Ed Castrillo: Icon and iconoclast
() - April 28, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - His name might not ring a bell to the younger generation of Pinoys too dismally, almost xenocentrically, immersed in foreign pop culture, but artist Eduardo Castrillo remains a force to be reckoned with in the local — and international as well — art scene.

A prolific sculptor and designer, Ed was once touted as a rebel for refusing to associate his work with western ideals. In an interview during his younger years, Ed declared that he has never been greatly influenced by any western artist. And as the John the Baptist of the local arts scene — a voice crying out in the wilderness — Ed’s past statement still reflects his present artistic direction, even after more than 40 years of creating works that are as incomparable as the character that he is.

A Diamond In The Rough

For the many Filipinos who thirst for drama, Ed’s youth is one entertaining story: the artist was born on Oct. 31, a day when the Christian (and pagan) world traditionally commemorated the dead. While still an infant, his mother Magdalena de los Santos passed away, damning him to an unhappy childhood in the care of a less-than-motherly stepmother. From there, armed with a fertile imagination, he began to build his own world — drawing figures on notebooks and fashioning his own toys from junk.

His blossoming love for art led him to join a group of musicians during his high school years, while helping his father, Santiago Castrillo, to create the traditional papier-mâché nativity scene for the community during Christmas. However, teenage depression made the young Ed’s life difficult (he attempted to kill himself thrice.) His family then had him committed to the guidance of the Don Bosco brothers, where Ed formally learned craftsmanship techniques, creating bronze sculptures for religious purposes.

Eduardo Castrillo: A man who shapes history, a giant in the Philippine sculptural scene.

With the support of a benefactor, Ed enrolled in the Fine Arts program of the University of Sto. Tomas. However, Ed did not choose to lead the easy life from then on; instead, he took odd jobs here and there — rewinding motors at an electrical shop, repairing typewriters at Smith Bell & Co., operating elevators at an office in Escolta, and illustrating comics on the side.

In 1964, a fateful meeting with Levy Hermanos, a European Swiss jewelry designer and owner of the famed Estrella del Norte, provided the perfect opportunity for the unruly young boy to redeem himself and finally forge his path as one of the world’s most progressive sculptors. Asked to design jewelry on the spot by Hermanos, Ed exceeded the designer’s expectations by producing seven studies, in full color, all in 20 minutes, proving that there was pure genius hidden underneath the seemingly unruly lad.

Boldly Beyond The Mold

The year 1966 was the one that shattered the status quo.

The contemporary arts scene was aghast — how could they box Ed into the categories that they had grown comfortable in? They couldn’t, and this was what troubled them most. He was avant-garde in the truest sense, being the country’s forerunner of all-metal sculptures married with plexiglass, ivory, wood, even neon! He forged a name for himself as a creator-slash-explorer, unafraid to experiment with media that most artists refused to use.

He boldly pushed to break free from the boring — skirting on the fringes of what traditionalists of the day frowned upon and considered as tacky and cheap — to form a style that was originally his, which would ultimately gain for him acclaim from around the world.

Despite the numerous accolades, of which include the Araw ng Maynila Centennial Award and the Republic Cultural Heritage Award, Ed remains active in the scene, refusing to let the pioneering spirit in him be swallowed by the tide of mediocrity.

Ed Castrillo started out as a jewelry designer when he met European Swiss jewelry designer and storeowner Levy Hermanos in 1964. This fateful meeting forged his path as one of the world’s most progressive sculptors.

“True artists are lovers and love to create,” the artist wistfully notes, adding: “I have so many ideas and forms  in my mind. I don’t want to be stagnant and I always have the courage to create without fear.”

Recently, Ed has undertaken a project for the Philippine government for Manila 2012: the Philippine hosting of the Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Board of Governors on May 2 to 5. To be attended by 4,000 delegates from 67 member countries of the ADB, Manila 2012 is seen as an opportunity for the country to showcase the best of the Philippines, including its people’s talents. Simultaneous to the business meetings happening at the Philippine International Convention Center, the host country will be holding a Philippine Corporate Investment Pavilion at the SMX Convention Center, where Ed’s new structural panels will be displayed.

“I am glad to be a part of this patriotic endeavor,” he says. “We have seen a lot of Philippine participation in international fairs and expo; and most are embarrassments and do not speak or aren’t representative of our fine national traits. Visual-global exhibits showcase the current and future vision of a given race, anchoring on their historical and cultural roots done by the most outstanding group of creative professionals.”

He plans to disrupt this trend with his latest piece. “Like any artwork I have created in my artistic profession, I pour my entire being into it. That’s what makes it so special. It’s living in the moment and showcasing the God-given talent — be it a brief moment. An art piece like this can be placed and appreciated anywhere.”

And for an instant, we again behold the glint of the avant-garde that Ed is — a man whose name deserves to resound throughout generations for his role in transforming modern Philippine art. 

A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH ANNUAL MEETING OF THE ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK BOARD OF GOVERNORS BOLDLY BEYOND THE MOLD EDUARDO CASTRILLO EUROPEAN SWISS LEVY HERMANOS MDASH
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