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Biography

 

Romeo Villalva Tabuena

Romeo Villalva Tabuena (b. Iloilo City 1921; d. San Miguel de Allende 2015) begins his professional studies in architecture at the Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila in 1939 through the encouragement of his parents. Later he transfers to the School of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines and majors in Commercial Art in 1942. His studies are interrupted by the war and the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and he works with the Underground in the production of propaganda materials. From 1945-46, he is advertising artist doing comprehensive layouts for billboards with Bob Stewart´s Promotion House

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In 1947, he becomes chief artist of the Evening News and creates a daily editorial cartoon. During that time he also meets fellow artist Vicente Manansala. Together they work on adversting and magazine layouts and illustrations. Tabuena also becomes more interested in painting and joins the painting classes at the Univesity of Santo Tomas. The same year he has his first group exhibit at the Naitonal Museum of the Philippines. Two years later he is awarded the second prize in the Annual Exhibtion of the Art Assocation of the Philippines. He continues his artistic development at the Art Students League in New York in 1952 and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris in 1954. In 1955, Tabuena studies at the Instituto Allende and decides to make San Miguel de Allende the base of his painting career. He maintains links with his country through participation in its major art projects, and despite his long residence in Mexico, he retains his Philippine citizenship. One of the philippine Neo-Realists he begins his career with several exhibits of drawings and watercolors at the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG), sister organization of Promotions Inc., founded in 1951. With the formation of PAG, the Neo-Realist group grows to include other PAG members. In 1951, PAG includes Tabuena in the opening group show of Neo-Realist and gallery members at PAG, his first one-man show takes place at PAG and he has a second solo exhibit, a special show of line drawing, at PAG. Tabuena also works on sign-paintings, layouts and other artworks for PAG until 1952. He has his last solo exhibit at PAG in 1952, a show of 20 watercolors. He then leaves the Philippines to continue his studies abroad. Romeo Tabuena is the first solo artist to be presented on PAG’s “Feature Wall,” followed by H.R. Ocampo, Arturo Luz, and Lydia Villanueva-Arguilla (co-founder of PAG and also known as Lyd Arguilla).

 

Tabuena works with different media throughout his career such as watercolors, oils, pastels, enamel paints, tempera colors, crayons, colored inks, and acrylics. Tabuena’s early style is influenced by the early Philippine Neo-Realist movement of the 1950s, a movement that many art historians consider to be one of the most important junctures in the development of modern visual art in the Philippines, the so-called Philippine Art Gallery years from 1950 to 1964. Neo-Realism in Philippines in the 1950s to mid-60s adopted a modernist approach to ‘re-presentation’, through semi-figurative distortion and abstraction. Tabuena joined in 1950 the Neo-Realist group composed of Hernando Ocampo, Vicente Manansala, Victor Oteyza, Cesar Legaspi, Ramon Estella. Mexico profoundly affected his vision and in its fusion with his Oriental heritage, he crystallized his personal and maturing style. Mexican artists Rufino Tamayo, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera greatly inspired and influenced Tabuena in his management of acrylics and style.

 

He is the recipient of various awards and citations, including the Golden Centaur Award from the Academia Italia (1982), Master of Painting Honoris Causa from the International Seminar of Modern Art (1982), Banniere Européenne des Arts (1984), and Medaglia al Merito from the International Parliament (1985). He is also an elected fellow of the International Biographical Center (IBC) in Cambridge, England (1980) and the American Biographical Institute (ABI, 1980). In 1987, ABI awards him the Medal of Honor. He receives the World Decoration of Excellence Medal in 1989, and Man of the Year Award in 1991. IBC elects him to the Center's 1991 International Order of Merit, and in 1993, confers him the Medal of Excellence for the 20th Century.  In 2007, he receives the Medal of Presidential Merit (Pampanguluhang Medalya ng Mérito), Filipinas. In 1995, Tabuena is honored with a major exhibition sponsored by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez for his 40 years of residency and dedication in the artistic life of Mexico in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. A similar exhibit in his honor is launched in November 1996 in Mexico, in cooperation with the Philippine Embassy. During the Golden Anniversary of the Instituto Allende, Tabuena receives a citation for his artistic talent and participation in its cultural events.

 

One of his major works since 1957 is a government-commissioned mural, Filipiniana, at the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. His other exhibits include a ten-year retrospective show in 1959 at the Philippine Art Gallery in Manila. In 1962, his successful one-man show, which is sponsored by the Philippine Government at the International Salon of the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. In 1965, he participates in the Eighth Biennial of Sao Paulo, Brazil as the official Filipino artist and art commissioner from the Philippines. Tabuena held his second major one-man show in Manila in 1973, followed by another in 1975 in Mexico City, and still another in the Galerie Bleue in Manila in 1981. As an implementation of the cultural agreement between Mexico and the Philippines, the Philippine Embassy in a joint effort with the INBA honors Tabuena with a Millennium Show in 2000. Tabuena is considered a national treasure, and his works undoubtedly stand out among the finest artistic legacies of the Philippines. He is widely considered one of the most important Philippine artists of the twentieth century. The highest bid on Christie’s Hong Kong in November 2015 for the painting Three Beggars is 51,852U$.

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Datos / Dates

Nació en / Born in 1921 en Iloílo, Filipinas. Residencia en San Miguel de Allende desde / In San Miguel de Allende since 1955.

Murió en / Died in 2015 en San Miguel de Allende, México.

 

Educación / Education

1955

Instituto Allende, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, México.

1954

Académie de la Grande Chaumière, París, Francia.

1954-55

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Over View of His Work and Style

Tabuena works with different media throughout his career such as watercolors, oils, pastels, enamel paints, tempera colors, crayons, colored inks, and acrylics. In 1949 his art shifts from traditional genre to a more modern idiom. One of his earliest paintings, Barun-Barong, a small oil dated 1949, exhibited at the 10 year retrospective in 1959, marks Tabuena's point of departure from traditional genre to expressionist modern. Tacky, clapped-on, improvised dwelling, raised from war wreckage and odds and ends of army surplus materials, the barung-barong was a ubiquitous object in Philippine landscape soon after the war. Tabuena, like many of his contemporaries, used the subject over and over again for many years after the liberation

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He works on experimental colors in oil, such as in his color studies Heat, Green Symphony, Blue Kiss, Shadows,  Red Lighting, Charcoal Vendors and Street Sweepers. The last two transcend mere color experimentation and are finished paintings, plastically satisfying. From simplification of colors Tabuena turns next to the breaking down of forms and from there he begins his broken-color planes series (1951). In that year Tabuena painted two landscapes Roads and Pathways and Workers in thin brush strokes which marked the beginning of his style to be used often in his watercolors, oils and wood paintings. Roads And Pathways is a landscape done in thin brushwork as opposed to the impasto technique he has been working with so far. These two paintings are again exercises in the manipulation of plastic elements, are an early key to a personality that often baffles by its sudden turns of mood and pace and its seeemingly antithetic directions. Tabuena's thin brushwork in Roads And Pathways reappeareas in his later wood paitings (1951), and still later in Philippine Family (1952). The crude color planes in Workers are developed into the color planes series of 1951. Before going into the logical sequence indicated by his oils Tabuena switches to watercolor, using an old technique, the single-wash method, but in a manner of his own. Instead of following the usual routine of overlapping a second or a third wash over the first he applies prepared greys just once over whatever area he needs the color on. The results are paintings of a startingly fresh and crisp quallity. Tabuena returns in later watercolors to the overlapping technique, but not for corrective purposoes but for continuation of the painting process, for achieving transparency, interval and rhythm. He is best known for his watercolor period from 1952 to 56, at times in a vertical format influenced by Chinese painting. As a result, his broken-color planes series in oil (1951) Feeding Time, Talipapa, Children Playing, Rice Pounding and Hapunan gain a new transparency and fresheness derived from the watercolor discipline. He continues to switch back and forth between oil and watercolor. During that time, Tabuena begins to evolve an oriental style neither Japanese nor Chinese, yet deriving from and advancing both. Using Philippine forms as reference, he finally succeeds in defining a departure from the landscape cliches to which, for a long time, Philippine genre painting has been shackled. Paintings of this style include Kawayan at Hangin, Mood in Lavender, Carabaos and Huts, Umbrellas in the Sun and Umbrellas in the Rain. They presage the flowering of a sensibility and technique that are to unfold the following year and in a foreign country (1952).

Vaqueros marks the beginning of the carabao series. It is a synthesis of precious improvisations, and an introduction to a fresh concept and philososphy of space. Besides being preoccupied with carabao forms TAbuena at this time is also intrigued by the possibilites of working wood grain into his design. An example is the little plywood painting Stampede. Before Tabuena there was no-one who painted carabaos like that. Other paintings of the carabos series include Carabaos in Blue and Carabaos in Pink, both of the extend the plastic experiment of the smaller paintings. The last paintings of his color-planes phase are Pasko and Ancestors. Pasko is a refinement and extension of the chunky forms of Talipapa which began the color planes. Ancestors is the flattened extension of the chunky forms of Pasko.

Tabuena’s early style is influenced by the early Philippine Neo-Realist movement of the 1950s, a movement that many art historians consider to be one of the most important junctures in the development of modern visual art in the Philippines, the so-called Philippine Art Gallery years from 1950 to 1964. Neo-Realism in Philippines in the 1950s to mid-60s adopted a modernist approach to ‘re-presentation’, through semi-figurative distortion and abstraction. Tabuena joined in 1950 the Neo-Realist group composed of Hernando Ocampo, Vicente Manansala, Victor Oteyza, Cesar Legaspi, Ramon Estella. They discussed and criticized each other's work in Sunday sessions. During that time he also continued to work as a staff artist for Promotions Inc. He was also involved in the formation and shows of the Philippine Art Gallery until he left the Philippines in 1952 to broaden his studies abroad.

During his studies at the Art Student League in New York in 1952-54, Tabuena paints Filipino scens from memory with elongated huts and thin legged carabaos, yet he also depicts New York subways, street corners and crowds. He also executed series of lithographs, directly designing on the stone. During his European tour (England, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, Spain and Italy) and his studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, he paints a lot of nude sketching and black and white wash-dry sketches of European scenes. Tabuena got much acclaim for his unique near-monochromatic watercolor landscapes of nipa huts, farmers, and carabaos, with attenuated figures spread out in large tonal areas suggesting early morning fog. In his early work, Tabuena had another side to his art, and this was expressed in dark oil paintings, some of which seemed to reflect the “proletarian” concerns of the period, as in Coal Gatherers. Here the figures are short and squat, with expressionist distortion and with no bright colors to relieve the heavy atmosphere