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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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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


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


Académie de la Grande Chaumière, París, Francia.


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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