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Monday, January 26, 2009

Malang: Is it Time to Confer the National Artist Award?

I did not exactly know that Mauro Malang Santos has not been awarded a National Artist award (for Visual Arts) yet. I might have known it but I might have forgotten about it. So I searched on Wikipedia the list of National Artist awardees for the different categories. Here is the list for the Visual Arts:

Indeed, Malang is not yet on the list. But here is an interesting Editorial published in Manila Times on Monday, January 26, 2009.

[EDITORIAL]

Something of an Injustice – to Malang and the Public

For about a decade now, the arbiters of whom to confer the title “National Artist” have ignored the painter Mauro Malang Santos. Not only does Malang have a substantial body of works, which critics and art experts here and abroad have lauded as great art. He has also served the nation both as an excellent artist who has inspired and helped younger artists to develop their talent and and as a propagator of art appreciation among the masses.

One of the nationalistic deeds of Malang was organizing in 1966—together with other prominent painters—the “Art for the Masses” project. Through this project, something that had never been done before in this country happened: Malang’s and his fellow artists’ paintings, in compressed form or in slices of details, became available to a wider audience as cheap silkscreen prints.


Praises from Outstanding Filipinos

Here are some of the praises Malang has received, through the years, from outstanding Filipinos:

The artist, art critic, art historian, scholar and author Alfredo Roces said of Malang when the latter was just beginning to show his paintings to audiences in the 60s: “Malang has more than a cartoonist’s talent. He has revealed a depth and a dimension far beyond a mere illustrator. He is a painter.”

The art collector, critic and author Juan T. Gatbonton wrote of Malang’s work in the 1970s: “Malang paints lyrical semi-abstracts that express his almost religious joy of living.”

Artist and critic Cid Reyes commenting on Malang’s work in the 90s said, “ . . .There is only one artist who, by popular acclaim, remains—as the song goes—top of the heap, a No. 1. The honor goes to the artist better known by the single moniker Malang, like the megastar of Philippine show biz.”

Author, art educator and editor Susan de Guzman, writing of Malang at the start of the millennium, said: “ . . . Malang is acknowledged as a best seller. His 70th-birthday exhibit established a record when all 70 paintings in it were snapped up by eager buyers on opening night.”

Critics praise his work but Malang is a people’s idol as an artist. A listing of his many one-man exhibits, participation in group shows—here and abroad—number hundreds. So have his art appreciation projects, including his funding of Art Manila, a publication that regularly presented not just the latest work of arrived artists but also the works of young Filipinos.


A Model of Industriousness

Apart from his brilliant creativity, Malang is also a model of industriousness. Malang began his career largely self-taught and as an illustrator and newspaper cartoonist—an honored tradition in our country, where many painters started their apprenticeship in commercial crafts.

As a boy of 10, Malang took informal, evening lessons from a neighbor-painter. As a youth, to earn his weekly allowance, he painted genre scenes on fans made of coconut-palm fronds. After high school Malang went to the UP College of Fine Arts but dropped out after three months. Besides this, Malang has had no other formal art training. To make up, he read art books voraciously and patiently plodded the museums of Japan, the United States and Europe to familiarize himself with the greatest artists of the world.

He made a name as a benign satirist of middle-class manners (in Kosme the Cop, Retired) and a first-rate visual punster (Chain-Gang Charlie), in cartoons he produced for the Manila Chronicle newspaper. Then Malang started to transcend the cartoonist’s world and entered a different plane of sensibility. His first paintings were vignettes of the folk-culture of Manila. He invested the workday world of the city poor with an unlikely gaiety and decorative charm that brought out that aspect of the Filipino character that often perplexes foreigners who expect poverty to be nothing but grim and poor people to be drowning in despair. Malang’s exuberant style and his characteristic dash of whimsy made even the squalid squatter slums seem festive.

Though recognition came early, Malang refused to rush his progress toward serious art. He did not hold his first one-man show until 1962, when he was 34. Malang’s art progressively became less and less anecdotal and more and more abstract. To his warm and often intense palette, he added the rich colors of night. Somberness entered his range of vision. Even then, his works continue to be unmistakably that of Malang the Filipino—works that, even in twilight, holds the warmth of the tropic sun, the blue of the luminous horizon, the peaked roofs of colonial churches and the melancholy gracefulness of the Filipina woman.


Malang at Twilight

Malang turned 81 last week. In the book Malang at 80, which was published last year, J. T. Gatbonton tells us of Malang and him remembering the art critic Robert Hughes recalling that in the French master’s last year, “Picasso’s production took on a manic obsessive quality, as though the creative art could forestall death.”

Gatbonton writes: “Hughes thinks Picasso painted to forestall death; Malang feels the 20th century master used up to the fullest his allotted time on earth. ‘Picasso painted until the end,’ Malang muses, ‘Then he just turned off the light.’ The painter at twilight is slowing down more serenely.”

It is something of an injustice–both to Malang and the public that loves him—not to give him the National Artist award.


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To know more about the criteria of being a National Artist, click here.

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