The NCCA Gallery presents “Floral Splendor,” a bouquet of paintings done by an all-woman group of artists in celebration of National Women’s Month this March.

By Cid Reyes

“Bulaklak…kay ganda ng bulaklak…dulot s’atin ay galak…” – George Canseco

“Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.” – Gerard de Nerval

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” – Henri Matisse

Take it from the founder of Impressionism, Claude Monet: “I must have flowers, always and always!”

floral splendour ncca gallery

Indeed: which living creature, of whatever age, in whatever place on God’s beautiful earth, has not succumbed to flowers’ uplifting beauty and gloriousness, seduced by their vibrant and vivacious colors? Throughout the ages, since antiquity, flowers have been an everlasting presence in the handiworks of mankind – from the ancient Egyptian papyrus paintings and ceramics, the mille-fleurs, or “thousand flowers” tapestries, the Medieval illuminated manuscripts, the Italian Renaissance mythological paintings of Sandro Botticelli, the 16th century Dutch and Flemish floral arrangements, the waterlilies of Monet and the sunflowers of Van Gogh, down to the 20th century works of Georgia O’Keefe and the Pop silkscreen paintings of Andy Warhol.

Closer to home, our very own Juvenal Sanso painted, until the twilight of his years, his own distinctive flowers. Like Monet, Sanso, ever the prolific artist, has shown by the plenitude of his lifeworks, that he must have flowers, always and always.

Inspired by the flower’s timeless appeal and allure, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) presents “Floral Splendor,” a bouquet of paintings done by an all-woman group of artists.

Participating artists are Tet Aligaen, Naomi Banal, Flor Baradi, Remy Boquiren, Chie Cruz, Addie Cukingnan, Inka Madera, Sheila Tiangco, Lydia Velasco, and Melissa Villasenor.

Tet Aligaen

“As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world.” – Buddha

More than any flower, the lotus is transfixed in the history of Buddhism and Hinduism. The lotus is even mentioned in the Bible, in the book of Job. An aquatic plant, it is rich in symbolism, representing the purity of body, speech, and mind. It is said that the Buddha could walk anywhere and forthwith, lotus blossoms will appear. The Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi wrote: “I love the lotus because while growing from the mud it is unstained.” India and Vietnam adopted the lotus as their national flower. Steeped in murky waters and mud but nonetheless rising out clean and pure, the lotus emerges as a theatrical spectacle of nature.

As the water lily was to the French Impressionist Monet, so is the lotus for artist Tet Aligaen. She has christened her lotus paintings by the time of day in which the lotus, having preened the whole day long, commences to enfold itself into the darkness of twilight. Thus, the works are caught at a tender moment, at the day’s last gleaming.

More impressively, Aligaen has even transfigured the lotus into a piece of copper sculpture: a large scale long-stemmed flower lying supine, reposeful,  on a table top.

Naomi Banal

“No Ordinary Flower” is how Naomi Banal titled her floral works. “Inspired by the simplicity of pressed flowers” is where their origin lies. Naomi Banal essentializes her subject by reducing its form to its most arresting design: the petals flaring out into a corolla, the cluster itself radiating into abstract shapes, impervious to any defining botanical species. Thus unnamed, Naomi’s flowers are unconstrained, uninhibited, able to float in undetermined space, awash with the wettest of pigments, flooding and bleeding into each other, their fluidity restrained only by the artist’s designing intelligence. Thus treated as abstraction, Banal’s flowers have been set abloom, radiantly inflorescent.

Flor Baradi

In a brazen volte face stroke, Flor Baradi’s unexpectedly rejected color in her works, in effect denying the charisma of chroma – the propulsive potency of the image.  (Can one even imagine a black and white rainbow?)  After all, is it not color that is the crucial imperative which the very subject demands of every artist? To visualize a flower purely in starkest black and white, in pen and ink, divorced from the very source of its allure,  is not an act of treachery and betrayal, but is, in fact, one of unapologetic homage to the subject. By her strict observance of a floral form, Baradi has become more sensitively aware of the act of drawing, realizing that she has indeed found her ideal vantage point of admiration and meditation of her subject.

Remy Boquiren

In triptych format, Remy Boquiren arrays the theme of the classic “Three Graces.” Based on Greek mythology, it celebrates the three daughters of the god Zeus and Eurynone, namely Aglaia (elegance, brightness), Euphrosyne  (mirth, joyfulness,) and Thalia (youth and beauty. From the famous neo-classical sculpture of Antonio Canova, down to the works of Peter Paul Rubens, Pablo Picasso, and our very own National Artist BenCab, the image of the entwined sisters has charmed us through the centuries. Remy Boquiren is no exception, as evidenced by her own native version where the Three Graces have been transfigured into demure and winsome Filipinas, clad in native attire, and delicately posed amidst a garden abloom with vegetation and flowering plants. The bristling Bird of Paradise, with deep orangey hues, inflects the scene, even as the three Filipinas are each lost in reverie in the lush bosom of Mother Nature.  Another is a Cordilleran maiden rendered in sheer incandescence of light as if she were possessed by the spirit of an ethnic nymph.

Chie Cruz

“A flower is a literal color bouquet, spanning the entire spectrum.  But beyond the obvious visual appeal of vibrant colors, I am fascinated by their formation, with their petals budding outwards from the middle. I find myself so captivated by their minute details. But why do we harvest and cut flowers before they are able to bring forth their seeds? They just wilt and die. It is the flower’s beauty that is the greatest danger to itself. My paintings are my tribute to the tenacity of flowering plants, ever evolving to bring its next generation.”

While some painters may focus on the still beauty of a flower, Chie Cruz engages herself with its fascinating motion, the flowing of petals in a centrifugal display of movement, budding outwards, or wavelike upon each other, or shifting and stirring. She catches their movement in mid-efflorescence as if the flower were hesitating to burst forth, the very expression of modesty and shyness – it will not be rushed – until hastened by the sun and the rich loam, the flower announces its magisterial presence and breath-taking flamboyance, ready to enthrall the viewer. Compositionally, Cruz depicts flowers as a crossbreeding between the representational and the abstract and finds no contradiction in the process.

Addie Cukingnan

The signature floral painting of Addie Cukingnan is a white magnolia nestled around an antique Chinese blue-and-white porcelain vase. An allusion to her Chinese ancestry, the vase itself is a canvas for floral decoration, providing an interesting contrast and parallel, in surface: the smooth polish of the glazed vessel and the pearlescent petals of the magnolia. Essentially, what Cukingnan paints is a still life, a genre of painting familiar visually to the public – an arrangement of inanimate objects on a tabletop – though the audience may not be familiar with its history, dating back to ancient Greco-Roman times. The word is derived from the Dutch stilleven.  Not surprisingly, flower painting flourished in the Dutch-Flemish countries, especially in the sixteenth century.

The artist paints in the silence and solitude of her studio in Tanay, Rizal. Painting still lifes is for the artist a solacing activity.  With her quietly considered floral works, Cukingnan brings to mind the opening words of Desiderata: “Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” Addie Cukingnan paints the stillness of her magnolias and Chinese vases.

Inka Madera

“As an artist, I tend to navigate the physicality of my subject. To me, the real beauty of a flower relies on its relation to human experiences and perception. I imagine the possibilities of altered realities to bring it into a new illuminated imagery where coexistence is evident. The flower blooms and withers, and so doI I!”

Inka Madera’s inspiration is the flower Amaryllis Belladona. The very name sings a seductive siren song. But Madera warns: “It is beautiful, yet a poisonous one.” And what a calamitous end lies in store for the innocent viewer, a very victim of a fatal yearning. And such sheer allusions to Snow White’s poisoned apple, or for Christian Dior’s luxe potent perfume. Succumb to Madera’s floral image: the toxic belladonna…the deadly nightshade…

Sheila Tiangco

The solidity of Sheila Tiangco’s floral work comes from her utmost respect for the eloquent patterns of her lines upon which she has total control. The viewer senses that the artist had the whole vision of the flower already realized even prior to the first moment’s touch of the brush on the canvas. The approach is craftsmanly without being turgidly inflexible, without looking “made to order” by nature. The artist is never seduced by a flower’s vaunted power to intoxicate the aesthetic senses, which, when pitched to an over-the-top voltage, will reach a level of visual shrillness that can instantly negate the delight and charm, the lure and enchantment we expect from a floral image.

Lydia Velasco

“I paint because there is in my soul love and caring. I want to show the inner strength of a woman, and to give beauty to life.”

The floral works of Lydia Velasco are inevitably, irresistibly, colored, in many senses of the word, by her paintings of women. This writer once observed: “Perhaps the best compliment one can give the women paintings of Lydia Cruz {as she then signed her works} is to say that they were painted by a man. But before the feminists start pelting us with palette knives, the statement simply means that the works do not betray the gender of the artist.”  Indeed, in Velasco’s works, the flowers never really were a dominant presence. Writers have often commented on the “masculine” quality of her women, with their massively rendered physiognomy. Thus, in the work that represents the artist in the show, the flower asserts its presence, in a decidedly unfrilly-fashion. Like a gaping orifice, with its quaking ardor and avidity,  Velasco’s flower beckons the viewer, a voluptuary, into a pleasurable aesthetic paradise. (The flower, after all, is the plant’s reproductive structure, effecting pollination.) The women of Velasco intermingling with a flower is the very sight of sexuality and spirituality. From these universal forces is distilled the inner strength of a Velasco woman.

Melissa Villasenor

It is commonplace to assume that an artist chooses a particular flower as the central focus of her art, responding to its renowned, peculiar, or enchanting attribute. To be sure, distinct floral forms and colors will appeal as a particular challenge to an artist.  But may it also be said, rather mystifyingly, that it is the flower itself that chooses the artist, insinuating itself in the subconscious through memories that could be dredged in the artist’s childhood and youth? Such things as places, experiences, associations, even scents, may surface unbidden, triggering an unexpected impulse in the artist.

For Melissa Villasenor, the bougainvillea is the flower of profusion, a most appropriate claim as the word derives from the Latin profusionem, meaning “a pouring out.” Indeed, the bougainvillea proliferates in an outpouring of paper-thin petals, transparencies of light emitting as it were from the flower’s epidermis. Like a humongous bouquet, the clusters of petals are massed together in an explosion of color. Furthermore, the bougainvillea’s lack of self-preciousness is especially appealing: it is to be found in unabashed plenitude on side roads, walls, rooftops and metal drums filled with soil. Thus blooming in vivacious shades of red, orange, pink, and white, the lush and lavish bougainvillea bursts in resplendence in the artist’s canvases.

Literally, a stamp of approval is the printing of Melissa Villasenor’s “Pink Bougainvillea” as a Philippine postal stamp.

Floral Splendour is open to the public from Mondays to Sundays, March 11 to April 3, 2019 at NCCA Gallery, 633 Gen. Luna St., Intramuros Manila ( at the back of San Agustin Church)

For inquiries, you may reach us at 527-2192 loc. 324 & 328 or email us at

Cid Reyes is the author of choice of National Artists Arturo Luz, BenCab, J. Elizalde Navarro, and Napoleon V. Abueva. He received a “Best in Art Criticism” Award from the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP). In 2015, he was chosen as the “Most Outstanding Kapampangan in the Arts.” An accomplished artist himself, Reyes has held 20 solo exhibitions.