Posted by: Elmer Brabante | August 20, 2009

A Review on National Artists for Cinema and Visual Arts


Ishmael Bernal
Cinema (2001)

Ishmael Bernal was a filmmaker of the first order and one of the very few who can be truly called a maestro. Critics have hailed him as “the genius of Philippine cinema.”

He is recognized as a director of films that serve as social commentaries and bold reflections on the existing realities of the struggle of the Filipino. His art extends beyond the confines of aesthetics. By polishing its visuals, or innovating in the medium, he manages to send his message across: to fight the censors, free the artists, give justice to the oppressed, and enlighten as well as entertain the audience.

Among his notable films are “Pahiram ng Isang Umaga” (1989), “Broken Marriage” (1983), “Himala” (1981), “City After Dark” (1980), and “Nunal sa Tubig” (1976).

He was recognized as the Director of the Decade of the 1970s by the Catholic Mass Media Awards; four-time Best Director by the Urian Awards (1989, 1985, 1983, and 1977); and given the ASEAN Cultural Award in Communication Arts in 1993.

Lino Brocka
Cinema (1997)

Lino Brocka, director for film and broadcast arts, espoused the term “freedom of expression” in the Philippine Constitution. Brocka took his social activist spirit to the screen leaving behind 66 films which breathed life and hope for the marginalized sectors of society — slumdwellers, prostitute, construction workers, etc. He also directed for theater with equal zeal and served in organizations that offer alternative visions, like the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP). At the same time, he garnered awards and recognition from institutions like the CCP, FAMAS, TOYM, and Cannes Film Festival. Brocka has left behind his masterpieces, bequeathing to our country a heritage of cinematic harvest; a bounty of stunning images, memorable conversations that speak volumes on love,betrayal and redemption, pestilence and plenty all pointing towards the recovery and rediscovery of our nation.

To name a few, Brocka’s films include the following: “Santiago” (1970), “Wanted: Perfect Mother” (1970), “Tubog sa Ginto” (1971), “Stardoom” (1971), “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” (1974), “Maynila: Sa Kuko ng Liwanag” (1975), “Insiang” (1976), “Jaguar” (1979), “Bona” (1980), “Macho Dancer” (1989), “Orapronobis” (1989), “Makiusap Ka sa Diyos” (1991).

Gerardo ” Gerry” De Leon
Cinema (1982)

Gerardo “Gerry” De Leon, film director, belongs to the Ilagan clan and as such grew up in an atmosphere rich in theater. Significantly, De Leon’s first job — while in still in high school — was as a piano player at Cine Moderno in Quiapo playing the musical accompaniment to the silent films that were being shown at that time. The silent movies served as De Leon’s “very good” training ground because the pictures told the story. Though he finished medicine, his practice did not last long because he found himself “too compassionate” to be one, this aside from the lure of the movies. His first directorial job was “Ama’t Anak” in which he directed himself and his brother Tito Arevalo. The movie got good reviews. De Leon’s biggest pre-war hit was “Ang Maestra” which starred Rogelio de la Rosa and Rosa del Rosario with the still unknown Eddie Romero as writer.

In the 50s and 60s, he produced many films that are now considered classics including “Daigdig ng Mga Api,” “Noli Me Tangere,” “El Filibusterismo,” and “Sisa.” Among a long list of films are “Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo,” “Dyesebel,” “The Gold Bikini,” “Banaue,” “The Brides of Blood Island.”.

Ronald Allan K. Poe

Ronald Allan K. Poe was a *cultural icon of tremendous audience impact and cinema artist and craftsman–as actor, director, writer and producer.

The image of the underdog was projected in his films such as Apollo Robles (1961), Batang Maynila (1962), Mga Alabok sa Lupa (1967), Batang Matador and Batang Estibador (1969), Ako ang Katarungan (1974), Tatak ng Alipin (1975), Totoy Bato (1977), Asedillo (1981), Partida (1985), and Ang Probisyano (1996), among many others. The mythical hero, on the other hand, was highlighted in Ang Alamat (1972), Ang Pagbabalik ng Lawin (1975) including his Panday series (1980, 1981, 1982, 1984) and the action adventure films adapted from komiks materials such as Ang Kampana sa Santa Quiteria (1971), Santo Domingo (1972), and Alupihang Dagat (1975), among others.

Poe was born in Manila on August 20, 1939. After the death of his father, he dropped out of the University of the East in his sophomore year to support his family. He was the second of six siblings. He married actress Susan Roces in a civil ceremony in December 1968.  He died on December 14, 2004

Eddie S. Romero
Cinema and Broadcast Arts (2003)

Eddie Romero, is a screenwriter, film director and producer, is the quintessential Filipino filmmaker whose life is devoted to the art and commerce of cinema spanning three generations of filmmakers. His film “Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?,” set at the turn of the century during the revolution against the Spaniards and, later, the American colonizers, follows a naïve peasant through his leap of faith to become a member of an imagined community. “Aguila” situates a family’s story against the backdrop of the country’s history. “Kamakalawa” explores the folkloric of prehistoric Philippines. “Banta ng Kahapon,” his ‘small’ political film, is set against the turmoil of the late 1960s, tracing the connection of the underworld to the corrupt halls of politics. His 13-part series of “Noli Me Tangere” brings the national hero’s polemic novel to a new generation of viewers.

Romero, the ambitious yet practical artist, was not satisfied with dreaming up grand ideas. He found ways to produce these dreams into films. His concepts, ironically, as stated in the National Artist citation “are delivered in an utterly simple style – minimalist, but never empty, always calculated, precise and functional, but never predictable.”



Napoleon V. Abueva
Sculpture (1976)

At 46 then, Napoleon V. Abueva, a native of Cebu, was the youngest National Artist awardee. Considered as the Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture, Abueva has helped shape the local sculpture scene to what it is now. Being adept in either academic representational style or modern abstract, he has utilized almost all kinds of materials from hard wood (molave, acacia, langka wood, ipil, kamagong, palm wood and bamboo) to adobe, metal, stainless steel, cement, marble, bronze, iron, alabaster, coral and brass. Among the early innovations Abueva introduced in 1951 was what he referred to as “buoyant sculpture” — sculpture meant to be appreciated from the surface of a placid pool. In the 80’s, Abueva put up a one-man show at the Philippine Center, New York. His works have been installed in different museums here and abroad, such as The Sculpture at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Some of his major works include Kaganapan (1953), Kiss of Judas (1955), Thirty Pieces of Silver , The Transfiguration (1979)-Eternal Garden Memorial Park, UP Gateway (1967), Nine Muses (1994), UP Faculty Center, Sunburst (1994)-Peninsula Manila Hotel, the bronze figure of Teodoro M. Kalaw in front of National Library, and murals in marble at the National Heroes Shrine, Mt. Samat, Bataan.

Ang Kiukok
Visual Arts (2001)

Born to immigrant Chinese parents Vicente Ang and Chin Lim, Ang Kiukok is one of the most vital and dynamic figures who emerged during the 60s and continues to make an impact up to the present. As one of those who came at the heels of the pioneering modernists during that decade, Ang Kiukok blazed a formal and iconographic path of his own through expressionistic works of high visual impact and compelling meaning.

He crystallized in vivid, cubistic figures the terror and angst of the times. Shaped in the furnace of the political turmoil of those times, Ang Kiukok pursued an expression imbued with nationalist fervor and sociological agenda.

Some of his works include: Geometric Landscape (1969); Pieta, which won for him the bronze medal in the 1st International Art Exhibition held in Saigon (1962); and the Seated Figure (1979), auctioned at Sotheby’s in Singapore.

His works can be found in many major art collections, among them the Cultural Center of the Philippines, National Historical Museum of Taipei, and the National Museum in Singapore.  Ang Kiukok died on May 9, 2004

Victorio C. Edades
Painting (1976)

Painting distorted human figures in rough, bold impasto strokes, and standing tall and singular in his advocacy and practice of what he believes is creative art, Victorio C. Edades emerged as the “Father of Modern Philippine Painting”. Unlike, Amorsolo’s bright, sunny, cheerful hues, Edades’ colors were dark and somber with subject matter or themes depicting laborers, factory workers or the simple folk in all their dirt, sweat and grime. In the 1930s, Edades taught at the University of Santos Tomas and became dean of its Department of Architecture where he stayed for three full decades. It was during this time that he introduced a liberal arts program that offers subjects as art history and foreign languages that will lead to a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. This development brought about a first in Philippine education since art schools then were vocational schools.

It was also the time that Edades invited Carlos “Botong” Francisco and Galo B. Ocampo to become professor artists for the university. The three, who would later be known as the formidable “Triumvirate”, led the growth of mural painting in the country. Finally retiring from teaching at age 70, the university conferred on Edades the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa, for being an outstanding “visionary, teacher and artist”.

Among his works are The Artist and the Model, Portrait of the Professor, Japanese Girl, Mother and Daughter, The Wrestlers, Poinsettia Girl

Cesar Legaspi
Visual Arts (1990)

A pioneer “Neo-Realist” of the country, Cesar Legaspi is remembered for his singular achievement of refining cubism in the Philippine context. Legaspi belonged to the so-called “Thirteen Moderns” and later, the “Neo-realists”. His distinctive style and daring themes contributed significantly to the advent and eventual acceptance of modern art in the Philippines. Legaspi made use of the geometric fragmentation technique, weaving social comment and juxtaposing the mythical and modern into his overlapping, interacting forms with disturbing power and intensity.

Among his works were Gadgets I, Gadgets II, Diggers, Idols of the Third Eye, Facade, Ovary, Flora and Fauna, Triptych, Flight, Bayanihan, Struggle, Avenging Figure, Turning Point, Peace, The Survivor, The Ritual.

Vicente S. Manansala
Painting (1981)

Vicente S. Manansala‘s paintings are described as visions of reality teetering on the edge of abstraction. As a young boy, his talent was revealed through the copies he made of the Sagrada Familia and his mother’s portrait that he copied from a photograph. After finishing the fine arts course from the University of the Philippines, he ran away from home and later found himself at the Philippines Herald as an illustrator. It was there that Manansala developed close association with Hernando R. Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, and Carlos Botong Francisco, the latter being the first he admired most. For Manansala, Botong was a master of the human figure. Among the masters, Manansala professes a preference for Cezanne and Picasso whom he says have achieved a balance of skill and artistry.

He trained at Paris and at Otis School of Drawing in Los Angeles. Manansala believes that the beauty of art is in the process, in the moment of doing a particular painting, closely associating it with the act of making love. “The climax is just when it’s really finished.”

Manansala’s works include A Cluster of Nipa Hut, San Francisco Del Monte, Banaklaot, I Believe in God, Market Venders, Madonna of the Slums, Still Life with Green Guitar, Via Crucis, Whirr, Nude.

Hernando R. Ocampo
Visual Arts (1991)

Hernando R. Ocampo, a self-taught painter, was a leading member of the pre-war Thirteen Moderns, the group that charted the course of modern art in the Philippines. His works provided an understanding and awareness of the harsh social realities in the country immediately after the Second World War and contributed significantly to the rise of the nationalist spirit in the post-war era. It was, however, his abstract works that left an indelible mark on Philippine modern art. His canvases evoked the lush Philippine landscape, its flora and fauna, under the sun and rain in fierce and bold colors. He also played a pivotal role in sustaining the Philippine Art Gallery, the country’s first.

Ocampo’s acknowledged masterpiece Genesis (1968) served as the basis of the curtain design of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theater. His other major works include Ina ng Balon, Calvary, Slum Dwellers, Nude with Candle and Flower, Man and Carabao, Angel’s Kiss, Palayok at Kalan, Ancestors, Isda at Mangga, The Resurrection, Fifty-three “Q”, Backdrop, Fiesta.

Fernando C. Amorsolo
Painting (1972)

The country had its first National Artist in Fernando C. Amorsolo. The official title “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art” was bestowed on Amorsolo when the Manila Hilton inaugurated its art center on January 23, 1969 with an exhibit of a selection of his works. Returning from his studies abroad in the 1920s, Amorsolo developed the backlighting technique that became his trademark where figures, a cluster of leaves, spill of hair, the swell of breast, are seen aglow on canvas. This light, Nick Joaquin opines, is the rapture of a sensualist utterly in love with the earth, with the Philippine sun, and is an accurate expression of Amorsolo’s own exuberance. His citation underscores all his years of creative activity which have “defined and perpetuated a distinct element of the nation’s artistic and cultural heritage”.

Among others, his major works include the following: Maiden in a Stream (1921)-GSIS collection; El Ciego (1928)-Central Bank of the Philippines collection; Dalagang Bukid (1936) – Club Filipino collection; The Mestiza (1943) – National Museum of the Philippines collection; Planting Rice (1946)-UCPB collection; Sunday Morning Going to Town (1958)-Ayala Museum Collection.

Carlos “Botong” Francisco
Painting (1973)

Carlos “Botong” Francisco, the poet of Angono, single-handedly revived the forgotten art of mural and remained its most distinguished practitioner for nearly three decades. In panels such as those that grace the City Hall of Manila, Francisco turned fragments of the historic past into vivid records of the legendary courage of the ancestors of his race. He was invariably linked with the “modernist” artists, forming with Victorio C. Edades and Galo Ocampo what was then known in the local art circles as “The Triumvirate”. Botong’s unerring eye for composition, the lush tropical sense of color and an abiding faith in the folk values typified by the townspeople of Angono became the hallmark of his art.

His other major works include the following: Portrait of Purita, The Invasion of Limahong, Serenade, Muslim Betrothal, Blood Compact, First Mass at Limasawa, The Martyrdom of Rizal, Bayanihan, Magpupukot, Fiesta, Bayanihan sa Bukid, Sandugo.

Arturo R. Luz
Visual Arts (1997)

Arturo R. Luz, painter, sculptor, and designer for more than 40 years, created masterpieces that exemplify an ideal of sublime austerity in expression and form. From the Carnival series of the late 1950s to the recent Cyclist paintings, Luz produced works that elevated Filipino aesthetic vision to new heights of sophisticated simplicity. By establishing the Luz Gallery that professionalized the art gallery as an institution and set a prestigious influence over generations of Filipino artists, Luz inspired and developed a Filipino artistic community that nurtures impeccable designs.

Among his other significant paintings are Bagong Taon, Vendador de Flores, Skipping Rope, Candle Vendors, Procession, Self-Portrait, Night Glows, Grand Finale, Cities of the Past, Imaginary Landscapes. His mural painting Black and White is displayed in the lobby of the CCP’s Bulwagang Carlos V. Francisco (Little Theater). His sculpture of a stainless steel cube is located in front of the Benguet Mining Corporation Building in Pasig.

J. Elizalde Navarro
Painting (1999)

J. (Jeremias) Elizalde Navarro, was born in May 22, 1924 in Antique. He is a versatile artist, being both a proficient painter and sculptor. His devotion to the visual arts spans 40 years of drawing, printmaking, graphic designing, painting and sculpting. His masks carved in hardwood merge the human and the animal; his paintings consists of abstracts and figures in oil and watercolor; and his assemblages fuse found objects and metal parts. He has done a series of figurative works drawing inspiration from Balinese art and culture, his power as a master of colors largely evident in his large four-panel The Seasons (1992: Prudential Bank collection).

A Navarro sampler includes his ’50s and ’60s fiction illustrations for This Week of the Manila Chronicle, and the rotund, India-ink figurative drawings for Lydia Arguilla’s storybook, Juan Tamad. Three of his major mixed media works are I’m Sorry Jesus, I Can’t Attend Christmas This Year (1965), and his Homage to Dodjie Laurel (1969: Ateneo Art Gallery collection), and A Flying Contraption for Mr. Icarus (1984: Lopez Museum).

Guillermo Estrella Tolentino
Sculpture (1973)

Guillermo Estrella Tolentino is a product of the Revival period in Philippine art. Returning from Europe (where he was enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Rome) in 1925, he was appointed as professor at the UP School of Fine Arts where the idea also of executing a monument for national heroes struck him. The result was the UP Oblation that became the symbol of freedom at the campus. Acknowledged as his masterpiece and completed in 1933, The Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan stands as an enduring symbol of the Filipinos’ cry for freedom.

Other works include the bronze figures of President Quezon at Quezon Memorial, life-size busts of Jose Rizal at UP and UE, marble statue of Ramon Magsaysay in GSIS Building; granolithics of heroic statues representing education, medicine, forestry, veterinary science, fine arts and music at UP.

He also designed the gold and bronze medals for the Ramon Magsaysay Award and did the seal of the Republic of the Philippines.

Jose T. Joya
Visual Arts  (2003)

Jose Joya is a painter and multimedia artist who distinguished himself by creating an authentic Filipino abstract idiom that transcended foreign influences. Most of Joya’s paintings of harmonious colors were inspired by Philippine landscapes, such as green rice paddies and golden fields of harvest. His use of rice paper in collages placed value on transparency, a common characteristic of folk art. The curvilinear forms of his paintings often recall the colorful and multilayered ‘kiping’ of the Pahiyas festival. His important mandala series was also drawn from Asian aesthetic forms and concepts. 

He espoused the value of kinetic energy and spontaneity in painting which became significant artistic values in Philippine art. His paintings clearly show his mastery of ‘gestural paintings’ where paint is applied intuitively and spontaneously, in broad brush strokes, using brushes or spatula or is directly squeezed from the tube and splashed across the canvas.  His 1958 landmark painting Granadean Arabesque, a work on canvas big enough to be called a mural, features swipes and gobs of impasto and sand. The choice of Joya to represent the Philippines in the 1964 Venice Biennial itself represents a high peak in the rise of the modern art in the country.

Joya also led the way for younger artists in bringing out the potentials of multimedia. He designed and painted on ceramic vessels, plates and tiles, and stimulated regional workshops. He also did work in the graphic arts, particularly in printmaking.

His legacy is undeniably a large body of work of consistent excellence which has won the admiration of artists both in the local and international scene. Among them are his compositions Beethoven Listening to the Blues, and Space Transfiguration, and other works like Hills of Nikko, Abstraction, Dimension of Fear, Naiad, Torogan, Cityscape.’ 

Benedicto R. Cabrera
Painting (2006)

Benedicto R. Cabrera, *who signs his paintings “Bencab,” upheld the primacy of drawing over the decorative color. Bencab started his career in the mid-sixties as a lyrical expressionist. His solitary figures of scavengers emerging from a dark landscape were piercing stabs at the social conscience of a people long inured to poverty and dereliction. Bencab, who was born in Malabon, has christened the emblematic scavenger figure “Sabel.” For Bencab, Sabel is a melancholic symbol of dislocation, despair and isolation–the personification of human dignity threatened by life’s vicissitudes, and the vast inequities of Philippine society.

Bencab’s exploration of form, finding his way out of the late neo-realism and high abstraction of the sixties to be able to reconsider the potency of figurative expression had held out vital options for Philippine art in the Martial Law years in the seventies through the contemporary era.

Selected works:  Madonna with Objects, 1991;  Studies of Sabel, dyptych, 1991;  People Waiting, 1989;  The Indifference, 1988;  Waiting for the Monsoon, 1986.

Abdulmari Asia Imao
Sculpture (2006)

Abdulmari Asia Imao, a native of Sulu, is a sculptor, painter, photographer, ceramist, documentary film maker, cultural researcher, writer, and articulator of Philippine Muslim art and culture.

Through his works, the indigenous ukkil, sarimanok and naga motifs have been popularized and instilled in the consciousness of the Filipino nation and other peoples as original Filipino creations.

His U.P. art education introduced him to Filipino masters like Guillermo Tolentino and Napoleon Abueva, who were among his mentors.

With his large-scale sculptures and monuments of Muslim and regional heroes and leaders gracing selected sites from Batanes to Tawi-tawi, Imao has helped develop among cultural groups trust and confidence necessary for the building of a more just and humane society.

Selected works:

Industry Brass Mural, Philippine National Bank, San Fernando, La Union; 
Mural Relief on Filmmaking, Manila City Hall
Industrial Mural, Central Bank of the Philippines, San Fernando, La Union
Sulu Warriors (statues of Panglima Unaid and Captain Abdurahim Imao), 6 ft., Sulu Provincial Capitol




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