National Artist Arturo Rogerio Luz was always a man ahead of his time. Like his comrade-in-arms Fernando Zóbel, he was destined to make his mark on Philippine art several times over.
After completing a three-year course at the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland, followed by studies at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and a year in the Parisian Academie de Grande Chaumiere, Luz would return to Manila in 1952. In that same year, he would have his first solo show — and be elected president of the influential Art Association of the Philippines.
His cool, spare works distilled the brave new mid-century world and he joined the exclusive roster of the Philippine Art Gallery, the first establishment to champion exclusively the cause of non-objective art. Luz would eventually open his own legendary gallery with his own name in 1960.
After 17 years as a painter, he changed course and became a sculptor in 1969. He would become so successful at it that he would represent the Philippines in sculpture in various international exhibitions including the 1971 Sao Paolo Biennale in Brazil. Nevertheless, Luz would continue to paint in his streamlined signature style.
“You want to know how I compose my work, or what principles guide me? I’ll tell you: Unity, simplicity and clarity,” he said in a documentary clip posted by Archivo 1984 on Instagram. “The work must show clarity of intention and clarity in execution. I look for the relationship of space, color, line, form and tone, of relationship between substance and form.”
In the 1970s, Luz would become the director of three important institutions, the Design Center Philippines, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila (MET), and the Museum of Philippine Art. By the end of the decade he would mount a tour de force exhibition, consisting not only of his paintings and sculptures but also burlap tapestries and mixed-media collages. Luz would next begin a series of paintings inspired by Asian cities in the 1980s and then turn his attention to photography. There seemed to be no limit to his imagination and artistry but he can tell if a work is complete— when he can no longer add or remove anything. “When everything has been reduced to the barest minimum and only the original idea or impulse remain.”
Arturo Rogerio Luz was the subject of a major retrospective in 1995 at his beloved MET and would be named Philippine National Artist for the Visual Arts in 1997. He passed away Wednesday, May 26, at 8:45 PM at the age of 94. —LEON GALLERY