So long, dear Dodong
Dodong Arellano shows a double spread from his book that features the large oil painting “Galloping Horses,” now in the collection of Marily Orosa.
So long, dear Dodong
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - July 27, 2020 - 12:00am

Lost another lifelong friend over a week ago. Salvador “Dodong” Arellano, foremost equine and gamefowl painter, passed away in Roxas City where he had been vacationing for some time with his sister Yuyang. The lockdown had prevented him from returning to his wife Monina and their family in Glendale, USA.

I’ve written about his exemplary art, which includes oil portraits and nudes in watercolor, several times in the past, and had provided the text for the coffee-table book, Salvador Arellano: Gamefowl Art & Other Works.

Prominent collectors included royalty from UK and Brunei, Margaret Thatcher, American jockey Willie Shoemaker, Sylvester Stallone and old Manila families. His last local exhibit was organized by Galerie Joaquin at Rockwell Building in 2017. Examples of his equestrian art hang at Manila Polo Club.

Not as known even among his friends was how Dodong could also wield a pen for excellent prose. Following are excerpts from a lengthy memoir piece he wrote, titled “A Boyhood in San Juan.”

* * *

It was in the best of times, in a silence of pastures and green land. My father, the architect-painter Juan M. Arellano, was born in the Tondo district of Manila in 1888. He was schooled at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila that was founded by Jesuits in 1595, eight years old when Jose Rizal was condemned to death in 1896... He made his home in this town of San Juan in the early 1900s till his death in 1960 when he was 72.

The eldest of five siblings, I was born in 1941 to a mother with a name not unlike his, Juanita, surnamed Claro, a kind and simple woman from Lipa in Batangas who was much younger than he... (They) lived with each other until he died, as enduring life partners, no less than that.

... Our living quarters adjoined his painting studio with tall lead-paned windows to admit as much of daylight... This sanctum served as my father’s principal work area as well, a hive of architects, draftsmen and artisans working on blueprinted plans and plaster-cast scale models for his national building projects.

... Well past his prime, retired with laurels from his building profession and minor trophies from golf, Papa painted in that sun-filled studio every day, well loved and nourished with steaming soup from my mother that she had cooked for lunch, with the choicest parts like the tender liver and heart if it was chicken soup, the cream of a raw egg, and the variously small embryonic eggs as well if the fat hen had any.

As painter, he was trained in that discipline by Filipino Masters Fabian de la Rosa, Toribio Antillion and Lorenzo Guerrero, a relation who had also instructed the fiery artist Juan Luna.

... So I grew up in that gothic moorish enclave of storied walls and tended lawns, learning early of the larger world beyond San Juan.

... I would sleep in those grounds in those boyhood times, camped out at night as a pretend cowboy or Indian, Apache or Sioux but more often as an errant son who had not come home for days, lying in a bed of fragrant pine needles... Tethered close by was my stallion, the noble Ebony, entirely black and thoroughbred no less, a gift from the patriarch for completing my elementary schooling. I would have a wood fire to read by, Tasty bread, and a can of Hunt's pork and beans. And lurking there, always, were malevolent intimations of the holy terrors, hair-raisers, witches and ghouls that owned and wandered those grounds at night... Still, there was no finer place for a boy to sleep.

... And there as well was the jovial Italian sculptor, Signor Monti, with a pronounced nose and thinning hair who worked with my father in his building projects. When he found time, at my father's behest, he had tutored me about the human form in wires and clay. “Porcelino bello!" he would exclaim in an outburst of Sicilian mirth, referring to me there, I found later, as a piglet. That gentle man had accomplished the statuary in the home gardens, as those heroic figures, filigreed scrolls and arabesques in the facades of government buildings that my father had built in the national capital...

Visitors who called at home included the Philippine Presidents Quirino and Magsaysay — courteous men of honor in sharkskin americanas who were gracious to my mother, whose heels, according to my ever-observant old man who was also a professed Free Mason, were tinged with pinks of the makopa fruit. And once, Indonesia's own Bung Karno strolling briskly across the lawns, whatever was he doing there? Dashing and handsome in person, he wore his same khaki military uniform and brimless hat with a single tassel just like in the RKO news pictures. Of course I had already met His Excellency in that room above the garage. In that privacy, we had shared the company of the alluring Japonesa, Dewi...

... Coming to call as well to pay homage to Don Juan, and indeed he was called that, were artist painters like the handsome son and pretty daughter of the late Fernando Amorsolo, and the strapping figure of Botong Francisco... I had also met the elderly Guillermo Tolentino when my father visited him with me in tow. This unsurpassed Filipino artist, bespectacled with granny glasses and of diminutive physical stature, seemed a modest person who was quite unlike my father's more effusive friends. I had sensed a kindred fellowship, a comfortable respect between them, during their quiet conversation in the sculptor's home.

... I learned of his other friendships long after he was gone, as that with General Carlos Romulo some three years before his own passing in the mid-’80s. I was at his “Kasiyahan” home one evening with his grandson while he was having a haircut in his own barber’s chair. "Arellano," he muttered with a start (I thought he was asleep), “your father and I went to the Santa Ana kabaret." That lucid recollection, formed from the dimmest corner of his memories, lit his eyes with warm pleasure and I was glad for the small joy that it had given him. The first exhibit of my paintings was held in this home graced by Manila's diplomatic corps and elite society, invited by his wife and daughter-in-law in behalf of the General. He had stayed on, well past midnight in his infirmed age and I had thanked him again. He answered absently from a faraway place he had yet to visit: "I am doing this for Johnnie." And there, so far removed from the past, I longed for my father again.

... A watercolor pastoral by Juan Arellano hangs in a wall of this distant place where I live now. It may describe these random recollections best. Our family is portrayed there with my mother beside him. It is a completed thought, not a croquis of a passing notion put to paper, but a mortal man’s testament to an idyllic life in a nurturing land once upon a time. Why not, it truly did exist. The painting is signed, to count the artist as one more romantic interpreter of this wistful timeless concept. No date is inscribed beside his name but I find no fault or need for that.

To this day, I continue to paint as my father did before me, with no abiding concept of my own to define and with no clear recollection if he had encouraged this early compulsion in me. As my own five-year-old son does now, sprawled on the floor there, drawing and drawing with that same compelling urgency since he could wield pencil or brush. Luis, my glorious last child whom I will not see grown to manhood; named after his great-grandfather and my late brother, Boloy; born to a kind and simple woman much younger than I with heels tinged with pinks of the makopa fruit.

I call him by that name only. Luis. That will suffice. And I look at him there and ask sometimes, you know, is his grandpa smiling down at this little boy? (California, 2003)

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