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The ‘Hall of Fame’ of Filipino Artists |

Sunday Lifestyle

The ‘Hall of Fame’ of Filipino Artists

EXISTENTIAL BLABBER - Kara Ortiga - The Philippine Star
The âHall of Fameâ of Filipino Artists

To paint a portrait of a person is a grueling task. How does one capture the subject in a way that truly encompasses the characteristic of the person? Much more to paint the portrait of an artist; one can imagine the task would be even more daunting.

Yet watercolor artist Ephraim Samson has been doing it for years. Disciplined in his craft, his collection of artist portraits began with some of his friends and early mentors.

Later, it would become a full-blown project. Some artists would agree to sit patiently as their portrait was being rendered. Others who were not available were painted utilizing photos from friends who offered to help complete the collection.

For the book Portraits of Filipino Artists, published by the Crucible Gallery, the list of artists is limited to 68. But it presents a labor of love, an homage to the local artist.

Samson has made his name as a portraitist in watercolor both in the Philippines and abroad. He has won numerous awards for his watercolor work in the US, where he was based with his family in 2001.

In 2004, he made a major milestone: The Elsie May Goodwin Gallery, a gallery of the Stockton Art League founded in 1936, awarded him as one of the six Masters of Media.

In 2005, Samson returned to the Philippines. And this is the time that he decided to create the artists’ portraits.

“I started with my friends, the artists I know — my mentors and contemporaries. The list grew when some art collectors requested a portrait of artists whose art they have, but whose faces they did not recognize. Moving forward, I tried to focus on artists who were active and who flourished from the 1950s onwards. I am hoping I can include more artists in a subsequent volume of the book.”

To see more than 60 Filipino artists’ portraits laid out side-by-side, and wonderfully rendered by Samson in watercolor, the list, though limited, is a document that is worth keeping.

No one else has made such an effort to categorize our country’s most talented artists in an easy-to-read, visually stunning page-turner. And here, it took the effort of an artist himself to finally get the ball rolling.

“I try to capture the artists’ personality: their character, their inner persona. For the artists I have worked with and have had the honor to meet and/or personally know, I was mindful of my conversations and interactions with them when making their portraits. This way I can accurately put ‘life’ into their eyes, their mouth, and their facial expressions.”

Samson mentions that his favorite subjects are “Mang Enteng (Manansala) and Mang Cesar (Legaspi). Painting their faces brought back so many good and happy memories. They were both a mentor and a friend to me. There was never a dull moment with them, both have great personalities.”

Interestingly enough, if Samson could choose one artist to paint his portrait, he would choose Onib Olmedo. “Though he is not a realist, I like how he expresses his art. He may not focus on the physical likeness but he captures my essence well.”

From Fernando Amorsolo, to Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Cesar Legaspi, Arturo Luz, HR Ocampo, Guillermo Tolentino, and even Tony de Zuñiga — the roster runs like a “hall of fame” of sorts.

The writer Paul Blanco Zafaralla pairs Ehpraim’s portraits with short text profiles, and a one-line quote each from Ephraim himself as he recalls his own perception and relationships of every subject.

It is fascinating to see how the artists are immortalized in the work: from Federico Aguilar Alcuaz’ seemingly sinister smile; to the surprisingly gentle gaze from Jerry Araos; Agnes Arellano’s eyes gleam heavy with emotion; while Guillermo Tolentino is seen with eye goggles.

If you’re not so familiar with the relevant names in local art history, then this is a good place to start.

* * *

The book launch will take place tomorrow, 6 p.m. at the ground floor of the Ayala Museum. The event is open to the public and the book will be available for purchase.




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