Remembering Cesar Legaspi
The first of four exhibitions to commemorate the National Artist Cesar Legaspi’s centenary opened last April at the Main Gallery of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. Titled “Lying in State,” this exhibition displays Legaspi’s artworks from the late 1960s to mid-1980s. It was followed by Ayala Museum's "The Brave Modern".
Born in April 2, 1917, Legaspi is remembered for his singular achievement of refining cubism in the Philippine context. Legaspi belonged to the so-called “Thirteen Moderns” of the pre-WWII era and later, the “Neo-realists” with Arturo Luz, Vicente Manasala, Jose Joya, and Hernando Ocampo.
Legaspi's distinctive style and daring themes contributed significantly to the advent and eventual acceptance of modern art in the Philippines. Legaspi made use of the geometric fragmentation technique, weaving social comment and juxtaposing the mythical and modern into his overlapping, interacting forms with disturbing power and intensity. His collaborative works with Ocampo, who was posthumously awarded the National Artist distinction for visual arts on top of his remarkable works in fiction and plays, depict anguish and dehumanisation of beggars and labourers in the city.
During his career, he has been part of several exhibitions abroad. Most notable of which was the one in Wraxall Gallery in London where he had the pleasure of sharing the spotlight with other renowned Filipino artists Mauro Malang Santos and Benedicto Cabrera in 1982. He was an active member of the Art Association of the Philippines founded by Purita Kalaw-Ledesma and was also the head of the popular Saturday Group artists from 1978 until his death on April 7, 1994.
In the painting Games for Three, curator Ditas Samson explained that it highlights Legaspi's use of intense colour despite his colour blindness. He relied on contrasting tonalities, hence his richly hued colour palettes. In this work, Kargador, and many others, Legaspi's fascination with the human figure may also be observed. “The human torso was his vessel for visual expression... When he was a child, his lungs were filled with water, and so doctors had to periodically drain them and inject antiseptic. During this time, he would feel waters sloshing inside him. This is why the torsos in his paintings are fluid.”
Singer Celeste Legaspi, the neo-realistic painter's daughter, hopes that, through this, the Filipino youth will get a glimpse of her father’s take on the relevant political issues of his time, as reflected in his works. “Perhaps through him, they will learn some of life’s great lessons. Despite being colour-blind, he was able to surmount his challenge and continuously strive for excellence despite that vital handicap,” she shared.
Another exhibition is scheduled for June with two more to follow in December.