Ambling through the Areté, in the Ateneo de Manila University, visitors are astounded by the collection of modern and contemporary Philippine art of the Ateneo Art Gallery (AAG). Located along Katipunan Avenue, in Quezon City, the AAG started as an initial donation of over 200 modernist artworks by Fernando Montojo Zóbel de Ayala (1924–1984), an alumnus and lecturer at the Ateneo and a noted artist and art collector. From the bequest of Fernando Zóbel , artists and Ateneo alumni would continue donating to the AAG, and growing the collection to more than a thousand paintings, sculpture, prints, photographs, installations, and other artifacts.
Although Modern Art developed in Paris in the 1870s, modernism in the Philippines was first introduced in the 1920s through Art Deco architecture and sculpture by Filipino architect Juan Marcos de Guzmán Arellano (1888 – 1960), Spanish-Filipino caricaturist Luis León Lasa (1890–1986),and Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Clementi Monti (1888-1958); which were easily accepted by the populace. But when architect and painter Victorio C. Edades (1895 -1985) introduced the painting style of Expressionism in his 1928 painting exhibition, conservatives heavily criticized the new style as “ugly,” citing the dominance of the Romantic Realist style as represented by its stalwart, Fernando Cueto Amorsolo(1892-1972). Despite the initial resistance of critics and collectors, Philippine Modern Art finally was generally accepted by the 1950s, with artists experimenting on the styles of Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Abstraction and Surrealism. As a movement, Surrealism started in the 1920s Europe as an attempt to capture the seemingly random and fractured images of the subconscious mind. This art movement grew from the anti-art sentiments of the Dadaist movement against the absurdity and horrors of World War I (1914-1918), and the application of psychoanalysis by Sigismund Schlomo Freud (1856-1939), for the Shell Shock (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) treatment of soldiers and civilian survivors of the war. This interest in the subconsciousness were drawn from Freud’s 1896 book, Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams), as the artists present the seemingly illogical and non-linear images of the dream to art. Such is a nightmare, as best expressed in Galo Ocampo’s disturbing landscape in the “River of Life.” Here Ocampo presents two Lenten flagellants washing their self-inflicted wounds at a river, and turning the whole tributary red with blood, which in turn nourishes the landscape around them.
Galo B. Ocampo (1913-1985) is a painter, sculptor, scenographer, writer, educator, columnist, museum curator, and cultural-activist from the province of Pampanga. Ocampo took his formal art training at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), and he would be later study heraldry and become a member of the International Institute of Genealogy and Heraldry in Madrid. Later on, Ocampo would go to Rome, and study Liturgical Art at the Instituto Internasionale de Arte Liturgica. As a painter, Ocampo is known as part of the triumvirate of the first modernists in the 1930s with Victorio Edades (1895 -1985) and Carlos “Botong” Francisco (1914-1969). During World War II (1938-1945), Ocampo was a captain in the guerrilla movement against the Japanese, and would lead in intelligence gathering. As a cover, Ocampo would create stage backdrops for the actor/director Allan Fernando Reyes Poe Sr. (1916-1951) and his Associated Artists group. During the term of Pres. Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965), Ocampo served as curator of the Presidential Museum of Malacañang, later on as director of the National Museum, and served as a Secretary of the Philippine Heraldry Committee which helped to design various seals of the different cities, municipalities, and provinces around the country. In the 1960s, Ocampo started teaching at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and at the Far Eastern University (FEU), where he became head of the Department of Fine Arts in 1971. Although the symbolical painting “Brown Madonna” (1938) was a radical piece in its time, Ocampo moved on to more surreal imagery, with his flagellant themed collection embodied in “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man), echoed his nightmares of the war. Ocampo also worked with the American anthropologist, Robert Bradford Fox (1918–1985), in his work on the Tabon Caves in Palawan; which would be the inspiration of Ocampo’s first solo exhibition in 1973. Although Ocampo received the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila in 1964 and posthumously awarded the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Marangal na Pinuno in 2015, he was never honored as a National Artist, due to questions about his possible dual Filipino-American citizenship.
Surrealism as a term was coined in 1917 by French writer Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), who would write about what is outside the natural world and all in the realm of the mind. This interest in the subconscious continued to grow with the study of imagination in literature called pataphysics, by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873-1907). In these pursuits to capture the unrestrained flow of thought, some artists would attempt at automatic writing and automatic drawing, putting to paper the unbridled flow of words and lines, without the control of the conscious mind. Such is an attempt of Léon Pacunayen, in his “Two Barung-barungs” (Two huts), as he starts with an initial watercolor painting to two riverside shanty huts, then he allows the smearing of color and line to create a haunting dream-like image of urban squalor.
Léon P. Pacunayen (born 1935) is watercolor painter, who originally hailed from Nueva Ecija and now resides in Perugia, Italy. Pacunayen first too his formal studies at the University of Santo Tomas, and would practice his art for a few years in the Philippines, before moving to Italy in the 1960s. In Italy, Pacunayen continue his art studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma and the Regge Accademia di Belli Arti, in Ornamantale di San Giacomo; where he took up advance studies in painting, etching, and art restoration. Pacunayen joined many art local and international art competitions, garnering top prizes at the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) 1959 competition, the 1966 Primo Concorso Internazionale di Pittura Mazzanon Romano, the 1967 Premio Montecompatr, and the 1968 Premio Republica di San Marino.
The range of subject matter that the Surrealists drew from the subconscious mind was infinite, and the styles employed these concepts were just as limitless. Artists would tackle the symbolisms of dreams, states of mind, the randomness of a daydream, or even the emotional effects of phobias or heights of ecstasy. In Onib Olmedo’s painting “Recuerdos” (Memories), the artist tries to capture the hazy lack of detail in a memory, as well has its feeling of foreboding, despite the subject’s lack of an image that would suggest any threat or fear. This sense of alienation was continually explored by Olmedo in his works “Beerhous” and Kalbo” (Bald).
Luis Claudio “Onib” Velozeo Olmedo (1937-1996) was born in Manila; and he was a practicing architect, before he shifted to expressionistic painting. Olmedo graduated from the Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT). Olmedo’s distorted figures were reflections of underlying pains in society, and were very influential to the young artists of the late 1980s. Aside from exhibiting and representing the Philippines in various international art events, Olmendo has been honored in 1991 with Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila, and the 1992 Thirteen Artists award by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
In portraying the world of dreams, artists would imagine the inanimate coming to life, objects broken apart and rearranged, and timelines merge. And in this hodgepodge of mental imagery, the fears of man about pressing social issues creep into the subconscious and create nightmares. Such as Nunelucio Alvarado’s untitled piece, which shows an anthropomorphic fish skeleton come to life with thorns piercing its hands. The fish is compared to the suffering of Christ, as two figures pray to it; in an allegory to the blind faith of the impoverished, despite their sufferings.
Nunelucio Pagubayan Alvardo (born 1950) is a surreal social realist painter, who originally came from the Province of Negros Occidental, and now lives in Manila. Showing talent at a very young age, Alvardo was able obtain a scholarship to take his formal arts studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.). Drawing from his experience of the lack of support in the arts in the provinces, Alvardo would be crucial in the founding of many art organizations, such as the Black Artists of Asia and the Pamilya Pintura (Family of Painters). Alvarado’s surreal symbolisms that commented on social issues were exhibited locally and abroad, including the First Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane.For his body of work, Alvardo was honored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines as one of the 1992 Thirteen Artist awardees.
The expression of surrealist themes isn’t limited to painting, as Jose Tence Ruiz expressed his macabre visions in sculpture and editorial cartoon. In his 1988 piece “Si Erding Erdrayb at Ang Kanyang Palasyong Agaw-Tanaw” (Erding Erdrayab, and his Eye Catching Palace), Tence-Ruiz creates an “art box” with multiple symbols of wealth, power, religion, technology, and pop culture as his commentary of how these distractions prevent the common man from looking into himself and society, and solving and problems that beset both. In his editorial cartoon “Love in the Time of AIDS,” Tence-Ruiz presents two fairies trying to break free of their cocoons made of medical instruments, to pursue love despite the restrictions of the requirements of medical treatment.
José “Bogie” Tence Ruiz (born 1956) is a multi-media artist and writer, whose subject matter revolves on social and historical issues that are presented in surrealist symbolism. Taking his elementary and high school studies at the Ateneo de Manila, Tence-Ruiz would pursue his art studies at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and later return as an instructor. Tence-Ruiz would use drawing, painting, print, sculpture, installation art, and performance art; while also working on book design and illustration, editorial cartoons for local and international news publications, and theater set design on the side. Tence-Ruiz’s elaborate thought proving pieces have been exhibited locally and internationally; including the 1990 and 1992 Singapore International Festival of the Arts, the 1996 Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Australia, the 2000 Bienal de la Habana in Cuba, and the 2015 La Biennale di Venezia in Venice, Italy. For his body of works and winning several local art competitions, Tence-Ruiz was honored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as one of its Thirteen Artists Awardees, in 1988.
I many of the surrealist paintings in Philippine art, the nightmare imagery is used as a vehicle of Social Realism (URL Social Realism), or art that comments on the ugly realities of society and politics. In the painting “Campaign ’92,” Charlie Co takes a look at the circus-like atmosphere of the 1992 Presidential Elections, by painting a strange landscape with the candidates standing like inanimate sculptures surrounded by their admirers.
Charlie Sia Co (born 1960) is a social realist painter and sculptor, who hails from the Province of Negros Occidental. Co would first take his formal art studies at the La Consolacion College, before graduating with a fine arts degree at the Philippine Women’s University, and interior design at the Philippine School of Interior Design. Active in art scenes of Manila and Bacolod City, Co was active in such groups as the Black Artists in Asia (BAA) as a member and chairman, the Pamilya Pintura (Family of Painters), and the Art Association of Bacolod as a member and director. Co also help organize the 1990 and 1992 Visayan Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference; and now manages the Gallery Orange in his hometown of Bacolod, where he promotes local artists. Co has exhibited his works locally and internationally; including the 1995 Asian Modernism at the Japan Foundation ASEAN Culture Center in Tokyo, the 1996 23rd Sao Paolo Biennial in Brazil, the 1996 2nd Asia Pacific Trienniale of Contemporary Art in Australia, the 1997 2nd International Claywork Symposium and Exhibition in Japan, and the 1997 Taegu Asia Arts Exhibition in Korea. In 1990, Co was honored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as one of its Thirteen Artist Award recipients.
Philippine surrealist art has always been intertwined with Social Realism, as these artists have always seen the problems that beset the people as nightmarish. Even scenes form every life seem surreal to the artist, such as Manny Garibay’s claustrophobic “Nakipaglibing” (The Burial Party), where the artist shows a family of mourners crammed into a jeepney, while the smoke of cigarettes waifs throughout the compartment as if representing the ghost of the departed. Garibay would continue presenting unabashed remarks on people, such as “Obispo” (Bishop) which maybe a reaction to the child abuse cases filed against clergymen; or in his untitled piece that shows two men broken down as marionettes of religious control.
Emmanuel Garibay (born 1962) is a social realist painter, who was born in the Province of North Cotabato, and now resides in Manila. From his birth town of Kidapawan, Garibay’s family moved to Davao City, showed promising talent in illustration. However, in following his siblings to study college, Garibay first took sociology at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), which would greatly influence his outlook and themes in art. As a student in UPLB, Garibay would work as an illustrator at the school newspaper, Perspective. During his frequent visits to Manila, Garibay would regularly interact with arts students from the University of the Philippines, Diliman, and this would inspire him to paint on his own, and eventually enroll at the UP College of Fine Arts (CFA). It was in his stay at the CFA did Garibay join the student artist group, Saling Pusa, which would gain critical acclaim for its collaborative works and individual pieces. Garibay would also be active with other artists’ groups, such as Artista Ng Bayan (People’s Artists) and the Saling Pusa offshoot, Sanggawa (One Work). Garibay’s critical success had led to the 2002 Thirteen Artist Award by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
It must be noted that most Philippine surrealist art is Social Realist in nature, whereas not all Social Realist art are surrealistic. However, with the daily views of squalor and the non-stop overload of news, Filipino artists will always be drawn to use their canvases to express their sense of injustice. In Neil Manalo’s “Condolences from Politicians,” the hypocrisy of politicians while giving condolences to the dead. In Manalo’s painting, he portrays the procession of politicians as a group of clowns, as some come in their campaign and political party vests, others pretend to be saints, and while others show a multiple of double face in front of the cameras.
Neil Manalo (born 1965) is a surrealist social realist painter, from the City of Antipolo, Province of Rizal. While a student of the Far Eastern University (FEU) Institute of Architecture and Fine Arts (IARFA), Manalo was active in many art competitions and won many awards, with his most prestigious award was the 1989 Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PDLT) nationwide Telephone Directory Cover Painting Competition. From then on, Manalo would continue to garner more awards from local and international art competitions, such as the 1995 Philip Morris Asean Art Awards in Indonesia, the 1998 Philip Morris Asean Art Awards in Vietnam, and the 1999 Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh. While studying in FEU, Manalo joined the Antipolo-Marikina student art group, Saling Pusa, which would gain critical acclaim for both their collaborative pieces and individual works. In 2000, Manalo was honored by the Cultural Centre of the Philippines (CCP) as one of the Thirteen Artists Awardees.
With the infusion of social realist themes, contemporary surrealism has grown far away from the earlier explorations of the subconscious mind, and has focused more on creating dreamlike images that enhance the social commentary message of the artist. On example is Alfredo Esquillo’s “Piitan” (Prison), where the artist speaks out against air pollution, and how people cannot escape the exposure to the toxins, whether it is from industry or cigarette smoke.
Alfredo Esquillo, Jr. (born 1972) is a Manila based social realist, who graduated from the University of Santo Tomas (UST). Esquillo’s finely rendered and highly detailed paintings of surrealist social commentaries have gained the artist national and international critical acclaim. Esquillo has represented the Philippines in the 1995 and 1996 ASEAN Art Awards (Indonesia and Thailand), and he was honored with the Thirteen Artists Award from the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, in 2000.
Surrealism does not necessarily require that images be distorted or abstracted to present the “other worldliness” of the artist’s concept. In Ronald Ventura’s drawing “Birth,” the artist renders the human body as naturalistic as possible, as if it were a photograph. Here, Ventura presents a naked woman wrapped in plastic, as if she were breaking from the natal wall of a womb.
Ronald Ventura (born 1973) is a mixed media artist, who creates often black and white surreal images in a hyper-realist rendition of figures. Born in Manila, Ventura took his formal art education at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), where he would later serve as an instructor. Upon his first exhibition in 2009, Ventura would garner critical acclaim for his haunting and very well rendered images, and would be honored with the 2001 Artist of the Year prize from Art Manila, and the 2005 Ateneo Art Award. Exhibiting locally and internationally, Ventura also represented the Philippines in the 2009 Prague Biennale. Ventura is also noted for the record for the highest paid for a work of Southeast Asian contemporary art, through the Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings auction in Hong Kong.
A common genre explored by many contemporary artists is Pop Surrealism; which incorporates images from pop culture, such as comical and even child-like drawings as a means to express the loss of innocence. In Rodel Tapaya’s mural sized “Bato Balani” (Talisman/Magnet), the artist creates a nightmarish landscape with Philippine mythological creatures (diwata, bakunawa, kapre and tikbalang) interacting with the figures of the Katipunan Revolution against Spain and the folk belief of the puso ng saging (banana blossom) as a source of a mystical talisman. This painting uses history as a mirror of the contemporary Filipino, who look to amulets and other objects of magic to solve their problems.
Rodel Tapaya Garcia (born 1980) is a symbolist painter, who was born in the Rizal Province and now resides in the Bulacan Province. By joining many art competitions, Tapaya was already a multi-awarded artist, even before he was able to graduate from his collegiate art studies. Tapaya’s awards allowed him to pursue art studies at the Parsons School of Design in New York and the University of Helsinki in Finland, before completing his studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts. Tapaya’s multi-planed images of surreal landscapes are critical commentaries of Philippine society, as a cacophony of conflicting images. Tapaya’s works have been critically acclaimed locally and internationally; and garnered him the 2011 Signature Art Prize given by the Asia-Pacific Breweries Foundation and the Singapore Art Museum, the 2012 Thirteen Artist Award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the 2012 Ani ng Dangal by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Tapaya also illustrated the children’s book “Ang Batang Maraming Bawal,” which won the 2007 Center for Art, New Ventures and Sustainable Development’s (CANVAS) Romeo Forbes Children’s Storywriting Competition.
The interconnections between surrealism and social realism in Philippine art has strong ties in the artists’ need to voice out their feelings about what they perceive as ills in society. This may be traced to the 1821 paintings of the 1807 Basi Revolt by Esteban Pichay Villanueva (1797-1878), or the novels “Noli Me Tángere” (1887) and “El Filibusterismo” (1891) by Dr. José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda (1861-1896). However, this outrage through art does not necessarily translate to realm of sculpture, which will be the subject of the next article.