Saturday Group members (above, from left) Gerrico Blanco, Omi Reyes, Roel Obemio, Buds Conocar, Rose Gisbert, Franklin Caña, Inna Naanep Vitasa, Jaime Gubaton and Salvador Ching at the CCP. In the foreground is an installation piece by Ching.

Always On Saturdays
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2018 - 12:00am

The Saturday Group is gold, not old

MANILA, Philippines — Great works of art immortalize beauty and love, capture images that transcend time and inspire brotherhood among the artists.

Such is the case with The Saturday Group, the Philippines’ oldest and most prestigious gathering of artists. The Saturday Group celebrates its golden anniversary this year with an exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) from March 3 to May 6.

But the group has done more than sustaining and developing various art forms. Aside from its main mission of developing artists, it has sent kids through college, raised funds for public service projects through art collaborations and a painting lottery, and conducted art ministries inside a prison. 

Omi Reyes, the incumbent president, has been with the group for 10 years but says he still feels intimidated by his talented peers.

“I hope to achieve my goal of strengthening (the group) and encouraging the younger members to be serious and committed in their membership with the Saturday Group,” Reyes says.

The Saturday Group started in July of 1968 at the iconic Taza de Oro restaurant in Ermita, where Hernando “HR” Ocampo had gone to have lunch with Alfredo “Ding” Roces, Tony Quintos and Enrique Velasco to discuss the arts, galleries and art studios. On subsequent Saturdays, other artists came along to join the discussions. After Ocampo’s death in 1978, Cesar Legaspi became the leader, and the group evolved from one that discussed the arts into a group that painted and sketched seriously every Saturday. 

“The Saturday Group claims to be the oldest group of artists in the Philippines, unless of course other groups will disagree. But I think there’s no other group that can beat the 50 years,” says member Inna Vitasa, a certified public accountant and former art custodian of the late National Artist Cesar Legaspi.

This practice of painting together as a group on Saturdays continues up to the present at the group’s art gallery at the Shangri-La mall in Mandaluyong City.

The late Mauro “Malang” Santos, a newspaper cartoonist who evolved to become one of the most popular and prolific artists in the country, was a former Saturday Group president, as well as Lydia Velasco, known for her muscular yet sensual women. Icons such as Romulo Olazo, Anita Magsaysay Ho, Juvenal Sanso, Allan and Ivi Cosio also belong to the group. 

Eight National Artists for Visual Arts came from the Saturday Group – HR Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Jose Joya, Vicente Manansala, Arturo Luz, BenCab and Ang Kiukok.

Through the years, the Saturday Group’s main purpose of existence has evolved from developing and sustaining the highest quality of art among its members to include social responsibility.

The Saturday Group has sponsored some talented and deserving students through college. Two of them were Keith Paras and Mhara Cruz. The group has also mounted public service projects using art as their tool. The Saturday Group artists, led by then president Cris Cruz, conducted art ministries inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. It had also auctioned off 30 collaborative artworks to fund Gawad Kalinga projects.

Last Jan. 27, under Reyes’ leadership, the Saturday Group held an art lottery in partnership with the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine Class 1995 to raise funds to build a new classroom. 

The Saturday Group, which introduced in 1968 interactive or collaborative artworks wherein two or more artists work on one canvas or paper, is slowly moving out of the box of two-dimensional artworks. Two years ago, under the leadership of Migs Villanueva and Velasco, the Saturday Group artists started doing 3D works.

Villanueva, also a Palanca-award winning writer, conceptualized the idea of works with the box or the cube as the basic form. Under Velasco’s critical eye, the group mounted the exhibit “Exceleration” wherein the artists deviated from the usual on-the-wall paintings and created three-dimensional pieces with meaningful messages for viewers to ponder upon. 

The exhibit included recycled plastic bottles by Carlos Ongchangco, an intricately decorated golden cage by Vitasa, a tomb for the death of stress by Frank Valencia and a massive yet laboriously bedecked door by Reyes.

Velasco cites the good camaraderie among members that has contributed to the group’s longevity. 

“During the time of Malang, we always had out-of-town excursions. I hope the young ones will continue that tradition,” Velasco says.

She says there are many talented young members whom she expects to gain prominence in the years to come if they remain committed to their craft.

“My advice to them is to work, work, work – and pray. Take criticisms in stride because they improve your work. Look around you. Observe other art and trends because they add to your work,” Velasco shares. 

Villanueva describes the 50th anniversary celebration as a “very exciting and meaningful occasion” as in the group’s timeline, “you’ll see many illustrious names in Philippine art being a member at one time or another.” 

“It has a very rich history, and I hope the present members will be inspired. Who knows, the next National Artist may again come from the Saturday Group,” she says. 

She hopes the Saturday Group will continue to flourish in the next 50 years and key to that is bringing in fresh blood so that in the future “they would have perpetuated” the work of the group and its contributions to Philippine society.

“Art is a very direct expression of the Filipino heart and soul, and we are the ones expressing for the people. In the generations to come, this will be examined.”

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