garcia Nakpil 1867 -1960) and Gregoria Álvarez de Jesús (1875 – 1943); who were known for their efforts during the Philippine Revolution (1896-1898). He initially took up engineering at the University of the Philippines, then he later studied architecture at the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts, in France. After working for several architectural firms, Nakpil eventually opened his own architectural firm in 1930. Nakpil’s most noted works are San Carlos Seminary, Iglesia ni Cristo Riverside Locale (Now F. Manalo, San Juan), Capitol Theater, Captain Pepe Building, Manila Jockey Club, Rufino Building, Philippine Village Hotel, the Quezon Hall and Gonzales Halls of the U.P., and the Rizal Shrine in Calamba, Laguna. Nakpil was given the honor of National Artist for Architecture in 1973.

UP Escuela de Bellas Artes, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, Bataan Photograph c/o Charlie Mercado

The U.P. CFA traces its roots to the first art school established by Damián Domingo y Gabor (1796-1834) in 1821, and later became the Academia de Dibujo (Academy of Drawing) in 1823. With the death of Domingo, the school closed and was later reopened as the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura (The Academy of Drawing and Painting), in 1849. And in 1893, the school was renamed the Escuela Superior de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado (Superior School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving). With the founding of the University of the Philippines, in 1908, the academy became the U.P. Escuela de Bellas Artes or U.P. School of Fine Arts, and it was also one of the first colleges of the U.P. school system. The first building of the fine arts has long been abandoned, and has been now moved brick-by-brick to the Spanish Colonial (1521-1898) heritage tourist town called Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, in the Bataan province.

During its years in Manila, the School of Fine Arts grew considerable, and was moved from old Spanish colonial styled bahay-na-bato (house of stone) in Ermita, to the neoclassical styled building, along Padre Faura street, in 1933.

Classical Sculptures at the CFA

With the help of the American government, the U.P. School of Fine Arts was able to purchase actual casts of famous Greco-Roman and Renaissance sculptures from the Louvre and Vatican museums. Now a days, many UP CFA students fail to realize the importance of having such copies in their midst. I was one of those students, and I realized what I had failed to appreciate when I went to Europe and come face to face with these masterpieces of classical art. In this picture are the “Diana of Versailles” (325 BC), “The Dying Gaul” (230 BC), “Apollo Belvedere” (330 BC), and “The Nike of Samothrace” (190 BC).

1991 At the 3rd Floor of the Gonzalez Hall, with Maningning Miclat

In 1948, the university had to move its main campus to Quezon City, in the rolling hills of the Diliman district. The original campus in Manila sustained major damages from the American bombs, during the Battle of Manila, in 1945 (World War II). The School of Fine Arts was part of the move, and had to constantly transfer from building to building (along with the School of Architecture), before it finally settled down at the 3rd floor of the Gonzalez Hall, in the late 1950s.

1939 Guillermo Tolentino – Oblation, Pahinungod

Joining the Fine Arts’ transfer to the Gonzalez Hall is the original cast of Guillermo Tolentino’s 1939 sculpture “Oblation” (Pahinungod), which has become the symbol of the University of the Philippines. It was rumored that the American era actor, Fernando Poe Sr., was the model for this piece. It has been reveal that it was Guillermo Tolentino’s student, Anastacio Caedo who stood as the model. The “Oblation” represents man’s open sacrifice for the country.

Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890 -1976) is a classical sculptor who was named National Artist for the Visual Arts in 1973. Tolentino took his art studies at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and later at the Ecole de Beux Arts. In 1926, he started teaching at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and he would later be given the position of director. Tolentino sculpted the University of the Philippines’ most recognizable emblem, the “U.P. Oblation”, as well as the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City. He was also awarded the UNESCO Cultural Award in Sculpture in 1959, Araw ng Maynila Award in Sculpture in 1963, Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1967, President’s Medal of Merit in 1973, and the Diwa ng Lahi Award in 1972, before given the highest honor as National Artist.

1972 UP Artists Circle

By the 1970s, the CFA experience would not be complete without the presence of the U.P. Artist’s Circle Fraternity (AC). The AC was comprised of many of the prominent characters in the college, and whether you were a member or not, many of their members will also end up us your friends and drinking buddies.

U.P. Artist’s Circle Fraternity was founded in 1972, at the U.P. College of Fine Arts (CFA). Being the only arts related fraternity in the U.P. system and the only fraternity at the CFA, the Artist’s Circle is mainly comprised of visual artists and designers. But in time, they also started accepting members from the disciplines of theater, literature, music, film, and architecture. During the Martial Law era (1972-1981), the Artist’s Circle served as the acting student representatives of the CFA students, after all student councils were abolished. Many of the members of the Artist’s Circle have moved on to be movers and shakers in the art and design world.

1990s UP CFA moves to Bartlett Hall

In the early 1990s, the CFA moved from the Main Library to the former U.P. College of Veterinary Medicine’s Bartlett Hall. The U.P. CFA needed a permanent home as its population and needs expanded; meanwhile the College of Veterinary Medicine had to leave the old building to transfer to a location more suitable for its needs, which was the campus in UP Los Baños, in the province of Laguna. The building was named after Murray S. Bartlett, the 1st president of the university (1911-1915).

UP Veterinary Medicine Building 1954 Memorial
UP Veterinary Medicine Building 1954 Memorial

The U.P. College of Veterinary Medicine was first established in 1954, and a sculpture stands at the entrance of the new UP CFA to commemorate that event. What is left of the College of Veterinary Medicine in Diliman is the animal clinic, which is just a few meters away from the CFA classrooms.

With the move to Bartlett Hall, the CFA was able to expand its facilities, to build a sculpture and ceramic studio, a printmaking studio, photography studio, computer laboratories, and an audio-visual editing room.

Another facility that has boosted the moral of the CFA students, faculty and alumni is the opening of “The Corredor”, which is the official art gallery of the CFA. Aside from featuring the thesis works of the students, the gallery holds regular exhibitions that feature the creations of present and former faculty members and alumni.

Aside from the art gallery, almost every space is a blank canvas to the CFA students, faculty and alumni; who continue to use various open spaces for art installations and performances.  In fact, many sculptures are left by the students in the CFA complex, long after they have graduated, and these pieces just become part of the surreal environment that is the CFA is known for.

At times, the CFA students also expand their creative explorations, beyond the confines of the CFA complex. In 2015, CFA alumni, students and local residents swooped down to the nearby abandoned Equine Stud Farm and turning it into an art installation called “Off Site/Out of Site”, as part of the National Arts Month of February. The U.P. Equine Stud Farm was part of the initiatives of the College of Veterinary Medicine, which was established in 1965, during the administration of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. Originally called the National Stud Farm, it slowly fell to neglect and disuse after the Marcos family fled the country, during the 1986 EDSA Revolution. By 1994, the last horse was either put to sleep or shipped off to another farm, and the facility closed down.

The CFA has an atmosphere that nurtures all talents and interests of its students, and it goes beyond the subjects these students have enrolled in. We’ve have alumni who are now successful musicians, theater and film actors, film directors, and even athletes.

Walking through the rooms of Gonzalez and Bartlett Halls, I can hear the voices of students past and hear the stories of lives forged in the fires of the CFA. A student’s life wasn’t fun and games, as we had the best of teachers, who demanded quality work from us. We also had lousy teachers who demanded so much out of us, but didn’t give a single lesson or pointer, so we had to become resourceful (especially in the age without internet). We’ve had eccentric teachers, such as the one whose class discussions included several bottles of Johnny Walker Black, and the “class” would continue in a local watering hole named “Sa Gulod” (At the Hilltop). Despite the deadlines for plates and mad rush to get to our other General Education classes in the different buildings around the 493 hectare campus, we managed our studies and grew to the artists and designers that we are now.

A tribute to the backbone of the CFA . . . the staff and maintenance

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