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Wednesday, June 30, 2021




Jul 28, 2021


Jun 30, 2021

Exhibition Data:

About the Event:

Celeste Lecaroz: Reimagining Fernando Amorsolo and His Shimmering
By Danton Remoto

National Artist Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972) was a gifted artist who painted rural Philippine landscapes with a characteristic glow. The maidens in his paintings have rosy cheeks and smiling eyes; the men are similarly healthy and filled with life. His palette only became darker when the Second World war came to the Philippines. But after the war, he returned to his genre paintings suffused with airiness and light.

In this exhibit, the talented painter Celeste Lecaroz does a “repetition” of the iconic Amorsolo paintings in her style called spontaneous realism. She does repeat them, but she also reimagines these illuminated landscapes in her 15 paintings gathered here. The classic Amoroso tropical sunlight has been muted; the burst of light that highlights the smallest detail has been toned down.

In Painting 1, the sun-yellow light of Amorsolo flares into red as a family travels on a cart drawn by a buffalo. The family members are depicted as physically close to each other, since the cart is small. By extension, it also indicates their meager means. But the stillness in Amoroso’s landscape is here broken by the swirls and impastos in yellow, white and olive green. Even the road has been reimagined: no longer dusty, it has been transformed into a blue and yellow space.

Painting 2 shows farmers planting the saplings of rice on the wet field. The sheer light of Amorsolo is deconstructed again. The background is still similar to Amorsolo’s blue enamel of sky, but now, it is almost smothered by a mushroom cloud. Dark portents abound. The rice fields that Amorsolo celebrated in his work are mostly gone. They have been replaced with subdivisions of concrete and stone.

Women winnowing rice are found at the center of Painting 3. But they are no longer the photogenic women found in the works of Amorsolo. Here, the women are faceless and their native dresses are plain. The maroon color of their clothes melt into the wash of trees in varying tints of red. Similar to the earlier painting, this work is like a eulogy for a vanished, rural past.

Farmers resting under the shade of a tree dominate Painting 4. The background is shimmering with light that is almost blinding. But it is overpowered by the violet color that is also mirrored in the farmers’ clothes. Lecaroz’s art is one of mirrors. The colors echo each other; and the dark wraiths of trees seem to stand in for the thin and insubstantial frame of the farmers.

In Painting 5, we have large, looming trees of violet and red, as well as mountains swathed in blue. There is the Amorsolo-like quality of light, shimmering in the vast rice fields. But that is all. The bounty of nature stands in stark contrast to the farmers: small, faceless and hunched in their difficult work.

Women winnowing rice (a metaphor for fertility and nature’s bounty) are found again in Painting 6. One woman in the center of the painting is dancing, celebrating harvest as an occasion for joy. But the heat waves on the left background have been transformed into planes of heat. The land is graced with the intensity of white and a dapple of yellow. On the right foreground is a haystack, full and big, even if cut diagonally in two. And in the center, the nipa huts lie in seemingly contented sleep.

Amorsolo’s iconic painting of a woman carrying a jug of water finds a hommage in Painting 7. But unlike the full-bosomed woman of Amorsolo garbed in neat and new native dress, the woman here is plain spoken. Her face shows a quiet acceptance of her lot in life. She reminds the reader of the brave peasant characters in National Artist for Literature N.V.M. Gonzalez’s novel, A Season of Grace. And unlike the bountiful earth of Amorsolo, the earth here seems folded, textured, even fissured wit tiny cracks.

The color of the mountain is again mirrored in the native dress of the woman in Painting 8. The wind moves in her head covering that seems to fly. This dynamic painting is held in place by the somnolence of the carabao on the left: dignified and quiet in its repose.

Painting 9 shows a family resting from their labors, with a woman cooking in a clay pot The man has a sickle strapped to his waist while the baby’s upturned face is looking with joy at her father. There is another carabao, just calmly looking at the passing scene. Amorsolo truly has the narrative gift in his works. Lecaroz pays hommage to this gift—and alters the colors. She uses a secondary color like violet and darkens the primary color of red: the effect is one of gravity, even of depth. But she nimbly balances it with strips of light that seem to be alive and moving on the roof—the very technique that Amorsolo used in his paintings.

Painting 10 reimagines Amorsolo’s iconic image of women with mangoes. But unlike the mangoes of Amorsolo with their smooth and yellow skins, the mangoes here are smaller and darker. The image seems to imply that the fruits of the earth are no longer as bountiful as before. The ground below is a river of red. And the women, they are enclosed in a warm circle of conversation, perhaps even of exchanging gossip! Behind them is a wash of light, but it is not yellow: it is white-hot, like the blinding heat in a desert.

Painting 11 is another reimagining of the Amorsolo image of a woman with mangoes. A church steeple peeks at the back, seemingly floating above the foliage of trees. The horse-drawn carriage is a playful violet (a favorite color of the artist). But the woman, like the other women in Lecaroz’s reimagined work, does not have a full bosom or new clothes. Neither is she bursting with health and living the good life. Lecaroz seems to imply that how could she and the other characters live full and contented lives when the land is not theirs, and nature is no longer as giving as it used to be.

Painting 12 has a cockfighting scene at its center, watched avidly by three men. In the background is a haystack and a woman winnowing rice, while another woman’s neck is craned towards the scene of the roosters fighting. This is a very dynamic painting that is again toned down by the use of muted colors.

A man and woman dancing the tinikling takes center stage in Painting 13. A solid Catholic church towers in the background; you could almost hear its massive bells tolling for the Angelus at six o’ clock. The trees have all turned into the color of flames. Is sunset about to come? A man on the right gently strums a guitar while a woman sits on her haunches near him, a flat basket of mangoes beside her. The crowd watching the dancing is painted in muted colors. There are no sun-kissed figures here, no men and women with golden cheeks.

Celeste Lecaroz pays homage to Fernando Amorsolo by capturing the iconic images of the national artist’s work. But she turned the colors several notches lower. She also thinned the full cheeks and darkened the peasants’ clothes, making them look old and washed many times over. You could almost hear the sound of hammering in the distance, the sound of subdivisions being built over former rice fields. Lecaroz gives us omens and forebodings about progress and its discontents. But she does so in a manner that is neither drab nor monochromatic. Her palette is full of vivid colors and her paintings have many stories to tell.

Selected Works
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