The Chinese philosopher Confucius — aka K'ung Fu-tzu or ‘Kong the master’ — has a lot to answer for in that ancient culture. Confucius taught that hard work, discipline and above all, high moral values would lead to heaven on earth.
Roman Ongpin, philanthropist and entrepreneur whose statue towers over our local Chinatown, was such an exemplar.
It is no wonder that his son, Alfonso Ongpin would start the first Filipino art gallery called “El Arte” (The Art) in the early 20th century. Don Alfonso would become a renowned collector but more importantly, he would be this country’s foremost art historian, before that field even had a name. He became an expert on the finest of our old masters such as Juan Luna to Resurreccion Hidalgo and would be known to have the largest collection in the Philippines, surpassing any museum.
One of the jewels in the crown of the Ongpin collection was this magnificent work by Juan Luna, Sorprendidos (1887), which means “surprised” and also “caught”—although the painting has had other names, among them “The Elopement” and “View of Venice,” which is how it was listed under the Luis M. Araneta Collection, Centennial Exhibition of Luna Works (Manila, 1957).
Depicting a flower vendor on a boat, stopping by the steps of the Palazzo Ruzzini, it was painted in Venice while the artist was on his honeymoon with Paz Pardo de Tavera. It is a highlight of the upcoming León Gallery Asian Cultural Council Auction on February 27, 2021, beginning at 2 pm.
From a Tsinoy collector, let’s move on to Chinese-Filipino artists whose masterpieces also form part of the upcoming auction. There's Ang Kiukok, for one, the most famous son of Davao. He was also born to Chinese immigrant parents from Fookien. His paintings of tuna fishing are the most beloved in the art scene, so too, his powerful figures. In this one is filial piety, an important Chinese value.
Manansala and Luz were the Filipino artists who influenced Ang Kiukok’s craft from the start of his career, although Morris Graves also influenced the rough stone textures of his works. Upon Ang’s return from his travel to New York with Vicente Manansala, he developed a new vivid expressionist style as he produced paintings with themes of agony, sorrow, and madness.
This 1986 work exhibits the predatory status of a fish. Its bones are exposed and striking colors are used. Ang Kiukok’s animal subjects are usually rendered by the artist with a fierce appearance. Critics would note that his depictions of animals are extensions of his “placid and affable” and direct-to-the-point personality, also reminiscent of Mexican modernist Rufino Tamayo’s paintings of growling dogs and monster-like roosters.
And finally, there is no artist that expresses the serenity and calmness of a bamboo garden — as well as its power and strength.
Filipino-Chinese abstractionist Lao Lianben’s painting career spans over forty years. He took his art studies at the University of the East, where he was deeply influenced by his mentor, the revered artist Florencio B. Concepcion.
Lao continues in contributing immensely to Philippine contemporary art. He is widely known for his use of indigenous materials for his works and for his explorations on the properties of traditional painting materials. He developed a distinct abstract style influenced by the New Age movement often associated with the hippie culture of the late 1960s. Also drawing inspiration from Chinese art, his monochromatic oeuvre reflects its aesthetic, as well as East Asian spiritual and philosophical themes.
Lao’s paintings always seem to call you to a gentler, more meditative world. Exactly as Confucius says.
[The León Gallery Asian Cultural Council Auction 2021 is happening this February 27 at 2PM. It is the first major auction of the year supported by ANCX.ph, the urban man’s guide to style and culture, the online lifestyle site of ANC, the ABS-CBN News Channel.