Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lives and Loves of Artists & their Nude Models

The Luncheon on the Grass (1862 - 1863) by Édouard Manet (left photo).

Published in Manila Bulletin, Lifestyle Section (Art), Page F 1-2, May 19, 2008

The most controversial and, perhaps, the greatest work of a French painter Édouard Manet is “Le déjeuner sur l'herbe” (The Luncheon on the Grass), executed between 1862 and 1863 on a huge 81.9 × 104.5” canvas. Set against the verdant landscape, a naked woman, as if consciously posing on her side, is seated with two fully dressed men. At a short distance is a chemise-wearing woman bathing on a still-flowing stream.

The painting shocked the French public when it was first exhibited at Salon des Refusés in 1863. It was not really the female nudity that sparked the controversy, but the indecent exposure of a naked woman amid the fully dressed men.

Equally provocative is how Manet used two models for his female nude: Suzanne Leenhoff (his wife) and Victorine Meurent (his favorite model). A closer look on the painting, one can detect a slightly asymmetrical proportion between the woman’s head and her naked body. The artist uses Meurent’s youthful face while the hefty body belongs to his wife, Leenhoff.

Was the artist fantasizing Meurent’s face to be his wife’s while retaining the latter’s body, or was it his clever way of immortalizing Leenhoff’s naked body on the painting?


In his recent coffee-table book “The Lives and Loves of Artists and Models” (320 pages, 243 illustrations), Manuel “Manny” D. Duldulao pays tribute to the models, whose identities are relatively unknown, and extols their vital role in the artists’ lives and creations. He travels back and forth in time by exploring the attitude and concept of nude art and the story behind the unflinching relationships between the artists and their respective models.

The most interesting topics are the historical accounts of nude models like a Greek farm girl named Phyrne (350 B.C.) to Sandro Botticelli’s on “The Birth of Venus” (1484) during the Renaissance period, Leonardo da Vinci's controversial “Mona Lisa” (1503) to Salvador Dali's complex relationship with Gala and her lovers?

Reading the book is like journeying back to the lives of artists from ancient to medieval, from classical period to postmodern era. It is a compendium of love stories and sinuous liaisons woven with romance, scandal, intrigue, betrayal and death of the creators and their models.

Ironically, in the local art scene, the author is discreet to explore the private relationships of Filipino artists and their models. Instead, he zeroed in on the development of nude art in the Philippines from 1930s through 1970s and from 1980s onwards.

The narrative account of the book is elegantly written, sensually provocative and, at times, indulgent. The author, in a more personal approach, has deviated from his objective and straightforward narrative, which is characteristic of his previous books, by occasionally injecting his sentiment: a quasi-narrative of his thoughts and feelings in between paragraphs and chapters.

A TOYM awardee (Ten Outstanding Young Men) in 1973, Duldulao’s passion, as art writer and historian, seems to be inexhaustible after several decades of chronicling the Philippine art movements and activities.

As a self-made man, he is the only non-academe art historian who has extensively written more than 20 coffee-table books in the fields of arts and culture and has, recently, launched a scholarly reference book (volumes I & II) on the history and development of Philippine law and judicial system. His colossal achievement as author and writer is beyond compare among his contemporaries and the new generations of art writers.


The following conversation with the author in January 10, 2005 was a brief glimpse of “The Lives and Loves of Artists and Models” prior to its final publication and launching in 2007.

What is the main concept of your book on Nude Art in the Philippines?

The main objective of the book, “The Lives and Loves of Artists and Models”, is to place Philippine art in the context of universal aesthetics. That is the reason why I developed the book by showing masterpieces of nude paintings around the world from Spain to Parish to New York and, then, juxtapose them in the context of Philippine art movement.

All of the paintings that I am featuring in the book are full-blown artworks in the respective style of the Filipino artists. I don’t feature sketches or drawings because we cannot elevate Philippine art into a universal level if we are going to show minor pieces.

Nude painting in the Philippines is relatively a recent activity. It only came out in the 1980s and before that, from the 1930s to 1950s, there were not much movement especially in the academe like the University of the Philippines because they could hardly get a Filipina model to pose for the Fine Arts students.

D.C. SILLADA: What is the attitude and concept of Nude Art amid our conservative culture from 1930s through 1970s and 1980s onwards?

Nude paintings in 1950s and 1960s, I would say, were practically academic. They were for studies of human anatomy along the lines of academic requirement, and not for the purposes of gallery exhibitions.

It was only in the 1970s with the organization of the Casa de Oro Group, which is currently known as the Saturday Group, under Alfredo Roces, Hernando Ocampo and Cesar Legaspi, when the nude as an art form began to emerge. Other artists took it from there like the group of Ernie Tagle; they took serious undertaking of giving the nude art form its due in the Philippine art movement.
I would, therefore, say that the flowering of the nude as an art form by itself began in the 1970s and blossomed around 1978 to 1979 and, then, started to have a heavy solid footing in the Philippine art market around the early 1980s.

Now, of course, anything goes... In fact, you can find nude session almost everyday and the artists are no longer looking at it as a form of exercise, but simply as an exploration of art form.

D.C. SILLADA: The Filipina nude models: how they respond to exposing their naked bodies in front of the artists, considering our conservative culture toward nudity?

In the 1950s, you could count on your fingers the girls who were posing in the nude, and they were mostly posing in academic classes like UP. However, it was only during 1970s that modelling became a profession, and one of the legendary pioneers is Nellie Sta. Maria.

When the girls realized that it was a serious undertaking and they could earn some good money in the process, many of them started modelling professionally for a moderate fee. Consequently, they were getting regular assignments especially with the group of Tagle, and they were common girls, not in the entertainment profession.

The girls were mostly students who put their trust (in) the integrity of the artists. One of them was a niece of the late art critic Lorna Revilla Montilla. She was fondly called Inday. One time, the model that they were waiting did not arrive so Lorna told her niece “O, Inday ikaw na lang ang mag-pose...”

It was the beginning of her modelling career that eventually prospered. Now, some girls took it as a profession: they are no longer embarrassed disrobing in front of the artists.

Today, Filipina movie stars pick up the modelling stints, so you can count on them as regular sitters. Girls like Tracey Torres, Julia Lopez, Rosanna Roces, Andrea del Rosario, Katya Santos, Honey Miller, the controversial Keana Reeves and Rose Valencia, they all posed in the nude sessions.

D.C. SILLADA: What is your main thrust in the book in relation to the artists and their nude models?

After reading several literatures on nudes, I found out that art authors and historians concentrated on the human body as a source of art form. What I did with my book, I researched on the lives of nude models.

Like, for instance, the famous painting of Sandro Botticelli titled “The Rising of Venus”; I was able to gather enough information as to who the model was and the family where she belonged to. Likewise, the model of Édouard Manet and his controversial painting “The Luncheon on the Grass”: who was she and what was her name?

These are essentially the main thrusts of my book: the artists, the models and their symbiotic relationships that create a compelling history and developments of nude art from ancient time to postmodern period.

© Danny Castillones Sillada

Above Photos: (1) The Empty Frame (2006) by Fidel Sarmiento,(2) Blush (2004) by Andi Cubi, (3) Bathing Sisters (2003) by Baltazar Fornaliza, (4) Ripened Womb (1999)by Danny C. Sillada.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Tribute to a Mindanaoan Painter (The Art of Max Adlao)

“I put my heart and my soul into my art, and have lost my mind in the process…”
- Vincent Van Gogh
Published at Manila Bullen, Lifestyle Section (Art), May 5, 2008

The summer wind is drifting through the lattice window of Max Adlao’s rented apartment in Cavite. The flapping of curtains, the creaking bed and the songs of migrating birds are the only sounds that he can hear in his quiescent room.

Across his bed is an empty canvas leaning on a paint-splotched easel. Though the canvas has remained untouched for some time now, the aging artist is patiently waiting for the right moment to paint the last masterpiece of his ebbing existence.

Whatever the price to become a Filipino artist and to dedicate an entire life creating beauty, forms and colors on canvas, Max Adlao, amid his recurring illness and destitution, has already contributed the finest feats of his artistic career, undeterred and unnoticed.

Some years ago, I met the man. Although, he was already in the late part of his existence yet, he was still full of vigor with an impish sense of humor. He was teeming with life then, full of dreams and madly in love with a young pretty wife half of his age.

I had the honor of working with him in 1996 when a good friend, Archbishop Tom Yalong, D.D., then auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Manila, commissioned me to paint a 6 X 10 feet mural in commemoration of the four hundred years since the Christianization of the Philippines.

I was struggling then -- and I still am -- as a full-time painter fresh from the corporate world where I worked as a junior executive in an HMO company in Makati. Despite our age -- or if I may say, mood gap -- he worked patiently with me like a loyal servant with his master.

6 X 10 feet Mural, 1996. Oil on Canvas by Danny Sillada & Max Adlao.
Permanently installed at the Roman Catholic Office, Arzobispado, Intramuros, Manila.

Occasionally, he would correct my preliminary sketches on a huge canvas in my absence without saying a single word. At times, when we were so engrossed painting together, he would suddenly crack sidesplitting jokes to soften the intense atmosphere. He had always a way of making a dull moment funny between us and, like a father, he would interject his opinion in a manner that I won’t be offended during our conversation.

For instance, in one of our strenuous routines painting together, he told me: “Danny, St. Lorenzo Ruiz will kick you out in heaven if you portray him with shorter legs on this mural…”

We looked at each other for a while and, then, burst into laughter. Our laughter receded temporarily and then continued with the same pattern until we parted ways from a hard day’s work. Oblivious to him, I was amused inside as though my father was alive again in his presence, guiding me through my oversight and blunder.

At another instance, I came late to our working studio at the third floor of the Arzobispado De Manila building in Intramuros. I was flabbergasted to discover that my sketch of risen Christ was already painted over, and the image was looking straight through my eyes, laughing!

I was petrified in disbelief! My original sketch of Christ was not laughing or smiling at all. I was supposed to paint the Risen Christ with my original drawing to portray Him in a somber mood with opaque color. I did not speak to Max Adlao that day.

At nightfall, after he left with his wife off to his rented apartment in Cavite, I repainted his laughing Christ with my original concept on a wet on wet technique until I finished the figure at three o’clock in the morning.

No one knows that secret until today: that behind my portrayal of gloomy Christ on that huge mural is Max Adlao’s happy and laughing Christ. I would like to think and believe, though, that our Christ is the same, albeit mine is a lonely one.

Detail of Risen Christ by Danny Sillada, 1996.Behind this portrait is a laughing Christ of Max Adlao

Max Adlao started his artistic career that spanned the late 1950s through the 1980s; he was a cinema billboard artist. He was so good at his craft that he was one of the most sought-after painters in his time from cinema billboards to the propaganda government murals at the heart of Durian City, the city of Davao.

During his spare time, he would settle in his small studio to paint his World War II memoirs. The haunting images of the Japanese and the American warplanes, flying bombs and bullets, tanks and dead soldiers were oozing out from his small canvases.

In 1988, after spending for more than three decades as a billboard artist, he was given a big break when the Central Bank of Davao gave him a one-man show highlighting his portrayal of the countryside sceneries and the early Davaoeño customs and traditions.

The exhibition was such a success that he eventually earned the respect of his fellow Davaoeño artists and art critics alike, and was hailed as the Amorsolo of Mindanao. However, despite the accolades, he had wished that his beloved wife were alive to share his joys and success as a painter.

Then came 1992, the turning point of Max Adlao’s artistic career: his daughter and son-in-law invited him to spend a vacation in Germany.


In autumn of 1992, Max Adlao arrived in Germany and saw a completely different world, the grandeur of old and modern houses and buildings, and the diverse art and culture of German people.

However, after staying in Germany for a week, he was bored staring at the television screen watching shows in a language that he could not understand. His routine was to eat, sleep and wake up, a rather arduous activity than putting his mind and body in painting.

Jaded and restless, Max Adlao began to wander on the streets of German soil and there, he eventually found a language that everyone understands – the language of his art. With paint, easel and brush in his hands, he started to sketch and paint the passersby, the mood and the environment of German people.

In such a short period, Adlao became the first Filipino street artist capturing the hearts of German enthusiasts and collectors with his almost ritualistic on-the-spot portraiture and plein air paintings. He mesmerized the curious bystanders and dilettantes with his riveting aesthetic performance and, eventually, gained students and followers on the street.

Despite his newfound fame, Adlao felt an indescribable void inside as if part of his life were absent and missing. He was searching for something that would fill the emptiness of his existence, but he didn’t know what it was.
After his brief stint in Germany, he went home and stayed for a while in Manila hoping to find himself in the art capital of the Philippines. This time, his emptiness worsened that he decided to make another journey back to his hometown in Davao. Unknown to him, he was about to meet the second love of his life, a young Davaoeña named Shirley.

In 1993, Max Adlao was no longer desolate or alone. Together with his newfound love, Shirley, they both sailed again, leaving the Land of Promise, to start a new life in Manila. With the help of his paizano artist, Lovino, he was introduced to the owner of Genesis Gallery, who bought the first batch of his paintings.

After some time, he became one of the resident artists of Heritage Gallery under the kind patronage of Atty. Mario Alcantara. Since then, he became active at the different group shows and other art activities in Metro Manila.

In 1996, he was one of the grand price winners at the national art competition, which was sponsored by the Supreme Court for the Philippine Judiciary centennial celebration.

In 2000, for almost a decade of his artistic career in Manila, he had his first one-man show under the sponsorship of Ayala Country Club in Alabang. It was, perhaps, the apex of Max Adlao’s life as octogenarian artist.

This time, however, he began to feel the descending thrust of his creative life due to his weak physical condition. Few months later, he suffered from a mild stroke that would put him in bed for a while.

Since then up to the present, Max Adlao suffered intermittent mild strokes that would later impair his sense of hearing and his capability to paint on canvas.

MY KIND OF ARTISTToday, whenever I think of Max Adlao, I would remember him as a rising moon in my darkened window. He is like a father, who once taught me how to fly a kite – the stronger the wind the higher it rises. He is my kind of artist, who does not know how to give up life even if the whole world were to give up on him.

And every time I remember my somber Christ, I would always think of Max Adlao’s happy and laughing Christ behind the mural that we once collaborated and brought into existence.
© Danny C. Sillada

Max Adlao on the Mural we once collaborated, 1996.
I would lay down sketches on the entire canvas and divide
among us the portions where we would feel at ease to paint.

Photo by Danny Sillada (c) 2005. Posted by

© Danny Castillones Sillada

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Poetic Revelation in Language and Culture: The Vision of Sonny Villafania

“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.”
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Manila Bulletin (Lifestyle section, pp. F1-F2, May 12, 2008)

Poetry, according to a German philosopher Martin Heidegger, is the foundation of truth. As a foundation of truth, it employs aesthetic symbols to reveal realities that concern the historical, cultural and socio-political conditions of man in his society.

The use of metaphor or allegory, for instance, is a symbolic device to magnify the objective reality and establish a rational basis in understanding the truth.

As a foundation of truth, poetry reveals what is hidden in such a way that the general readers or public will know it, and the most effective tool to reveal such symbolic reality is the use of language and linguistic expression common to a particular culture and society.

One of the greatest poets who had achieved such magnificent feat is a British-Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, whose poetry transformed, not only the lives of Bengali people, but also the Bengali literature and culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Tagore’s poetry like the famous collection of Gitanjali (Song Offerings), which was translated into several languages, has been sang and spoken by the common Bengali people such as farmers, fishermen, the monks, the townsfolk and the intellectuals.

In the local Philippine literature, there is one visionary, who is about to achieve such poetic revelation to the common people in his region, a multi-awarded Pangasinan-born poet Santiago “Sonny” Villafania.

His remarkable achievement, in the standard of anlong tradition (Pangasinan Poetry), defies the conventional use of Filipino literary languages, which are English and Filipino, by creating a suite of highly structured sonnets and villanelles in his native lingua franca.

In his book 364-page “MALAGILION: Sonnets tan Villanelles”, one of his poems “Rekindled”, which is included among the collections of poems written in Pangasinan, Villafania takes the reader into a sensual journey of bucolic life that reflects his origin and culture.

“There is a rice-pounding song tonight playing…” he wrote in a simple introductory line, yet the imagery is filled with sensual meaning that is only decipherable among the ordinary people in his region.

The “rice-pounding song” evokes the rhythmic sound of pounded rice on lusong or wooden hollow echoing amid the rising moon and the silences of the night. One could imagine the smell, the sound and the taste of unripe rice being fried on a cauldron and then pounded to make them crunchy.

As the poem continued in the second paragraph, Villafania introduces and defines the rice-pounding not only as an ordinary activity, but also as a ritualistic gathering of young men and women to celebrate the offering to the goddess of earth and harvest.

The poet reveals the symbolic meaning of rice-pounding as offering and ritualistic celebration. In the same way, as he uses a subtle allegory to signify the fruition and harvest of poetry in his own native language. “They will hear me scream my poems of hunting…”, thus, says Villafania with magnificent force and passion in his native language.

There is something mysterious and magical in the language or any language for that matter, that only a poet could fashion, magnify and unveil its hidden message through a unique linguistic expression of symbols and meanings.

A poet is like a messenger and, at the same time, a shaman, who conjures up the spirits to magically transform the language with unassuming meaning and become the common source of understanding among those who write and speak about it.

A good poet lifts up the soul of his or her reader to the symbolic and metaphysical meaning of reality so that his message can be understood and applied by the common people in their daily lives.

In the first paragraph of Sonnet 158, for instance, Villafania mesmerizes his readers with the use of sound and the fluidity of language that even a non-Pangasinan could feel the sensual rhythm and elegance of written words:

Panon takan aroen Pinabli?
Ipetek ko man ira’y sonata
Anlongen ko man ira’y sonito
Ag iraya onkana anganko
Ed puson agto amta’y ondengel
Ed saray Dangoan na panangaro


“How can I love you, dear?/ Even if I sing these sonatas/ Even if I write these sonnets/ These are nothing it seems/ To a heart who knows not how to listen/ To the Songs of Love.”

Villafania addresses that concern with urgency in such a way that his particular readers do not only feel and understand his sentiments, but also live and speak about it. He is like a chameleon immersing and identifying himself with the anguish of his people by gathering them toward a common understanding of reality.

In a sense, Villafania is not only a visionary poet; he is a linguistic philosopher who codifies the origin of language and culture. He dissects and juxtaposes the literary tradition against the modern influences by dialectically infusing them with his poetic revelation of truth.


To understand and appreciate the literary content of Villafania’s 364-page “MALAGILION: Sonnets tan Villanelles” as an important contribution to Philippine literature, it is noteworthy to discuss the derivation of title, the literary content, style and structure.

The book’s title “MALAGILION” is derived from “malapati” (dove), “agila” (eagle), and “lion” (lion), an allusion to the alter ego of a Filipino-American poet Jose Garcia Villa, who called himself as Doveglion (Dove Eagle Lion). A title of the poem from which the famous 20th century American poet E.E. Cummings wrote as a tribute to his Filipino friend, Jose Garcia Villa (Adventures IV 5; CP 904).

In essence, “Sonnet” is derived from “sonetto”, an Italian word for little song from which, in the 13th century, became a poem signifying fourteen lines following strict rhymes and specific procedures. It is fundamentally a dialectical structure with contrasting ideas, emotions, beliefs, images, etc., allowing the poet to resolve the tensions at the end of the poem.

The “villanelle”, on the other hand, is a poetic form originating from French literature and was employed in the English-language poetry in the 1800s. It is composed of two rhyming lines. The first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive stanza and form a couplet at the close. Composed of 19 lines, 5 tercets and 1 concluding quatrain, the villanelle is a complicated poetic form compared to sonnet.

One could imagine the regimen and artistry that Villafania underwent in conceiving and delivering his aesthetic creation, integrating these poetic forms in his own native language. The result of his painstaking labor is, impeccably, a magnificent work of art comparable to one of the Shakespearian opus in the 16th century.

Funded and published by the Philippine government’s Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino and Emilio Aguinaldo College, the book, among the very few written in native languages, is an ambitious attempt to bring literature to the masses, albeit a minute victory over the 170 Filipino languages spoken by the 80 million Filipino people inhabiting the 7,107 Philippine islands.


As a visionary Filipino poet, Villafania advocates the use of native language. He also encourages other writers to weave their craft in their native tongues so that literature will become accessible to the ordinary people, the same poetic vision, which the famous poet Tagore envisioned for his people. Villafania online publication of Dalityapi, for example, is a venue for all international and regional writers, who write in their respective languages.

To sum, in his regular column “The Breaking Signs” at Panorama Sunday magazine, a multi-awarded Filipino poet, writer and columnist Cirilo Bautista hailed Villafania’s book as “a source of rejoicing for readers of regional literatures... Villafania has created 300 sonnets and 50 villanelles in his own language that attempt to reflect the primacy of native culture and return the poet to the central stage of social life.”
© Danny Castillones Sillada
Above photos: (1) Book Cover, (2) The Author, (3) Poster of the book.