Story behind Blanco’s paintings
Story behind Blanco’s paintings
Nenet Galang-Pereña (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Two legends from the province of Rizal cross paths at the UST Museum this month: The charismatic political career of Rizal’s former First District Rep. lawyer Gilberto Duavit Sr., one-time director and chairman of the Republic Broadcasting System (now GMA Network, Inc.), which comes to life in the paintings of the equally fabled scion of Filipino genius of local color, Maestro Pitok Blanco  Michael Perez Blanco, now holding a solo exhibit in his alma mater.

Considered one of the pillars behind the success of the GMA Network, Cong Bibit, as he is fondly called in Rizal, where the Blancos are also rooted, is a mentor of many of the leaders and public servants of the province, as acknowledged by Gov. Jun Ynares, who writes, “Congressman Duavit comes from an era when leaders are known for two things: The value they place on their word of honor and in the importance they put on the value of pinagsamahan.”

Serendipity that recently, the congressman, who was also a 1973 Constitutional Convention delegate, celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with Vilma Roy, the daughter of the late Sen. Jose Roy of Tarlac because the grace-filled milestone coincides with the theme of Mike’s exhibit: Pagpupugay sa Pamilyang Pilipino.

Rep. Duavit first commissioned Mike for a family portrait with his wife and their grandchildren. Then, in 2005, he published a book titled Wayward Politics: Revolutions and Constitutions and it was around this time that he had initial meetings with Mike about the commissioned paintings for his new residence, for which he did 25 illustrations. Often, Mike would execute preliminary studies for this patron or they would talk about what the painting will depict. “I appreciate that our Congressman respects my freedom  as an artist,” Mike confides.

 When the house he was building in Binangonan was almost done, Cong Bibit summoned Mike and showed him where he wanted a new painting to be a focal point of. They both favored a cheerful subject, a traditional festivity peculiar to the community. Then, the subject veered towards his political career. “He told me stories of what transpires when the campaign period is raging, especially the Miting de Avance, Mike recalls. This is where Mike started to conceptualize his composition: A big assembly where politicians are conferring, waiting for a consensus. At the other end of the gathering are the women who are preparing the repast, including the ubiquitous pulutan after a pig has been slaughtered-typical of any village in the Philippines during an electoral season.

 Eventually, they agreed that two separate paintings be rendered, Miting de Avance and Kapistahan — for which he did three studies before they were finalized.

 When he was preparing the 5 x 10 feet murals, he was intending to include popular presidents allied with the congressman: former Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, with whom he started, and also former Presidents Erap Estrada and Fidel Ramos. But Cong Bibit decided it will be best to relate the painting to their family, hence, patron and painter agreed to put his sons there: Jack and Joel (both representatives) and Gilberto Jr., COO of GMA, who figured in the foreground, backed by the masses. Mike included some politicians from Angono like Berting Samson and Sese Villones. He knows that in such meetings, there’s San Miguel beer aplenty with pulutan, so in his rendition, he included children making fun of an inebriated man. There were folks just keen on eating, while others on listening to the ongoing exchange of ideas.

 In the other painting, titled Kapistahan, Mike included Mrs. Duavit and their daughters-in-law as well as grandchildren, huddled with the barrio women engaged in the various stages of food preparation: Slicing ingredients, stirring viands in large vats and roasting the requisite lechon. All in all, Mike did three paintings with the same dimensions for the Duavit house, taking five months each, enabling him to master painting large canvasses.

 Mike’s favorite in the ensemble is the pastoral Golden Harvest watercolor pencil on board 51 cm x 76 cm, inspired by his own wife Dr. Amie and their three children — Art, Jasmin and Angelica. He reminisces: “Oftentimes, Amie and our children would stay with me in my studio. Although busy with her medical practice, when all her patients are gone, my wife would come home to play with our children. One time, while I was painting, I saw her frolicking with our then eight-month-old daughter, Angel. That was a very heart-warming scene that I desired to capture in my painting. I made the sketch so I will not forget and eventually made the painting, which I set in a field amber in the harvest season. I put bignay berries and other local flowers along with the farmers in the distance as the background of my main subjects, my family. I am trying to show that even a plain and simple bucolic life is enough to give one pleasure, so long as one is with people one loves. The golden harvest in the painting is not the stalks of rice but the happiness from being with one’s own family” — aptly stated by this Literature major, perhaps remembering Khayyam’s Rubaiyat: A book of verses underneath the bough, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and Thou singing in the wilderness, o wilderness is paradise now. 

 Beginning of a New Day is a milestone in Mike’s career, as this marked his decision to hold a one-man exhibit, pushing himself to excel in the footsteps of his father. Set in Batanes, he and his wife astride a carabao pulling a cart where their three children sit, show the artist in great expectation welcoming a new day in his career, filled with hope. Mike further shares:

“I really want to show in my painting the culture and tradition of a place, the flora and fauna, the people in the context of sociology, history and economics.”

 His perspectives are imbued by his rich liberal arts degree from the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters, where he majored in Literature. This discipline instilled in him the importance of characters with which he populates his obra maestras.

Escape to Higher Grounds is part of Mike’s Bicol series, where he studied the contrast of cool and warm colors — a lesson he learned from his father, who also honed him in the contrast of light and dark, or what the masters call chiaroscuro. One is reminded of Maestro Pitok’s 1980 painting Orasyon, showing himself, his wife Loring and two children gathered together in an intimate moment to pray the evening Angelus, which art critic Alice Guilleromo considers of baroque inspiration, “recalling Rembrandt’s use of light in his religious works to convey spirituality and the presence of divine grace.”

 Mike recounts, “I first established the figures on the left side of the painting. This is where the movement of the composition progresses. I included next the evacuees in the cart. I conveyed the tension in the actions as well as facial expressions of the refugees. On the right side, despite the chaos, one sees a boy on carabao back, extending a helping hand to a girl, showing his concern, an innate virtue of Filipinos. The other boy in the beast of burden looks back at the billowing smoke of Mayon Volcano, which if one scrutinizes closely, conjures the image of an angel who, for me, will guide the people through trials.”

 Mike looks back to the Marcos years as a watershed in their art. He and his two older brothers, Glenn and Noel, had to stop schooling to finish murals for the couple in Malacañang (they all graduated in 1987). This is when he felt compelled to excel, a challenge he still hearkens to, as he plans more exhibits in the future both here and abroad.

When not setting up exhibits, Mike runs the family atelier and museum in Angono, and teaches at the Blanco Family Academy. But Maestro Pitok and wife Loring did not only bequeath to their brood of seven their art, but also their magnanimous hearts. Mike devotes one month of each year giving workshops to children in indigent areas.

“It is encouraging how this simple gesture changes their outlook in life, seeing as how there is beauty and hope in the world which they can capture in their paintings, despite the poverty that is their lot,” Mike confesses.

When asked how he would paint a mural for the altar ceiling of a new church built by the Italian congregation, Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate (SHMI), Mike answers with his winsome humble smile, “Perhaps directly on the space madam, as it would be difficult to mount the canvass on a dome.”

One can just imagine his namesake laboring on the Sistine Chapel until his neck grew numb working in an awkward slant from the flat wooden platform on brackets built out from holes in the wall near the top of the windows and his eyes blinded by the pigments splattering on his face. A lofty consolation to us all that both Michaels have sworn to wielding their brushes for the glory of God and His infinite goodness.


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