The Philippines is home to a long and rich history of excellence in visual arts. This tradition started as early as the 19th century with Damian Domingo, also known as the Father of Filipino Painting, who was the first Filipino to paint a self-portrait. He was followed by greats such as Juan Luna, who painted the world-renowned Spoliarium, andFabián de la Rosa, uncle and mentor to Fernando Amorsolo.
Mastery of the visual arts has been passed down through the decades, and the Philippine government has sought to reward that through the Order of National Artists. The Order of National Artists, also known as Orden ng mga Pambansang Alagad ng Sining, is the highest national recognition given to Filipinos who have made significant contributions to the growth and development of arts in the Philippines. Jointly administered by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), it’s an honor conferred by the President of the Republic based on recommendations by both institutions. Here’s a list of the greatest names in Philippine visual arts who have been given this honor.
Fernando Amorsolo (1972)
(May 30, 1892 – April 24, 1972)
You can’t talk about Philippine painting without talking about Fernando Amorsolo, who is also known as the Grand Old Man of Philippine Art. Born in Manila, he was educated at the Art School of the Liceo de Manila, the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, and spent time abroad in Spain and the United States. Lauded for his skill in depicting light and form, Amorsolo is well known for his paintings of idyllic Philippine rural life. He rejected Western ideals of beauty and sought to promote Filipino beauty instead, and his use of chiaroscuro became an artistic trademark that set his work apart from the rest. Some of his most famous pieces include Maiden in a Stream (1921), The Mestiza (1943), and Planting Rice (1946).
Carlos “Botong” Francisco (1973)
(November 4, 1912 – March 31, 1969)
If there was ever an area in the Philippines known for its visual artists, it’s Angono, Rizal, and at the forefront of that community is the name Carlos “Botong” Francisco. A muralist who brought the art form back into the limelight, his work graces the City Hall of Manila and the National Art Gallery of the Philippines. He was also one of the first Filipino modernists, breaking away from the Romanticism of Amorsolo to make use of geometric forms and linear painting. Among his most famous works include depictions of the Blood Compact, the First Mass at Limasawa, and most notably The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines, which has been restored three times. A famous replica of this mural resides at the lobby of the Philippine General Hospital.
Guillermo Tolentino (1973)
(July 24, 1890 – July 12, 1976)
Guillermo Tolentino is a giant in the landscape of Philippine sculpture, and indeed no other sculptor is so widely known, except for perhaps Napoleon Abueva. Tolentino studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rome before returning to the Philippines in 1925 to teach at the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts. His masterpiece, the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan, was completed in 1933 and symbolizes the Filipino cry for freedom. Other famous works include the Oblation, now an iconic symbol of the University of the Philippines, as well as the marble statue of Ramon Magsaysay at the GSIS Building. Tolentino also created numerous busts and statues that can be found at iconic sites throughout the country.
Napoleon Abueva (1976)
(January 26, 1930 – February 16, 2018)
One of the youngest to ever be conferred the Order of National Artist, Napoleon Abueva received the award at the young age of 46. The Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture, Abueva was instrumental in shaping sculpture in the Philippines. He was recognized for being adept at a variety of forms and materials. In fact, he was equally as comfortable with classical sculpture as he was with more abstract forms, and his work is made from anything from local hardwood to coral to brass. Abueva’s sculptures have been installed both in the Philippines and abroad, and include Kiss of Judas (1955), Nine Muses (1994), and the death mask of slain politician Benigno Aquino, Jr.
Victorio Edades (1976)
(December 23, 1895 – March 7, 1985)
Victorio Edades was a key figure in the history of Philippine art, counted as one of the revolutionary Thirteen Moderns and later called the Father of Modern Philippine Painting. Edades moved away from the idyllic landscapes of his contemporary Amorsolo and instead preferred to paint a more sobering picture of Philippine society. His works employed dark and somber colors, and were focused on depicting the dirt and sweat of laborers, factory workers, and the Philippine proletariat. Edades became Dean of the Department of Architecture in the University of Santo Tomas, later instituting an art degree program. He invited Carlos Francisco and Galo B. Ocampo to become professors of the university, and the three were later known as the Triumvirate. Included among his works are The Sketch, Portrait of the Professor, and Poinsettia Girl.
Vicente Manansala (1981)
(January 22, 1910 – August 22, 1981)
A master of the style of Cubism, Vicente Manansala is credited as one of the figures in the Philippine art world who popularized neo-realism in the country. He was educated at the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, later training in Paris, Banff, Montreal and at the Otis School of Drawing in Los Angeles. Manansala developed a style called transparent cubism, where he masterfully overlaid colors and shapes to depict forms and figures. This style is exemplified in his works Kalabaw, Mother and Child, Madonna of the Slums, and Still Life with Green Guitar. Most of Manansala’s artistic estate currently resides in Holy Angel University’s The Vicente Manansala Collection.
Cesar Legaspi (1990)
(April 2, 1917 – April 7, 1994)
Another neo-realist and peer of Manansala, Cesar Legaspi was also a foremost figure in the refining of Cubism in the Philippines. Also a member of the Thirteen Moderns, his work is set apart by his daring use of colors, shapes, and themes. Critics have said that his works transform the “unfeeling, geometric” order of Cubism into a dynamic, rhythmic social expressionism. His works primarily focused on the dehumanization and struggles experienced by the working class and mendicants in the city. His work is among many that led to the acceptance and later popularity of modern art in the Philippines. These include Gadgets I, Diggers, Bayanihan, and The Survivor.
Hernando Ocampo (1991)
(April 28, 1911 – December 28, 1978)
Another member of the pre-war group the Thirteen Moderns, Hernando Ocampo was one of the leading radical modernist artists in the country. A playwright, fictionist, editor, and painter, Ocampo originally studied law, commerce, and creative writing before eventually moving into the visual arts. With his friends and peers Vicente Manansala and Cesar Legaspi, Ocampo focused on depicting the harsh realities of life in the Philippines in his art. However, he also painted landscapes and countryside scenery, and used fantasy and science fiction as the basis for his works. Among his works are his masterpiece Genesis, Slum Dwellers, Man and Carabao, and The Resurrection.
Arturo Luz (1997)
(November 20, 1926 – present)
A printmaker, sculptor, designer, and art administrator, Arturo Luz received his Order of National Artists for Visual Arts award in 1997. One of the founding members of the neo-realists in the Philippines, Luz’s work exemplifies simplicity and sophistication. He is credited with elevating the Filipino aesthetic vision, and his work is elegant and economic, employing minimalism, geometric abstracts, and invoking a universal reality. Luz is known as one of the greats of Asian modernism, and his work as an art administrator with the Luz gallery has influenced generations of Filipino artists. Included in his best works are Bagong Taon, Candle Vendors, Night Glows, and Imaginary Landscapes. His mural Black and White is displayed in the lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Bulwagang Carlos V. Francisco.
Jeremias Elizalde Navarro (1999)
(May 22, 1924 – June 10, 1999)
J. Elizalde Navarro was a native of Antique, and studied in the University of the Philippines, Manila before transferring to the University of Santo Tomas, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, major in Painting, in 1951. His work in the visual arts spans a variety of media and techniques, including drawing, printmaking, graphic designing, painting, and sculpting. Navarro employed the use of mixed media in much of his work, sometimes fusing found objects and metal parts. A few of his major mixed media works include I’m Sorry Jesus, I Can’t Attend Christmas This Year (1965), Homage to Dodjie Laurel (1969), and A Flying Contraption for Mr. Icarus (1984).
Ang Kiukok (2001)
(March 1, 1931 – May 9, 2005)
Born in Davao to Chinese immigrant parents, Ang Kiukok began his art journey at a young age. The family later moved to Cotabato, where Kiukok made movie billboards, and then on to Manila, where he attended the University of Santo Tomas. One of his mentors during this period was the great Vicente Manansala. Kiukok began rising in the Philippine art scene in the 1960s thanks to his distinctive style, which pulled influences from cubism, surrealism, and expressionism. His work was noted for depicting rage and violence, with subjects such as rabid dogs or the crucified Christ in agony. Included among his works are Geometric Landscape (1969), Pieta (1962), and Seated Figure (1979).
José Joya (2003)
(June 3, 1931 – May 11, 1995)
A printmaker, painter, mixed media artist, and former Dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts, José Joya was a pioneer of abstract impressionism in the Philippines. His paintings make use of palettes found in the Philippine landscape, such as golden rice fields ready for harvest. Joya’s work espoused kinetic energy and spontaneity, and he was a master of gestural paintings. Among his masterworks include Nanking, a collage rendered with distinctly Asian forms and influences, the Granadean Arabesque (1958), and Biennial (1964).
Jane Adamson is a Canadian import who moved to the Philippines three years ago for a change of pace. After working in the corporate world for ten years, she decided one day to pack up her things and head halfway across the world for a taste of living somewhere brand new.
She lived and worked in Bangkok and Ipoh for a few months as an English teacher, before eventually washing up on the shores of the Philippines. While she has a variety of different interests, Jane’s first loves have always been food and fashion, and she’s looking forward to sharing her thoughts on these on Daydreaming in Paradise.