Venancio C. Igarta belongs to an elite circle of Filipino artists. Once a humble fruitpicker in the US, he became one of the few of his generation to have their works exhibited at American galleries and institutions including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Des Moines Art Center in Iowa, Dayton Art Institute in Ohio, and the Artisans' Gallery in New York. He was once touted as the only Filipino who exhibited at the New York Metropolitan Museum. (HR Ocampo has since been shown as part of the Surrealists exhibition this year.)
Igarta’s work entitled Freedom! from his United Nations series (1945) is in the private collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. He also had the distinct opportunity of being exhibited alongside the likes of Fernand Leger, Man Ray, Ben Shahn, Rufino Tamayo, Henry Moore, and Willem De Kooning.
Igarta first earned praise in 1938 from the critic Emily Genaver, who wrote in the World Telegram: "One could learn a lot about color by looking at Igarta's paintings." A decade later, the New York Times wrote: "Igarta's flowing patterns of color, such as 'Phoebus Wings and Summer Solstice,' are highly decorative and spontaneous impressions." He forged friendships with literary gods, among them E.E. Cummings. Our National Artist for Literature Jose Garcia Villa once called Igarta "the only Filipino artist worth meeting in New York."
Unfortunately, the multitude of acclaims that Igarta received could not sustain his needs. He eventually succumbed to depression due to financial problems—he could not pay his bills, once earning him an eviction notice from his landlord; his British wife divorced him and demanded alimony payments. Igarta eventually abandoned his professional artistic career.
From the late 1950s to the early 1980s, Igarta went on a hiatus and worked as a color mixer at Color Aid Paper where he developed what he coined as "the thinking eye." The man could not escape from art itself; its convictions genuinely flowed through his veins. He spent almost three decades studying and examining color relationships, durability, depth, and alteration.
As written on the brochure of the 1996 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas, "it was in the early eighties that Igarta's artistic juices began flowing again. It was as though he needed the sabbatical leave, for the suffering of those years had a profound effect on his work. Igarta found a powerful means in abstraction to transcend his mundane existence and achieve the sublime. By concentrating on geometrical forms, he was able to investigate the deeper nuances of color mutation."
The former senator and silent art patron Leticia Ramos-Shahani seems to be a big fan of the painter. Four rare Venancio Igarta paintings on offer at the upcoming Leon Gallery The Kingly Treasures Auction are from her private collection: two geometric works in oil from the 1980s; a combination abstract and figurative work from 1992; and an undated painting, also in oil, that captures the beauty of nature in a bunch of bamboo poles. All four exhibit his confidence and learned grasp of color.
Igarta's style traversed through various subjects and approaches—from oil paintings of Ilocos beaches to watercolor renditions of abstract geometrical figures; from realism to surrealism then neo-expressionism. Celia Aborro, a Filipino-American art critic and author of a book on the artist described him as a "master colorist.” The Filipino-American poet, visual artist, and critic Eileen Tabios echoed this. Tabios described Igarta as "one of the geniuses in Filipino and American art history—a master painter and colorist.”
[Pieces from the private art collection of the late Letty Ramos-Shahani are among the highlights of the upcoming Leon Gallery The Kingly Treasures Auction. Co-presented by ANCX, the urban man’s guide to culture and style, the auction is happening on December 3 at 2PM, G/F Eurovilla I, V.A. Rufino corner Legazpi Streets, Legazpi Village, Makati City.]
For more information and to browse the rest of the auction lots, visit their website at https://leon-gallery.com/auctions/The-Kingly-Treasures-Auction-2022
Images courtesy of Leon Gallery