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LEO BENESA

     You would expect most octogenarian Filipinos to just sit around watching the sun set, living in the moonlight of past achievements if they happen to be men of prominence. But painter and Davao resident Victorio Edades – at 83 (his age in 1979 – ed.)- not only plays tennis every day but has just finished a painting of mural proportions called Kasaysayan for a Manila bank on the theme of racial unity in diversity.

To be sure, he still has to go beyond Pablo Picasso who up to his death at age 92 had kept on painting. And the Filipino artist in all likelihood will probably do just that, as his teeth are all intact and his painting hand is very firm because of his tennis playing.

All you have to do to know this is shake hands with him and you will realize that a faltering brushwork will be the least of his worries as a painter.

The huge painting (9 by 18 feet, 1979) that he has done shows no such work hesitations of the brush, or of the creative imagination that was behind the work. It is true that the painting does not exude the same ruggedness of the highly controversial works that he exhibited in 1928, the year he returned from abroad to launch the modern art movement here.
This is specially true of one canvas, The Builders, now a collection of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The debates that this work sparked off on the issues of beauty and distortion are now part of Philippine art history.

People who are familiar with The Builders will be surprised to see two figures from that painting resurrected in this new one in the middle of the the pictorial space, outlined against the sky but bent over their task in a quarry as in the original painting.
In fact the work recapitulates many of the themes and motifs that have obsessed Edades during the last 50 years. The Spanish man-of-war on the right side with the cross on its front is a transcription from an old mural which was destroyed during the Pacific War. Balancing the Spanish ship, which at the same time represents the Christian faith, is a mosque in the left background representing the other faith that has influenced the worldview of the Filipino through the centuries, namely, Islam.

These two experiences in turn are represented by the two central women in the foreground, a Muslim Filipina and a Christian Filipina in characteristic costumes. They are flanked by ethnic types and symbolizing still another side of our racial ethos, the animistic.

During the latter years Edades has been “indigenizing” the subject of his paintings. The Ubo and the Manobo, who live in the mountains of Mindanao, were the subjects of some of the paintings in his 1976 show at the Metro Gallery. The show also included early paintings borrowed from collectors.

The present work may be said to have been foreshadowed by a canvas he did in 1978 entitled Demoiselles D’avao, presenting cultural types together with the same time looks back to Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles d’Avignonin its structural iconoclasm.
Both Desmoiselles D’avao and his 1979 work strive to dramatize the theme and vision of cultural identity. The mural is more explicit in its allegory, with the added element of nation-building as depicted by the quarry figures, mentioned earlier as borrowed from The Builders.

Victorio Edades was born of farming folk in Pangasinan. As a young man he spent nine years in the United States working for his degrees in architecture and fine arts, and in the salmon canneries of Alaska. While in the United States he met and married Jean Garrott with whom he has an only child, Joan, who also paints. Edades taught art for several years at the University of Santo Tomas where he influenced a number of young painters like Norma Belleza and Jaime de Guzman. The family transferred to Davao some years back.

In recognition of his pioneering efforts in promoting the cause of modern art in this country, the government conferred the title of National Artist on Edades in 1976. Art historians acclaim him as the Father of Philippine modern art in the field of painting.

Reference/s:
From the NCCA-published book by Benesa – What is Philippine about Philippine Art? and Other Essays (originally from Weekend, September 21, 1979, p. 4). For inquiries on the book, contact Glenn Maboloc of Public Affairs at 527-2192 local 614 or email address paid@ncca.gov.ph. Available also at all National Bookstores.
About the Author:
Leo Benesa is a poet, essayist, and above all, a professional art critic. His works in art criticism include his column for the Weekend of Daily Express. He was one of the founders of the International Association of Art Critics. Among his books are Joya Drawings (1975), Galo B. Ocampo: 50 Years of Art, The Printmakers (1975), The Art of Fine Prints: A View of 25 Years (1980), and Okir: The Epiphany of Philippine Graphic Art (1981).