Getting past the doldrums of the Old Balara neighborhood, and stepping into the EREHWON Center of the Arts, you are greeted by the wide expanse of parking lot. With murals at the right, and an unassuming building to the left, and a low edifice in front of you, with sculptural reliefs hanging on its walls, you are immediately removed from the bustle and squalor of the neighborhood outside the gates.
The Erehwon Center for the Arts was born when businessman and art collector, Rafael Rivera Benitez (born 1953), sought to repurpose his empty bread factory, and found inspiration among his many artist friends. Launched in 2012, the Erehwon now boasts of several galleries, a dorm for artists who avail of its residency programs, a dance studio, a music studio for a full orchestra, a café, a publishing and printing plant, and an art tour program. Yet as artists come and go, there are still some constants that stay within the walls of Erehwon, reminding us of our right heritage of creativity: the Erehwon Art Collection.
At the west end of the parking lot is the Bulwagang Cervantes (Cervantes Hall), which was named after the mutli-awarded film and theater actor and director, Benjamin Roberto “Behn” H. Cervantes (1938-2013). Opened in 2016, the Bulwagang Cervantes is the newest exhibition hall, with an elevated space that acts as a stage for performing art. At the façade of the gallery, there five relief panels mounted on the walls, depicting different event in Philippine history. Entitled “Kagitingan” (bravery), these reliefs were sculpted by Al Giroy between 2016 and 2017.
The first panel features the cultures of indigenous groups before Spanish colonialization (1521-1898), and the arrival of Islam to our shore. The second panel portrays our defiance against Spain, starting with Ferdinand Magellan’s death at the hand of Lapu-lapu’s warrior in 1521, then the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal in 1896, Andres Bonifacio’s declaration of the Katipunan Revolution of 1896, Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of independence in 1898, and the Malolos Convention of 1901. The third panel shows the Philippine struggle against the American Occupation (1898-1946); which features noted heroes such as Gen. Antonio Luna, Gen. Gregorio del Pilar, Gen. Miguel Malvar and Gen. Macario Sakay, as well as the infamous Balangiga Massacre of 1901. The fourth panel presents the Philippine resistance against the Japanese occupation of World War II (1942-1945), including the nationwide guerilla attacks and the final surrender of the Japanese. The fifth and last panel shows the lowering of the American flag and the independence of the Philippines in 1946, the rebuilding after the war, and the continuing armed struggle for justice in the countryside with the Hukbalahap movement and the later New People’s Army.
Jose “Al” Rabino Giroy (born 1962) is a noted sculptor, who started his career by participating in art competitions as a teen, in the 1970s. Eventually entering the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts, Giroy would first delve into painting, before finally deciding to take sculpture and train under noted artists such as Froilan T. Madriñan Jr. (1941-2008) and National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (born 1930). After graduating, Grioy had participated group exhibitions, but soon focused on commissions for public art. A master of the classical sculptural created many noted monuments for government and private institutions, including churches; which are foud all over the country.
At the lobby of the Bulwagang Cervantes, visitors are greeted by Jun Vicaldo’s 2016 sculpture “Leap of Faith”, which may allude to Mr. Benitez and the rest of the Erehwon board’s to embark in this noble venture for the arts.
Priscillano “Jun” Rodrigo Vicaldo Jr. (1963) is a sculptor, who was first interested in sculpture by his santero (religious icon maker) neighbor, in his native Camarines Sur. Vicaldo soon moved to Manila, and studied under noted artists such as Agnes Arellano (born 1949), Peter Tiamzon de Guzman (born 1962), Manuel Casals, and National Artist for Sculpture Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (born 1930); while he was studying at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA). Adept in both classical and modernist styles, Vicaldo has exhibited extensively and has many public pieces commissioned all around the country.
Another permanent artwork, in the lobby of the Bulwagang Cervantes, is the mosaic mural of the Philippine and American flags, which was created in 2017 by Rolly “Robot” Cawaling, EREHWON’s handyman.
Moving on to the main building at the northside of the parking lot, visitors immediately step into the first floor’s main gallery. Aside from the present exhibition, there are two artworks at the corner, which are part of the center’s permanent collection. The fist is Antipas Delotavo’s “ Guernica” (2011), which speaks of the Nazi bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica on the 26th of April, 1937. The second piece is Dei Jardiniano’s abstract “Composition with Wheels #1” (2015).
Antipas Polines Delotavo Jr. (1954) is a social realist painter, who graduated from the Philippine Women’s University (PWU). Delotavo’s paintings were first inspired by his indignation of the human rights abuses and corruption that plagued the Marcos government, in the 1970s, which started with his first solo exhibit featuring portraits of anonymous people from the streets of Manila. Delotavo is also a founding member of the social realist group, Kaisahan (Unity). Delotavo’s surreal and witty imagery has received such critical accolade, as he has exhibited his works at home and abroad. Because of his, Delotavo has also garnered awards such as the Garbo sa Bisaya Awards by Viva ExCon in 2012, the Araw ng Maynila Patnubay ng Sining sa Pintura in 2005, 100 Alumni of the Century from the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City in 2004, the 13 Artist Award of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 1990 and the Hall of Fame in the Gallery Genesis Kulay sa Tubig Annual watercolor competitions in 2004.
Moving strait down the hallway, and past the publications plant, there is the EREHWON Café. The interiors and windows are decorated with sticker prints of noted artists, which help cut the sun’s heart from outside and create a more somber mood to the white walls and black accents.
On the single plain wall of the café are three paintings. Jeffrey “Jepoy” Santiago‘s “Pouring Silence” (2014) captures the essence of the café. While the smaller works are Dr. Reuben Ramas Cañete’s “RKC14G0423B: Astartes Elliptical” and “RKC14N0514D: Eagle” (2014), which compliment the black and white motif of the café. Until his death, Dr. Cañete was an active member of the Erehewon Art Collective, serving as its resident art resource scholar, as well as adviser for the Art Tours and museum projects.
Dr. Reuben Ramas Cañete (1966-2017) is an educator, art critic, historian, and artist; who is also listed as a resident artist of the University of the Philippines (U.P.). Cañete first completed his art studies at the University of Santo Tomas, and continued his education at the U.P. Department of Art Studies, where he would later teach at, and in the U.P. Asian Center. Cañete has gone beyond the academe and galleries to managing the arts with his stint as the president of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), and several committees of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Cañete has published numerous articles and books on art studies, including pieces for the Manila Times, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the Kyoto Journal.
At the eastside open air portion of the EREHWON Café, there are two sculptures that can start the conversation for visitors, while having the coffee under the shade. Playing around with themes from the Bible’s Old Testament, the first artwork is Jun Vicaldo’s “Adam and Eve” (2014), as it portrays the moment Adam and Eve accept the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, from Lucifer (Genesis 3: 1-6). The second work is Dei Jardiniano’s abstract “Jacob’s Ladder” (2015), referring to Genesis 28: 10-17.
Magdiwang “Dei” Jardiniano (born 1963) is a painter and sculptor, who graduated from the Philippine Women’s University (PWU). Born in the province of Cavite, Jardiniano co-founded the group of fellow Caviteño artists called “Anting-anting” (Talisman), in 2009. As a painter, Jardiniano’s works are surrealists portraits of the human condition. As a sculptor, Jardiniano welds discarded metal pieces into abstract expressions of society and other musings.
Climbing up to the stairs at the second floor, there is an open hall that leads to the dance studio, lecture hall and the Erehwon Offices. Before deciding to enter any of these facilities, visitors are beckoned to take a break and rest on Rey Contreras’ swinging bench called “Ugay-Ugay” (Swing-swing, 1993), which is made from discarded wood and metal chains. Inside the Erehwon office, there are more of Contreras’ sculptural furniture for visitors and staff to enjoy and use.
Rey Paz Contreras (1950) is a noted sculptor, who used discarded wood, specifically the old travieza or wooden railway ties. Raised near the Philippine National Railway (PNR) tracks, Contreras taught himself sculpture, as he carved the 100 the old travieza, which were being replaced by the PNR. Starting with functional objects, such as bowls and ashtrays, Contreras soon expanded to human form and even animals such as birds, horses and fishes. Contreras continues to recycle materials such as tree roots from logging refuse and volcanic ash, mixed with soldered metal and other found objects. Contreras continues to share his knowledge of sculpture with indigent communities, and helps develop their own crafts for sustainable art businesses, and developing local art groups such as the Daambakal Sculptors Collective of Tondo in manila, Cadaclan Carvers of Pantabangan in Nueva Ecija, Malasiqui carvers of Pangasinan, and the Banglos Art Group in Quezon Province. Contreras has exhibited his works locally and abroad, and has many commissions in various institutions and churches. In 1992, Contreras was honored with the Patnubay ng Lahi Award by the City of Manila.
Aside from the pieces of Rey Contreras, the EREHWON office is decked with many other artworks, with some coming from past exhibitions, while others are part of the collection. There is no permanent piece on display in the office, as these works are rotated constantly, along with each exhibition.
At the very end of the office is the Erehwon Boardroom, with large windows that overlook the printing plant below. Inside the boardroom are several artworks from the permanent collection that span various genres and styles.
Although there are mostly paintings on display at the Erehwon Boardroom, there are two sculptures at the end of the room, and commanding attention among the many paintings. The first is Ferdinand Cacnio‘s “Nature is Our Playground” (2012), which is a golden triad of trees with miniature figures of children playing among the roots. The second is Dei Jardiniano‘s “Evolusyon ng Taga-Ilog” (Evolution of the River People, 2012), which is an abstracted form of a man in a boat, carrying two pails of water, alluding to the drying of our rivers.
Ferdinand Reyes Cacnio (born 1960) is a sculptor, from a noted family of artists. Cacnio first took BS Psychology and BS Civil Engineering at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Diliman, before the call towards art finally overtook him. Cacnio first ran a graphic design company, before finally diving into sculpture at the age of 45. His first solo exhibit “Dancer” was a success, which led to numerous awards and commissions.
Filling the lone wall, near the entrance to the Erehwon Boardroom, is Leonardo Aguinaldo‘s “Stare You” (2013). It is an unnerving piece of carved and painted rubber, with images of three Bulul rice gods staring in anguish, which pays homage to Edvard Munch’s famous 1893 painting, “The Scream”. The bulul figures are reflections of Aguinaldo’s native Igorot heritage.
Leonardo Aguinaldo (born 1967) is a Benguet/Baguio based artist, who colorful works on carved rubber-linoleum plates reflect symbols of his Igorot heritage and commentaries of Philippine society. Although Aguinaldo has taken studies in architectural drafting and poster design, he is still a self-taught artist. A member of the Baguio Arts Guild and Tam-awan Art Village, Aguinaldo has featured his works in both local and international exhibits. Unfazed by his university-train contemporaries, Aguinaldo has gone on to garner several prominent local and international accolades, such as the 2002 Special Selection of the Busan Biennale in Korea, the 2003 Top Five Jurors’ Choice of Philippines/ASEAN Art Awards, the 13 Artists Award of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the 2004 Grand Prize ASEAN Art Award in Bangkok.
Among the paintings on the main wall, Egai Fernandez‘s “Ang Manggagawa at ang Kalikasan” (The Worker and Nature, 1983); which is a Dali-esque surreal social realist piece, with a laborer toiling with iron girders as he builds our disconnected cities of concrete and steel, while the silhouette of his body shows a river as the symbol of the need work harmoniously with nature.
Edgar “Egai” Talusan Fernandez (born 1955) is a renowned social realist, who made his mark during the Marcos’ regime’s Martial Law era. A graduate of the Philippines Women’s University College of Music and Fine Arts, Fernandez started actively painting in 1974, and slowly developed his classically rendered images in juxtaposed layers of scenes in the background montage and Filipiñana symbols, which include the ancient script called the Baybayin. Frenandez’ activism has led to his co-founding the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), and joining other cause-oriented groups such as Center for the Advancement of Young Artists and “Kaisahan“. Aside from participating in activist organizations, Fernandez has be an active member and officer of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), the Christian Art Society of the Philippines, AGOS KULAY (a watercolorist group), and the National Committee on Visual Art of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA). For all his work, Fernandez was awarded the 13 Artists Award by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), and the Araw ng Maynila Award for Painting in 2006.
Another social realist painting in the collection is Pablo Baen Santos‘ “Malumbay si Ina” (Mother is Sad, 1983), which shows the Philippines as a mother, weeping for her dead sons. This work was painter during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986), where hundreds of thousands of people were either arrested and tortured, murdered, or just simply disappeared without a trace.
Pablo Baen-Santos aka Adi Baen-Santos (born 1943) is a noted social realist, whose paintings were inspired by his exposure to the ills of society during his stint as a photographer for the Manila Times. Santos also co-founded the KAISAHAN (Unity) art group of social realists. Santos has garnered many awards for his paintings and photography, but his highest accolade was the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Thirteen Artists award, in 1990.
Also on the main wall of the Erehwon Boardroom, there are a series of four paintings of portraits of Manobo elders, from the highlands of the island of Mindanao. These portraits were studies made by Jun Impas in 2014, for a larger series of paintings that depicted the music and dance of the Manobo people, in his exhibit “Manobo: Images of Heritage”, at Galerie Anna, in 2016.
Florentino “Jun” G. Impas, Jr. (born 1970) is a noted portrait artist, based in Cebu. Impas made his mark as a child, by winning local art competitions and becoming the youngest member of the Cebu Artists Inc., in which he would eventually serve as its president in the years to come. Educated at the Surigao del Norte School of Arts and Trade, Impas would later study under the Cebuano artist, Celso Duazo Pepito (1956), who would influence him to pursue the life of a painter. Exploring various themes of classical art, Impas would later be later known for his portraits, and would lead to his becoming the president of the Portraits Artist Society of the Philippines. Beyond portraiture, Impas would delve into Filipiñana themes, creating dynamic images of festivals, historical events, and the occasional commentaries in social realism.
The last painting in the Erehwon Boardroom is Rafael Maniago‘s 1977 work, entitled “Nanay at Lola Ko” (My Mother and Grandmother), which is a beautiful tribute to the two ladies who raised him, as they read a letter from Maniago from America.
Rafael Maniago (born 1944) is a poet and painter, who currently resides in California, USA. A graduate of the University of the East (UE), Maniago moved from commercial design to classical painting, where he would eventually open an art gallery of his own in Manila. After etching a career in Manila, Maniago would move to California in 1989, where he would continue practicing his art, and help conduct Filipino group exhibitions and art workshops for locals. While abroad, Maniago took further studies at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design, and he has become a member of the Portrait Society of America, American Society of Portrait Artists, California Art Club, and Laguna Plain Air Painter Association. A master portraitist and landscape painter, Maniago is considered one of the influential Filipino painters in America.
Going up to the 3rd floor of the Erehwon Art center building, visitors climbing the stairway are surrounded by Dexter Fernandez‘ black and white wall painting of a surreal underwater world, entitled “10H-3F”. Painted in 2012, Fernandez completed this along part launching of the Erehwon Art Center.
Dexter Fernandez (born 1984) is a graduate of the Technological University of the Philippines, whose works are part of the Pop Surrealist movement, which has started in the early 2000s. Rather than be limited to the confines of a canvas, Fernandez creates works that envelop the environment, giving a nod to his street art roots. Fernandez’ playful cartoonic images, in black and white, have been featured in many local and international exhibitions.
At the 3rd floor Music Hall, hidden from safe keeping are two large murals. The first is the controversial “Tagaligtas 44” by 11 members of the Erehwon Art Collectivee, featuring the slain Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) who were killed in a botched operation in 2015. The second painting is Pablo Baen Santos‘ 2007 mural “Oplan Tumba”, which features the victims of the continuing war across the countryside with the communist New People’s Army (NPA). First exhibited in the group show “3Anggulo”, Santos shows the suffering of the common people under the offensive, especially the children.
Going up the 4th floor of the Erehwon Art Center, at the window along the stair way, visitors are greeted by a silent guardian, Rey Paz Contreras’ 1994 sculpture of tribal chieftain, sitting in his ‘throne’ of leaves. Entitled “Bantay ng Kalikasan” (The Guardian of Nature), the artwork sits ever watchful of all who pass the halls of EREHWON.
At the 4th floor, there is the chairman’s office, which awaits the day it will be converted into the Erehwon Library. Displayed on the wooden shelves are Jose Giroy’s portraits of the Chinese-Filipino business magnate, Henry Tan Sy, Sr. (2012), Congressman and former Quezon City Mayor Fernando Feliciano “Sonny“ Racimo Belmonte Jr. (2013), former actor and now Quzon City Mayor Herbert Constantine “Bistek“ Maclang Bautista (2014), and Filipino-Chinese entrepreneur and CEO of the fastfood giant Jollibee, Tony Tan Caktiong (2014).
Also in the chairman’s office is Jun Vicaldo’s “Malaysian”, which is an abstracted image of a family flying the Malaysia moon-kite, called wau bulan.
Finally there is the roof deck at the 4th floor of the Erehwon Art Center. Used for open-air events such as parties and performances, the roof deck is brought to life by Leeroy New’s abstract mural, which he painted in 2013.
Jan Leeroy C. New (born 1986) is a visual artist and designer, whose works are experimentations that mix theatre, film, fashion, product design, installation and painting. New first graduated from the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA), and continued his studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA). Focusing first on his paintings and installations, New has had many solo and group exhibitions in the Philippines and abroad, with the most notable are the Singapore Biennale in 2008, the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale in 2009. As an artist, New has been honored with the 2009 Ateneo Art Awards, 13 Artists Award in 2012 by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), and the 2014 Metrobank Foundation Award for Continuing Excellence and Service. As a fashion and costume designer, New garnered accolades with his designs for Tanghalang Pilipino’s Ibalong with the 2013 Philstage Gawad Buhay! award for Outstanding Costume Design, and he has also featured his works in the 2013 Istanbul Forum Fashion Week, the 2013 Design Philippines pavilion in the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, and the 2014 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. New collaborates with the designer, Kermit Tesoro (1988), and both have worked together on Lady Gaga’s muscle dress, for her music video “Marry the Night”.
Aside from Leeroy New’s mural, there in a corner is Rey Paz Contreras’s 1994 Wood Carved Bench, which beckons the visitor to take a rest and take in the cornucopia of artworks witnessed, while passing through the halls of the Erehwon Art Center. There is more to experience in this compound, as more artists come and go, adding to the legacy of Philippine Art.