His editorial cartoons are “distillations of the state of the nation,” says journalist Inday Espina-Varona. His art “a long arc of courage, mind and hand acting in brilliant symmetry through more than half a century.” He was a quiet man, wrote the photojournalist Luis Liwanag, “pero pinakamalakas ang boses ng mga dibuho.” His works, says community pantry organizer and UP College of Fine Arts alumni Patreng Non, have no equivalent in words.
Leonilo “Neil” Doloricon, former dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts (1998-2001), noted editorial cartoonist and social realist, died in the early morning of Friday, July 16. He was 63. His daughter Kat posted on her Facebook page on Thursday that the artist was in the ICU and in critical condition. The next day, she wrote that a call from her papa’s doctor woke them up at 3:40 in the morning. “They tried to revive him but he didn’t make it,” Kat wrote. “I know you tried your best, Pa.” The family has yet to release an official cause of death.
In his paintings and illustrations, Doloricon was known to depict society’s injustices, the struggles of the Filipino farmer and the urban poor. He was a champion of the idea that artists are agents of social change. “Brod Neil was one of the pillars of Social Realism movement in the Philippine art scene and was popular for his paintings, murals, and relief prints that depicted the struggles of the masses,” wrote his brothers from the UP Artists Circle Fraternity. “Some of us would remember him as a thesis adviser, or a techniques and/or figure drawing professor. The people will remember Brod Neil as a National Democratic activist, a cultural worker, and simply a comrade or ‘kasama.’”
Doloricon has received many recognitions in his long career as an artist and educator. This one time chair of the Commission on Higher Education’s Committee on Arts and Humanities was once a CCP Gawad Para sa Sining Biswal awardee and a 13 Artists Award recipient (1990). His works have been exhibited in the Philippines and abroad, including the Philippine Art Center in New York. In his final years, he was a senior professor at the Visual Communication department of UP’s College of Fine Arts.
But despite the accomplishments, Doloricon remained a quiet and humble presence in the arts, academic and media circles. Manila Bulletin opinion writer Tonyo Cruz recalls visiting the artist in his office in ‘98 to invite him to write a chapter on editorial cartooning for a College Editors Guild Sourcebook. “Walang ere. Di mo aakalaing dean. Napakagaan,” Cruz recalls in a social media post. “Nitong nakaraang taon, mas madalas ko siyang nakasama: Tahimik at low-profile pa rin habang hawak ang malamig na bote ng beer sa mga meeting ng Tuesday Club. Nakikinig sa mga kwento ng iba, nago-observe, nagtatanong.”
In July 1998, when he assumed his post as new dean at the UP CFA, he gave an interview to the university paper, Philippine Collegian. Then, he spoke not only of his plans for the college but of art in general, how art combined with nationalism can help define who we are as a people and as a culture, and how art is not just a decorative object.
“Art is beyond that—ispiritwal na bagay iyan sa isang lipunan,” he said. “Kung ano yung kultura mo, lumalabas yan sa pangangatawan mo. Kung paano mo tinatrato ang sarili mo, ang kapitbahay mo, ang mga kaibigan mo. At kung paano ka tinitingnan ng ibang bansa. Ano yung nakikita nila sa atin? Wala, kundi salamin tayo ng colonization. Kung paano tayo tinatrato ng nangolonya sa atin, ganoon din tayo tinatrato ng mga tao sa ibang bansa. Isang malungkot na bagay ito para sa atin kaya kailangang buhayin ang nasyunalismo.”
How to do this, according to the artist and educator, is a problem we all must find solutions to. “Maaaring hindi tayo yumaman dito pero yung kayamanan ng kultura ang pinag-uusapan natin dito. Kung ituturo natin sa mga estudyante kung paano magiging effective communicator nang walang pagsasaalang-alang sa kultura, anong klaseng mga artist ang hinuhubog natin?”
As a father, Doloricon was always supportive, dependable and generous. "When I was in grade school, I remember roaming around the hallways of the College of Fine Arts and having no idea that my papa was a dean," recalls daughter Kat. "Growing up, I had no clue he was taking me under his wing and thinking maybe I inherited his talent, but he knew I had a different path. I took fashion design and he supported me all the way. He told me he was very proud of my last collection and for sure my grandmother would be very proud (I named my collection "Genoveva" after his mother). Whatever talent I was pursuing, he was always my #1 fan."
"Papa was a very loving person, he will literally give the whole world to you," says a joint message sent by Kat's siblings. "He will sacrifice all that he has to make the family happy. He's the type of person who you know will always be there for you 100 percent no matter what. No matter how much he loved to paint or was focused on his craft, he never turned down a phone call just because he was busy. He alloted time to hear your stories and listen to your problems and give advice. Papa was the should to cry on, that person to run to. You never felt the real challenges of life because you know he was there."
Photos courtesy of Kat Doloricon