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Matter of Perspective

Updated on May 11, 2017

The Burning of Manila by Fernando Amorsolo

Near the end of the pre-preliminaries lull of the first sem of my 3rd year, was one of the lowest days of my year

Ergo it was the perfect time to gain an insight on art works since I work best when miserable. The dull yet awful pain of a frayed friendship and a stack of other complications was just what I needed to get my mind working.

Such things were meant to try us, and the sun will still rise and set without stop even with such trivialities; I couldn’t waste my time moping or pulling a Sonnet 29 sort of drama when there was so much to do and places to see. I had a plan for that day, one I was thoroughly determined to see through despite the sudden changes or my state of mind. I found it ironic though, that just the night before I had thought it would be better to go alone; to truly absorb the feel of the art I was about to see and not have to bother put on a show for my companion. I suppose I got my wish. Sort of.

My mother and my sister joined me in my excursion, which was a small reprieve since one, it meant I wouldn’t have to spend a dime on commute, even though the gallery I had in mind was relatively near our home; about one train or jeepney ride away. And two, because they wouldn’t disturb me and would just leave me to do my thing while they wander around the place themselves, it provided a sense of being alone.

The gallery was on the list of recommended museums within Manila; established during the 1960’s following the bequeathal of 200 post war art works by Fernando Zobel, a teacher, a painter, and an art scholar; the Ateneo Art Gallery is hailed to be the first museum of Philippine modern art. Boasting over 500 artworks, a few of which dating as far back as the Renaissance period and coming from internationally renowned painters such as Rembrandt, Picasso, and Goya. I found it to be different from what I’ve imagined, somehow I thought it would be bigger and grander yet I suppose its Spartan look was intentional to let the vibrancy of the paintings and other artworks shine through; and because it was located on the ground floor of the Rizal library.

Sad to say I did not see any of the Rembrandt or Picasso paintings since they weren't on display, although the ones made by Goya were present since it was in line with the other gallery theme they had going on, one that had to do with democracy; that side of the gallery was nothing short of creepy and strange. It was the other theme of the gallery that appealed to me more; the one celebrating Thomas More’s book, Utopia, as it has reached its 500th year anniversary while at the same time showcasing the idea that “Utopia”, or that perfect time, has been here in the Philippines since the first fight against colonialism.

Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, a name I have heard repeatedly all throughout my grade school to high school MAPEH subject and a legend among painters of the Philippines. Known as The Grand Old Man of Philippine Arts, he was the first National Artist for Visual Arts.

He began his career at age 13 when he apprenticed for Don Fabian dela Rosa, his mother’s cousin, then at 17 he entered Art School of Liceo De Manila where he won second prize for his painting “Levendo Periodico”. In 1909 he began to study in the University of the Philippines, all the while making use of his talents and skills to support himself; he graduated in 1916 with honors and then began a career as an art instructor and commercial artist. In the same year, he caught the attention of Enrique Zobel de Ayala who then sponsored him to study in the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid where he was exposed to European paintings and the paintings of his much admired luminist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida.

His preferred subjects were the normal day-to-day habits of people from the province; there is a certain lightness to his works that makes it very easy on the eyes and soothing to the soul, the bright colors making one feel a sense of positivity but the one displayed in the gallery was different from the usual paintings of his that I saw and that I didn’t realize it was his until I was looking at my photos. Nevertheless it was beautiful as it was tragic, there was simply moving about it that wasn’t entirely negative nor was it entirely positive. Add to the fact that the color scheme and image presented appealed to my then current state of mind.

Arturo Rogerio Luz, I admit when I first saw his name on the plaque next to his painting I had thought he was new to the art scene. I’ve never heard of him before and on the first glance, his work in the Ateneo Art Gallery wasn’t very eye catching. There wasn’t any other color aside from an old yellowish tint and a lot of thin lines outlining a cityscape. It required a closer inspection for me to see the quirks of his work, the multitude of fine lines and tiny drawings of random city signs as well as the multiple eyes. The simplicity and subtlety of his work reminds me of defamilarization in literature, where the writers makes the familiar unfamiliar so that the audience would take a closer look.

Arturo Rogerio Luz is a painter, sculptor, and designer; and like Fernando Amorsolo, he too was named a National Artist for Visual arts. He studied painting here in UST, in the Art School of the Brooklyn Museum in New York, and in the Académie Grande Chaumière in Paris. He also received a diploma from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.

He won first prize in the annual art competition of the Art Association of the Philippines during his college years and in later years, he won first prize again in the First International Art Salon in Saigon, Vietnam; an award from the California Art Association; and the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1966. The Manila Times named him as the “Outstanding Young Man in Art” in 1955. Again, like Amorsolo, he caught the attention of an Ayala; Fernando Zobel de Ayala called him “the painter’s painter” due to the fact that his works were often bought by other painters like himself. He is also considered to be the pioneer of the Neo-Realist Movement in the Philippines.

The Burning of Manila by Fernando Amorsolo

Amorsolo’s favored backlit style of painting still shines through despite the heavier colors being at the forefront; one would’ve thought that by the heaviness of such dark colors in a prominent position it would then overshadow any light color and it does for a few seconds until the light of the sun and the movement of clouds break through the darkness. Like any time a person is distracted by something hugely intimidating his gaze would move on towards the colors that stood out like a sore thumb. Although it wasn’t as bad as a sore thumb, it was beautifully balanced actually, the two sides of the painting slotted in together like puzzle pieces; like a well-written story with various elements, it mixed in together to produce this glorious chaos going on in the image. A thought popped into my head that if this was how Loki (the Norse God of Chaos, Fire, and Mischief) saw things, then it would indeed be spectacular to watch the world burn. There was a romanticization of the destruction of Manila but there was no loss of gravity, it did not demean the history behind the painting; I suppose it just made the memory of it bearable.

I think it’s also like a mirror of life itself (cliché as it sounds), how sometimes our paths are covered by thick, black, smoke; disabling us from seeing the light behind it in all its glory yet still if we would just allow ourselves to take a step back and absorb all the details, then we would be able to see a way around whatever dire tiff we think we are in. I don’t understand why I’ve felt so calmed by the sight of chaos, perhaps it is a sort of cathartic for me to see the destruction of a city not so unlike the cities within ourselves. The cities inside of us we try so hard to keep afloat. That is my interpretation but perhaps the reason for the light colors were simply to emphasize the darker colored subjects or vice-versa, most would probably agree with this idea.

City by Arturo Luz

Done using oil and graphite with Luz’s often used geometrical style it is indeed “semirepresentational and semiabstract” as the man had said himself There is the barest hint of a representation of the city and what it means to live in the city while at the same time it is semiabstract since there is really no set visual form. There isn’t much I can say about the painting except that it’s both complex and simple. Simple in a way that there is not much color nor other shape present, there are no figures or clearly defined subjects; complex since upon closer inspection, as I’ve said earlier, miniature drawings of random city signs and eyes pop up everywhere. It gives a new definition to “city that never sleeps” granted Manila isn’t New York or Tokyo or Seoul or Macau, but it is a city. The heart of a nation where people all come to convene and get into various trades of life. All of them not blinking an eye as they watch their notional lives pass by them; all of them getting lost in the dizzying uniformity that is the city.


City by Arturo Luz

Nude vs. Naked

My chosen artworks are far from the examples given by John Berger but I do believe that they carry the same sense of nudity and nakedness, although my idea of a Nude painting might differ a little from Berger’s.

Nude

First I would like to tackle why I have chosen Arturo Luz’s City as my example of a Nude painting. The painting “City” as I’ve mentioned earlier wasn’t eye-catching in a sense that it was near colorless and without subject but upon further inspection, one would see silhouettes of eyes scattered within the cells of the drawing. Now as I was staring at it, noticing these little things, a thought popped into my head. That perhaps this work was a reversal of Berger’s idea (that the spectator and painter is the one objectifying the work). In my perspective while looking at it, I was the one that felt objectified and put on display.
The tiny gazes ceaselessly staring at me, giving me the very same feelings I get when surrounded by groups of people; that feeling of having my each and every move watched as I wade through the throng of students milling out of the train, as I walk from the gatesof España to St. Raymund’s, as I stand in class to recite. This work, for me, is a Nude painting simply because it awakens and reminds its audience that they move through life as if they were actors on a stage. They act with a deliberateness expected of them, all eyes are on them. It gives the sense that we common folk are nothing but entertainers to each other; we live by what society ordains as right and true, and judge the other when they don’t live up to that ordain. We are, I thought as I looked upon Luz’s work, moving pieces of art for his art, the objectified audience; to be seen and watched by the invisible eyes of the City.

Naked

My idea of a Nude painting might have deviated from Berger’s but the Naked one remains the same. I have chosen Fernando Amorsolo’s The Burning of Manila for my example of a Naked painting because it is with this work that I have felt what Berger was talking about, how when gazing upon paintings such as this; the spectator has no feeling of belonging with the events transpiring within the work. I have not felt like I was engulfed by what was going on in the image, unlike with Luz’s work which chewed me up and spat me out again, I was simply someone looking at it and admiring the colors, thinking other things but not what was transpiring within the frame. There was this barrier between me and the burning that made it feel like I was someone that was just on the other side of a glass wall, and that I had very little to do with the tragedy happening within. I was there to look but otherwise, ignored by those in it. It would be akin to times when I’m alone at home and I would be sitting on the dining table with the blinds drawn up and as people from other units glance at me as they pass by, I pay them no heed; because they are outside my frame and therefore of no consequence to me or to whatever I may be involved in at that time. They have no right to dictate what I do or how I am when alone and when they are nothing but strangers standing outside my property. They cannot objectify me because during those moments, I do not belong to them but to what I would be currently immersed in, much like this painting. The moment was not for me to interfere but simply for me to see and watch, without judgement nor hypocrisy.

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