by Gian Franco |
Georgia O’ Keefe had her workplace in absolute wooden furnishings. In contrary, Willem de Kooning chose to work under concrete roof supported by steel scaffolds that are as tall as his glass windows. The great Pablo Picasso didn’t mind flinging his art materials anywhere so long as they were in his grand halls that could remind anyone of the old throne room of the Buckingham Palace in the late 1800’s. But he would surely never want to lose his fresh box of oil tubes if he had a studio as sloppy as Francis Bacon’s.
Our very own great Angono muralist Carlos “Botong” Francisco started sketching on papers and on the chalkboard in his elementary classroom. At the young age of 57, he died in his atelier where he kept his collections of National Geographic Magazines, wartime artifacts, glass-paned shelves filled with books, and leather shoes piled up on a rack.
Angono has longed for a local version of a Carlyle House. Located in London, the Carlyle House sheltered the penniless literary geniuses—the birthplace of Casino Royale and the Cocktail Party. Angono artists needed a workplace where every one of them can meet, share their talents and refine them even more.
Nemesio Miranda Jr. brought it to Angono, Rizal Province 37 years ago. Nemiranda, as he was fondly called, gradually transformed his residence into the first restaurant-gallery in Luzon. Since then, artists followed suit. They converted their studios into resto-galleries which became tourist attractions as well.
He wanted to share his residence to serve as a place artists can call home. Almost half of his life has been spent building walls for Angono artists. He believes that Angono art is a craft of remembering the Filipino traditions and culture. To start with, there has to be a home for artists who will remind the youth of Angono’s past.
Nemiranda shares his home to Angono artists
In 1977, the Nemiranda Art House and Museum started as the first studio in Nemiranda’s dream nipa house. When he started his family, he had to make it as their residence. As his five children turned into artists, he continuously expanded his house using bamboo, sawali, concrete cement, and old woods of the renovated St. Clement Church to provide walls firstly for his children’s paintings.
“I have achieved my purpose, the needs of the artists which I slowly built. An artist needs exhibition space, firstly my family needs it. All of my children paints so I build more walls for them to hang their works. That’s where I started expanding. All my life, my income from my art profession went there, I return it for the service of the art community,” Nemiranda said.
Later on, he acquired the old convent of the church to make space for galleries, personal studio, restaurant, and exhibition space for some artists. Through continuous expansion with the help of some workers, he now occupies one whole block in a village in Angono.
The Atelier Restaurant is a welcoming sight for tourists who are gallery-hopping around Angono, the “Art Capital of the Philippines”. It is well-adorned with his and other artists’ paintings, painted masks, and wooden carvings of floral designs. He used steel batibot chairs and tables to fill the place with barrio vibe that inspires Angono art. The Restoran ni Nemi, as the locals call it, serves one of the best Dalag (Mudfish) saSinigang na Miso.
Nemiranda is already well in his late 60’s. He wore the usual outfit of a painter—plain collared shirt, black and grey scarf, and white beret cap—that only revealed his robust body. It made him look like he can still construct his place all by himself.
He granted The Sunday Times an exclusive tour of his gallery and museum though it was already closing time. From the restaurant, he led the Times inside. One of the three galleries is currently under renovation. That time he’s already starting to expand upwards, adding more three floors for another exhibition space, art school, and dormitory for tourists which will create the market for artists.
His oldest preserved works are socio-political paintings which were created during the time of the late president Ferdinand Marcos. After the turmoil brought by the martial law, he shifted to the popular Angono art themes such as mother and child, farm labor, folklore, and old Filipino traditions like the haranaor serenade. The gallery where you can find these paintings is supported by 10-foot cement carvings of their own Dyosa ng Sining, Kapre, and Sirena.
Painting of legends and myth is only one of the aspects of an Angono art. Nemiranda believes that Angono art is a craft of remembering the Filipino traditions, culture, and Angono’s lost landscape wonders. Angono art extends to the portrayal of “the people themselves, belief of the people, its visions, and history [of Angono].”
“Of course different groups have their own ideal art themes and own medium being used. Here in Rizal, we are more on traditional. There’s a group more on landscape…but more often than not, more on figures,” Nemiranda said.
Of course Angono art changes too—from the medium used to the story it attempts to communicate. Nemiranda does not downplay the skills of new Angono artists in digital art. Art without the canvas and oil paint is just as fine for him so long as there will be artists who will remind the generation to come what Angono is all about.
“Anyway, as we are saying, the only thing permanent in this world is change. Everything changes. So, maybe in our level, we more like to portray the things of the past, things that were forgotten, reviving it for the new generation to understand man of the past and understanding the past for the present and the future,” Nemiranda said.
“At least when they see it, they remember the forgotten belief, our local myths, and traditions. They are having the understanding because they were born in a new generation, they don’t know it. If there is no artist that will remind them, they will never put that in imagination,” he added.
Nemiranda makes his own name
As one of those who introduced Imaginative Figurism into the Philippine art scene in 1988, Nemiranda has already made his own name outside of Rizal province. If one has mastered Imaginative Figurism, it is a clear tell-sign of an artists’ mastery of the flaws and perfection of human form using pure imagination.
Nemiranda came from an immediate family of musicians. His parents were saying that their ancestor is the painter Juan Senson or Tandang Juancho, a prolific Angono painter during the Spanish colonization.
According to an article of Ino Manalo posted in the National Commission for Culture and the Arts website, he lived from 1847 to 1927. In that time span, Nemiranda created “Vista Parcial de Angono” for the Expocision Regional de Filipinas in 1895. It is now among the collection of the Central Bank of the Philippines, including “another Senson painting depicting the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.”
Nemiranda started sketching anything on any paper when he was five or younger, and he was greatly encouraged when Botong became popular. Among 10 siblings, he is the only one who acquired a degree in arts at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) in Manila.
While a student, Nemiranda spent two years painting at Mabini under the supervision of his classmate’s father, Miguel Galvez, to help himself in Manila. During that time, he met the pioneers in Mabini art such as Vicente Manansala, Federico Gonzales, and Paco Gorospe in their walking exhibitions around Malate.
After his graduation in the UST, he recalled his initial struggle as an artist,“Sa mga struggling period naming, ipinapalit namin ang painting namin para makakainlang kami saisangaraw. Ang magsusurvive lang dyan those who have extreme passion sa kanyang ginagawa na hindi siya nagugutomdahil mas malakas ang kanyang passion sa art.”
His paintings and sculpture appeared on over 50 exhibitions in every known art-oriented countries around the world. Aside from commissioned works here and abroad, his contributions to the country are the mural paintings of the “History of the Philippine Army”, mural of People Power I, a relief mural of the History of Ortigas and Co. at Ortigas Park, and the World Earth Day Mural in the Senate.
His best-known works in sculpture are the relief sculpture on the parade grounds of Fort Bonifacio, and the 45-foot tall Crucified Christ and the Map of Leyte Pilgrim Monument at Kanluraw Hill, Tacloban City.
The longest in his belt of huge masterpieces is “The Way of Mary”, 20 relief sculptural pieces of the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary stretching from EDSA Shrine to Antipolo Shrine. His work ends in Antipolo Shrine where the Spanish friars enshrined the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage), popularly called the Virgin of Antipolo, which was shipped from Mexico in 1626.
Not only that he practices arts, but he also leads the promotion and development of Angono artists and other art communities in the whole country. He found the renowned Angono Ateliers Association in 1975, the first in Angono to popularize sculpture in concrete; he promotes the Higantes Festival in Angono; he’s the chairman of Rizal Artists Federation; he was also the head of Committee on Visual Arts of the National Commission on the Culture and Arts; and he is the president of the Angono Rizal Tourism Council.
Nemiranda also organizes the Philippine Visual Arts Festival, a component of the National Arts Month being celebrated by NCAA, and Rizal Arts Festival every February. In his province, he successfully set the Timog Tagalog TURISINING (Art tourism) art congress in Tanay, Rizal last September 2012.
“I have organized a lot of art events all over the country. Three in Mindano, three in Visayas, three in Luzon and then once in a year there’s a Philippine Visual Art Festival. Dito ko ginawa yung sa Luzon— sa Angono,” Nemiranda said.
Miranda extends his advocacy beyond providing the exhibition space for Angono artists and a gallery for arts appreciation. He established the Angono Visual Arts School to forge talents of Angono. He also has his regular sketching sessions every Saturday which will be soon conducted on the second level of the art gallery and museum.
“So, art shouldn’t be sleeping. In a place where nothing happens, the talent of artists fades because there is no outlet. They make artworks but there’s no one around to see it, so I create art events,” Nemiranda said.
“I was the first cultural worker here to really revolutionize art in Angono. Before, it was just a quiet space where Botong is the only known artist and no other else. But today, because of the programs we did for Angono for the last 40 years, Angono is now known as the artist’s place,” he added.
Botong, beginnings of Angono Art
Before Botong, Nemiranda, the Blanco family, and Perdigon Vocalan, there were the lesser known Angono artists such as Moises Villaluz, Pedro Piñon, and Senson. They were the artistic ancestors of Angono artists. However, it was Botong who appeared to be a notable Angono artists since he was awarded the National Artist for the Visual Arts award in 1973.
The least known fact among Botong’s achievements is his discovery of the Angono Petroglyphs. It is considered the prehistoric roots of Angono art. Botong discovered the rock engravings at the borderline of Binagonan and Angono in 1965. It features 127 drawings of human and animal figures. The engravings are clues of the past that led historians to a vivid picture of the artistic community in Rizal Province.
If the petroglyph accounts prehistoric activities, Botong’s murals were depiction of Philippine history, legends and myths, Angono fishermen, and household activities, executed with bold strokes of folk colors. Black and red colors were his favorites. He stayed in the coastal community of Angono where he found his inspiration of an authentic Filipino lifestyle and tradition.
He is considered the greatest muralist of Philippine art history. His talent first brought attention to the international community when he made a mural for the 1953 International Fair held in Manila. Its theme vastly covered the Philippine history in 500 years, from Malakas and Maganda to the presidency of Elpidio Quirino.
Botong was still unknown at that time so to see his mural on plywood, which was a rarity, was nothing special. It was dismantled, not to be found until now. Only when he became a national artist that collectors of Botong artworks are scurrying to find whatever the mural left. If ever there is one, it will surely cost them bigtime.
Slowly gaining recognition, Botong was commissioned to create sprawling murals for Manila Hotel, Manila City Hall, Philippines General Hospital, Sto. Domingo Church, and Jai Alai Building.
Although Botong came from the Fernand Amorsolo-led conservative school, he joined Victorio Edades and Galo Ocampo who formed “The Triumvirate” to introduce modernism into Philippine art. As the triumvirate, they created murals for the Capitol Theater, Golden Gate Exposition, the State Theater, and the private residences of President Manuel Quezon, Ernesto Rufino, and Vicente Rufino.
Art critic Leo Benesa described the features of a Botong piece in his essay “The Master from Angono” posted in the website of NCAA. He wrote, “Botong would probably be the most difficult to fake or to mimic in paint. Beside the works of the Angono master, those of his followers look awkward in figuration, or garish in coloration. His watercolors were done spontaneously, and where the brush hesitates, or stops in places, resumes, stops again, etc., you have some reason to wonder whether or not the work is authentic.”
‘Art tourism is private initiative’
Botong died on March 31, 1969 while working on his last piece “Kamote Diggers”. Since then, younger artists, including Nemiranda, has launched projects to sustain Angono art. However, these initiatives are all coming from the artists’ pockets. The local government provides the advertising needed, but there is no public museum or cultural center yet that an “Art Capital of the Philippines” should supposedly have.
“All that tourists see here are private initiative. Can you find the local government initiative? No museum, no cultural center. I am saying they can easily build the gymnasium. Gymnasium sprouts like a mushroom everywhere in every barangay. Why not build a museum and cultural center?” Nemiranda asked in Tagalog.
“Primarily, I am the first one affected because I live here and I organize the event. You really have to dig from your own pocket. To me, I don’t get tired of doing these things. That’s our passion. [I’ll carry the expenses] Just to keep art alive. Someone has to lead,” he added.
For now, Nemiranda and his groups arrange exhibitions in different parts of the country when it cannot be done in his hometown. When there’s a chance, he would invite as many artists possible from different parts of the country to display their works in a single event. Above all, he wants his exhibition projects to be done free of charge.
“Sometimes it happened in Angono, asking for 5 pesos, I objected it. I said, ‘What are we doing here? Are we teaching them [to appreciate art] or what? We are in Angono. Profit-making should be done in Manila, not here in our place. We are teaching, we are motivating, why would we charge? We don’t do it to educate the youth to appreciate art. In the future, when they became successful in life, they would collect paintings,” he said.
Walking towards the entrance, he said that exhibitions in Manila should likewise be open to public. He said exhibitions such as the ManilArt should be celebrated out in the public since they are given government fund. His art house charge visitors because it is a private property and not government-funded.
After the tour and interview, he led us back to the restaurant. A young man looking in his early 20’s called Nemiranda’s attention and showed up something in his smartphone. Nemiranda introduced him as one of his students working on an art competition in Rizal province. Nemiranda was easily pleased, and it didn’t mean he has a shallow taste for composition. His goal is to improve and encourage the artists.
Just then, he left us by ourselves in the restaurant to pay our bill. It was Sunday afternoon. Perhaps it would be the only time for a rest after his numerous tours and interviews. He would be back the day after to expand his art house upwards.