Early Masters, 1968

How a boyhood photograph gave Claude Tayag his calling

We spoke to one of local art's most prolific creators about his forthcoming Art Fair Philippines exhibit, his many hats and passions, and challenging long-held conventions through creative expression.
Fidel Feria | Feb 09 2019

Call Claude Tayag anything but a renaissance man.

This is an important caveat. And make sure to remember it when you see him at an art gallery. Or at a shoot for his reality program Chasing Flavors. Or even in his home-restaurant-museum in his hometown of Angeles, Pampanga. Tayag has been paid the compliment before—and in significantly more occasions than the man’s humility would lead you to believe. Simply put, Tayag wants no part of its implications.

Black Mountain Wet On Wet Canvas, 1990

But as much as the man denies it, the descriptive is not without footing: Tayag, at a sprightly 62, is a painter, sculptor, writer, and internationally-recognized chef (another title he disowns)—among a host of other passions his casual, matter-of-fact retellings might render “mundane.” But nothing could be further from the truth.

"I don’t like renaissance man", Tayag tells this writer over the phone. Glibly, he adds, “Maybe master of all, which is better than master of none.”

My conversation with Tayag takes him on as artist, something he knew he would be since he was 12-years-old. Half a century since, Tayag is slated to showcase a series of wooden sculptures (completed in 2016 and 2017), complemented by his Bokuseki paintings (1986 and 1990) at this year’s Art Fair Philippines.

Sitting Pretty, Narra 1990

The wood sculptures are part of his “Twisters” series, Tayag’s abstract renderings of antique Filipino furniture. They are marked by its curlicue linear waves, all of which were crafted using recycled or second-hand wood. Tayag likens the process to that of building Lego blocks, except you use small pieces of wood glued together in a distinct and predetermined mode.

He is quick to qualify the work by saying he is no wood sculptor; “Wood designer” is far more preferable.

Posturing, Narra, Kamagong, Chess Pieces, H-12-25cm,Table-H, 40x120x120cm, 1990

On the other hand, his other Art Fair 2019 showcase are his Bokuseki paintings, which is a form of Japanese calligraphy. With these, Tayag is seen having channeled an intuitive mode of expression—he likens the process to a trance-like state—in these decades-old pieces.

A stalwart of the local art scene since 1978, Tayag’s artistic resolve to challenge convention—and, effectively, his audience—remains unflagging. “Deliberately, I did not want to fall under a 'successful artist' track, doing the same thing year in, year out,” Tayag, recalling a markedly memorable lecture he had given at UP’s Vargas museum, shares. “’Yung hindi na umalis sa ganoong style—you go through a motif until you move on to another subject.” And given his provenance and skill, the tools to go against the grain were clearly at his disposal.

Claude Tayag's "Misty Baguio, 1976", watercolor, 15"X21"

Claudio—Claude or “Claude Nine” to family—Tayag was born in Angeles in 1956 to Renato Tayag, a lawyer and journalist, and Adoracion Suarez, a full time housewife. He is the ninth in a brood of 12. “As early as I can remember, even as a child, I knew I wanted to be painter. Growing up in the 60s, wala pa kaming television, wala pa pong Sesame Street. I grew up in the milieu where the first thing you give a child is a pencil and paper,” he recalls.

“As far as I know, a child learns how to draw first. He draws a triangle for a roof of a house, or bamboo on stilts pa yung bahay noon tapos ladder. I thought growing up, drawing and painting was child’s play.”

This belief would not hold for much longer.Recounting a most pivotal episode, Tayag brings up the subject of a photo of himself as a 12 year old with a gaggle of his father’s friends—among them Mauro Malang Santos, Emilio Cruz, Vicente Manansala, and other budding luminaries of Philippine art.  Examining the image, Tayag saw an eager student in rapt attention, watching grown men plumb through what he had dismissed as a childish pastime.

Claude Tayag’s “Black Mountain” at CCP Little Theater Lobby, January 12 – March 2, 1990

This, Tayag explains, planted the idea of him pursuing a career as a painter.

But as we know now, “painter” barely scratches the surface of Tayag’s work. Since that fortuitous episode as a pre-teen, Tayag has authored best-selling food and travel books such as Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine (as co-author) and Linamnam: Eating One's Way Around the Philippines (2014), staged exhibitions in different media, and even won a People’s Choice Award at the Embassy Chef Challenge held in Washington, D.C. in 2016.

So what do you talk about when you talk about Claude Tayag?

In the speaking engagement at University of the Philippines mentioned earlier, a young student dared make an inquiry into Tayag’s “real” title—reasonable enough given Tayag’s many hats.

Click on the image below for slideshow

Claude Tayag’s series of black and white paintings done in 1986 and 1990 

Claude Tayag’s series of black and white paintings done in 1986 and 1990 

Claude Tayag’s series of black and white paintings done in 1986 and 1990 

Black Mountain Sweeping, 1990 

Sumi-E Poster, 1986 

Art Woks, 1988 

Art Woks, 1988 

Art Woks, 1988 

Art Woks, 1988 

Art Woks, 1988 

Dancing to Rumors Poster, 1990 

“But what are you really,” went the student. It was met promptly with uproarious laughter.

At this point in our conversation, I think, maybe to box this master of many is an aimless task. It’s not as if he devotes contemplation to his labels anyway. Maybe the safest assumption to make is  that Claude Tayag’s only real concern is to create, create, and create.

Politely, he chose not mince words. “You may be confused,” Tayag addressed the student, “I’m not.”


Claude Tayag’s “Twisters” series and Bokuseki pieces will be displayed at Art Fair Philippines from February 22-25. The event will be held at The Link Ayala Center in Makati. Regular tickets will cost P350, while concession tickets will cost P150 (for Students with ID’s) and P100 (Makati students with ID’s).


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