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Philippines’ First National Artist

Each one of us has been given a set of skills and talents. It's up to us to find them and enrich every gift. These, matched with the right attitude and character can shape our destiny.

Do you know who the first Philippine National Artist is? A former cartoonist at the Philippine Free Press, The Independent - then popular newspapers, he was awarded such for his strength in painting in 1972. Fernando Amorsolo, born on May 30, 1982 in Paco, Manila was given the distinction of being the first Philippine National Artist.

Antipolo Fiesta

He created the Lipang Kalabaw and Telembang in order to sustain his education for theirs was a simple family. They were originally from Daet, Camarines Norte, but when his father passed away, his mom, along with four siblings, moved to Manila. They stayed with their uncle named Don Fabian de la Rosa who influenced him to pursue painting.

As early as age 13, Amorsolo were already creating impressive paintings. His story was inspiring for it was a story of hard work and determination, supporting one's self to attend school which included Liceo de Manila, and later on, University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts. One story was that of his mom, who sews for a living. He would help raise money by selling painted mail cards costing 10 centavos each.

He was able to travel to Spain, where he was able to study the techniques of other masters and therefore perfect his unique style. A style which depicted his love for the simple rural life for which he is most well-known.

What I like most about Amorsolo's story is the fact that despite his success and great skills, he maintained a very humble nature - in fact, shy. There was a story that when he was in Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, which took him in as an instructor upon seeing his works he submitted for the entrance exam - a banquet was held in his honor. When Amorsolo saw the number of guests present, he excused himself to the men's room and went back to his room.

Another unique and a trait I wish present in Filipinos today, Amorsolo, despite his exposure to Western influences, retained his Filipino consciousness. He was drawn more towards the gentle rolling hills and verdant rice fields of the Philippines rather than the cosmopolitan world of Europe’s proud cities. Amorsolo’s penchant for depicting an idealized world is viewed by his critics as the work of someone who has never experienced pain in his life, which was not true for during his childhood years, his brother was forced to join the rebel groups fighting the Spaniards in the Philippines. His brother was later on found dead hanging on a bamboo pole, killed by Spaniards. Amorsolo's choice to paint lively and vibrant images was a conscious effort to hang on to what is pure and good.

Coming back from his education abroad, he put up his own studio where many trooped to get a hold of his creations. When World War II came, his paintings of the sunny farm landscapes were replaced with his thoughts about war. He portrayed despair, not with an emotional outpouring of grief. In fact, it was very rare that a person in his paintings would be depicted screaming with rage or wailing in intense displays of emotion. Tragedy was portrayed through subtle means. In one of his more famous works, a woman is pictured clutching her veil while kneeling in front of her dead son --- apparently a guerilla soldier killed during a battle. The woman is looking up to the sky with a calm look of sorrow on her face. The subtle and restrained depiction proved to be a more powerful portrayal as the woman’s tearless eyes conveyed a more intense form of pain. It communicated to the viewer the deep sense of loss a mother feels when her child is taken away from her. On the flip side, men were represented not with expressions of rage but with looks of defiance. In his piece entitled Defensa de Honor, the man protecting the woman from being raped by a Japanese soldier had a determined but subdued expression. This was conveyed by the fiery expression in his eyes and the slight but firm downward turn of the corners of his mouth. Amidst the tragedy of the war, Amorsolo still inserted a hint of hope personified by the implied resistance of his characters to the occupying Japanese forces. His wartime paintings are considered among his finest work and were exhibited at Malacanang Palace in 1948.

In the period after the war, the artist resumed his rudely interrupted career. The next two decades saw the blossoming of Amorsolo’s art. He went back to painting the bright sun-drenched countryside scenes for which he was most well-known. He reached the peak of his popularity in the late 1940’s and 1950’s garnering numerous awards and citations along the way. Amorsolo was widely recognized as the most influential artist of his time.

I like very much how his biography, published at Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation summed up his life and contribution:
He was shy, innocent, and most importantly pure. These traits spilled over onto his canvas. It was not because Amorsolo was not capable of recognizing the dark side of society. He had his share of heartbreak and disappointment in his life but he deliberately isolated himself from these and chose to portray the bright side of the world. Not a shred of wickedness permeated his character and as a result his art is the purest manifestation of beauty. The basic desire to identify with what is good is what people inherently have in common with the artist. It is for this legacy that Amorsolo will be most fondly remembered.
He chose the positive side, while himself shining as a bright inspiration of hard work and excellence. And for this, the country and all the Filipinos look up to this great man of talent and heart.


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