The Luminosity Of Luz
- Sid Gomez Hildawa () - November 19, 2006 - 12:00am
Arturo Luz, National Artist for the visual arts, turns 80 tomorrow. To mark this milestone, various agencies, led by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), have organized an artistic package of events spread throughout November, entitled "In Light of Luz." But more than recognizing an artist-beacon in our midst, this set of artistic happenings gives us the opportunity to closely examine the various wavelengths that make up the luminous artistry of this beloved artist who has lived up to the many meanings of his family name.  

 Arturo Rogerio Luz was born in Manila 80 years ago as the youngest child of Valeriano Luz and Rosario Dimayuga, who were both from Lipa, Batangas. By his own recollection, the decision to become an artist occurred to Arturo when, seated at the family dining table after lunch one sleepy afternoon, he drew a profile of his mother and was pleased with the result. He was seventeen then and Manila was occupied by Japanese forces.

After the war, Arturo Luz took painting lessons from Pablo Amorsolo which enabled him to encounter the works of Fernando Amorsolo, Pablo’s brother. Arturo then briefly studied at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) school of fine arts, where among his teachers were Diosdado Lorenzo and Galo Ocampo. In 1947, Luz accompanied his parents to the United States, then stayed behind for formal training at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and subsequently at the Brooklyn Museum art school in New York. There, he was particularly impressed by the works of Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo. On his way back to Manila, he stayed for a year in Paris, totally enthralled, drawing at the Academie de la Grande Chaumerie and exploring Europe by train.  

Luz’s homecoming exhibit at the Manila Hotel in 1950 introduced him to the local art scene–and the art scene to him–and to the "Neo-Realist" painters who were then exhibiting at Lyd Arguilla’s newly-opened Philippine Art Gallery (PAG): Ramon Estella, Cesar Legaspi, Vicente Manansala, Hernando Ocampo, Victor Oteyza, and Romeo Tabuena. Luz would subsequently exhibit at the PAG, whose growing family of artists included Nena Saguil, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Ang Kiukok, Manuel Rodriguez Sr., Fernando Zobel, J. Elizalde Navarro, Jose Joya, Mauro Malang Santos, Constancio Bernardo, Florencio Concepcion, Lee Aguinaldo, Hugo Yonzon Jr., and David Cortez Medalla.

This was an exciting time for Philippine Art, as modernism was at last gaining a foothold in relation to the well-entrenched conservative mode of academic painting and sculpture. 

 Probably influenced by the Neo-Realist’s Philippine themes and images, Luz’s earlier works were figurative, yet already inclined towards linearity and simplification. An important early work of his, cited by the present National Museum director Corazon Alvina as where the stirrings of the Luz style all started, is the painting "Bagong Taon," (1952) which is in now in the Ateneo Art Gallery Collection.

His own modernist sensibilities would further be honed by subsequent international exposures: a 1953-54 scholarship in Madrid at the Instituto de Cultura Hispanica facilitated by close friend Fernando Zobel, and a State Department Specialist Grant in 1963 to observe current artistic trends in America, immediately followed by a grant from the Italian government to live in Rome for a year. In-between these sojourns, Arturo managed to collaborate with architect Leandro Locsin on the University of the Philippines chapel in 1955, win in a series of Art Association of the Philippines’ (AAP) annual contests, and set up the Luz Gallery in 1960.

In Rome, he married Tessie Ojeda who assumed the role of manager for the Luz Gallery upon the couple’s return to Manila at the end of the Italian grant. 

For some twenty years beginning 1969, Arturo Luz abandoned figuration to concentrate on abstraction in collage, painting, printmaking and sculpture. His adherence to formalism combined with minimalist elegance and restraint has enabled him to arrive at his own signature style, distinct from those of acknowledged influences like Paul Klee, Frank Stella, Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, and Anthony Caro, among many others. This artistic style has likewise evolved side-by-side with changing preoccupations–artistic and otherwise–in the life of Luz. 

The recent book, "Arturo Luz" authored by Cid Reyes (published in 1999 by Ayala Foundation and The Crucible Gallery), chronicles various periods in the development of Luz’s style, tracing its various facets from the more cerebral early paintings influenced by Western modernism, to the more recent prints, photographs, and jewelry design infused by Oriental and Asian sensibilities. 

Not surprisingly, Luz’s artistic temperament also manifested itself in his managerial practice as director (from the early seventies to the first half of the eighties) for institutions like the Design Center Philippines (DCP,) the Metropolitan (MET) Museum of Manila, and the Museum of Philippine Art (MOPA), where he established high standards for exhibition design and museum work.  

Arturo Luz was conferred the National Artist award in 1997. In the words of Corazon Alvina, "…Arturo Luz is one of the most original and innovative Filipino artists to have emerged in the last 50 years. The minimalist elegance of his creations, and his acute discipline and independence, have earned him international recognition and respect."  

As we mark this month a milestone in the life of our national artist, the Manila public will have the rare chance of having many ways of seeing Philippine art "in light of Luz": the NCCA will afford us an intimate glimpse of the artist via memorabilia items; the Metropolitan Museum will present Luz’s impact on museum and exhibition practice; the National Museum will situate Luz in the history of Philippine Modern Art; the Ateneo Art Gallery will present Luz’s early works as collected by Fernando Zobel; the Design Center Philippines will showcase Luz’s vision for Philippine design; the Ayala Museum will examine the artistic relations between Luz and the architecture of Locsin; while the Cultural Center of the Philippines will present contemporary artists led by National Artist BenCab exploring the influence of Luz.

Also at the CCP, professional lighting designers will work on actual sculpture pieces of Luz, and a 4.8-meter-high "paper clip" sculpture of Arturo Luz will be unveiled beside the south ramp in front of the CCP main building which was designed by the late National Artist Leandro Locsin.

May this be a bright month for Philippine art as we raise high the light of Luz for all to see. 

The author is a visual artist, freelance architect and poet, and works as Department Manager for the CCP Visual, Literary, and Media Arts.

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