Abstraction is one of, if not the highest, forms of art. It is a sublime art form, a portal into the mystical depths of our minds.

One of the most influential American painters of the 20th century, the revered abstract expressionist Arshile Gorky (1904–1948) once said: "Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes. . .Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas."

It comes as no surprise that market values of works by Filipino abstractionists have seen a meteoric upsurge throughout the past years, continuously setting and breaking records here and there. It is also not unsurprising that the country's leading auction house León Gallery's highly anticipated year-end sale is teeming with abstract works that will surely entice bidders to engage in fierce bidding battles. Works by revered abstractionists take the centrepiece in The Kingly Treasures Auction, happening on December 3, 2022, Saturday, at 2 pm.

Read also: Jaime Ponce de Leon: Connoisseur of the Finer Things

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Above Fernando Zóbel in his studio

These artists prove that abstract art is not merely for purposes of aesthetics. Rather, it is an extension of the human soul, an ethereal praxis bridging the gap between the known and the unknown.

First on the list is the revered Fernando Zóbel. After his figurative phase in the 1950s, Zóbel veered towards abstraction in the late 1950s. This move resulted in his best-known and coveted series: Saetas, Serie Negra, and Serie Blanca. Zóbel explored various themes and techniques throughout his career, yet consistently traversed through the realms of his abstraction instincts. Zóbel's Luminosa II embodies Zobel's character as an ever-metamorphosing artist during his lifetime.

Read also: Fernando Zóbel: Get to Know the Artist and His Dreams

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Above "Luminosa II", Fernando Zóbel, signed (lower right), inscribed and dated 'Manila 1968', oil on canvas, 38" x 38"

"Prior to the execution of this work, Zóbel had already largely shifted from his early Figurative works to his iconic and groundbreaking abstract works. After his 1961 Serie Negra pieces, which featured a predominantly monochromatic palette, he would begin to experiment with colour once again with the appearance of siennas, dark browns, ochres, and greys," the León Gallery catalogue states.

"This shift signalled an important milestone not only in Zóbel's practice but in the abstract approach itself. This is because the predominant disinterestedness of abstraction has seemingly given way to the exploration of memory and nostalgia.

"But in 1968, Zóbel would eventually concern himself not only with the prima facie of visual objects but with the disposition and intersection of art and culture. During this era, Zóbel's works were noticeably more geometric and hard-edged. His approach reflected the harshness of the artistic trends that dominated the late '60s."

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Above "Untitled", Florencio B Concepcion, circa 1980s, oil on canvas, 60" x 60"

Continuing on the list is Florencio B Concepcion, an acclaimed art educator and foremost abstract expressionist painter who had a profound influence on the creative practices of Gus Albor and Lao Lianben. 

"The sublime visual poetry that is Concepcion's works evokes meditation and solitude. Concepcion induces the viewer to immerse and envelop oneself in the tranquil silence of our inner being. Thus, freedom in yielding myriad meanings and expressions is accorded to his audience," the catalogue writes. 

"The often-jarring colours he employs in his works represent the multitude of contradictions we encounter in our earthly life. However, these conflicts bring to light the innate vividness of Concepcion's works. 

"Concepcion makes us grasp the notion that it is through solemn introspection and genuine acceptance of contradictions as part of our mortal existence that we enkindle a total oneness within ourselves. A humanizing quality is imbibed, and harmonious concordance among contradicting forces is engendered."

The particular piece on offer, Untitled, was a part of Concepcion's last retrospective exhibition at the University of the Philippines Jorge B Vargas Museum in 2007. The works in the exhibit encapsulate Concepcion's creative journey and metamorphosis.

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Above "Temporary Exit From Reality", Lao Lianben, signed (lower left) and dated 2008, acrylic, pencil, and modelling paste on canvas, 55 1/2" x 82"

Lao Lianben is not only an embodiment of Zen aesthetics; he is Zen personified. As a person, Lao has a soft-spoken and gentle character. Therefore, every work of Lao carries that specific quiet character, such as this piece titled Temporary Exit from Reality

"This piece exemplifies Lao's creative exercise on enigmatic solitude, one borne out of imbibing the spirit of Zen within oneself," the catalogue states.

"In this work, Lao depicts an abstract figure of a man in repose. A circle, a recurring motif in Lao's works, can be seen directly above the man's head. It represents the ensō, which translates to 'circle' and symbolizes enlightenment, totality, and nothingness in Zen Buddhism. Lao "departs" from the world's tormented reality to encounter his inner conflicts. Thus, we see the artist in actual deep contemplation.

"The closed circle also represents a "portal" into enlightenment, the balance and harmony of all things. In Zen aesthetics, a closed circle symbolizes sublime meditation. Integrated into Lao's trademark white composition, the artist evokes a state in which the mind, body, and spirit temporarily detach themselves from the often-painful predicaments of reality and enter a state of lulling silence, a path toward spiritual awakening and renewal."

Read also: 40 Other Important Filipino Visual Artists Who Are Not Yet National Artists

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Above "Man's Life Cycle", Jose Joya, signed and dated 1968 (lower right), inscribed with title and date 'New York February 1968), oil on canvas, 72" x 72"

Jose Joya is represented by his most well-documented work, Man's Life Cycle. It is a work that encapsulates the life-long friendship between Joya and Manuel Dumlao, a fellow graduate of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. In a letter sent from London and dated June 17, 1969, Joya writes to Manuel:

"Dear Manny,

Four hours before I left New York, I was still at the warehouse of my broker, helping wrap the painting to be forwarded to you. I personally wrapped the brown paper after cleaning and signing the picture right there. In case you are doubtful over the right side up, there is a small arrow pointing up behind at the vertical stretcher and the title indicates the right position.


Peping Joya"

León Gallery curator Lisa Guerrero Nakpil further notes that Man's Life Cycle "represents a highly sophisticated phase in Joya's artistic trajectory, characterized with a restrained selection of colours, the colours of both sand and snow. He uses this pure palette to create a sculptural vista "composed of heavy impasto and drips. . .expertly harnessing the gestural energy in this work from 1968."

Read also: José Joya: Why the National Artist is a Pillar of Philippine Modern Art

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Above "Diaphanous A XI", Romulo Olazo, signed and dated 1976 (lower right), oil on canvas, 36" x 48"

Rounding off the list is Romulo Olazo, who "once found his success as a commercial art director at an advertising firm in the 1960s. In 1974, he left his profession in a bold and spirited endeavour to pursue his passion for the arts and develop his artistry. He ventured into painting and printmaking and successfully combined both to produce his most iconic series: Diaphanous and Permutation."

Olazo started his magnum opus, the Diaphanous series in 1970, making the work at hand, Diaphanous A XI (created in 1976), a seminal piece from the now iconic body of work. 

'The Kingly Treasures Auction' is happening this December 3, 2 pm, at Eurovilla 1, Rufino Street corner Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City. Preview week is from November 26 to December 2, 2022, from 9 am to 7 pm. For further inquiries, email info@leon-gallery.com or contact +632 8856-27-81. To browse the catalogue, visit www.leon-gallery.com.


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