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Carlos "Botong" Francisco, A Nation Imagined

 Oil on canvas, 1964, (located at Manila City Hall)
A National Cultural Treasure owned by the City of Manila

Carlos Botong Francisco: A Nation Imagined is the latest art installation at the Ayala Museum in Makati to celebrate the 100th birthday anniversary of Carlos “Botong” Francisco (1912-1969), a Philippine National Artist. Forty paintings and lithographs were culled from various private collections to form this exhibition. Of the large scale paintings on display, Maria Makiling and Fiesta, both oil on canvas, are representative of the indigenous genre which Botong loved to portray. In Maria Makiling, Botong reveals a relaxed and recumbent woman with her legs dangling in the cool waters of the stream and playing with an exotic deer by her side. Fiesta is about how the Filipino people gather to celebrate an important occasion, be that a religious feast or a wedding. The central figures are dancing the tinikling, a popular Philippine dance imitating the bird, tikling, amidst a rustic landscape. Fiesta is vibrant, colorful and chronicles local mores and culture.

The 1969 oil canvas, Camote Diggers, stirs an emotional reaction from the viewer. Hunger and poverty are suggested by the bent and intent figures that are digging with bare hands for their meal. The female digger is skeletal, showing a protruding bone at the nape of her neck. This painting reminds me of Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters.  

The Potato Eaters from the Yuchengco Museum*

“Sungkaan” is a portrait of two women with flowers on their hair and seated on the ground in the same way as Gauguin’s Tahitian Women. They are playing with a sungka, a long wooden board with two rows of carved holes and cowrie shells.

The First Mass and Blood Compact are some of the historical works done in watercolor, the latter in sepia. Botong's historical genre paintings tell a story of the Philippines in bold colors from its brush with the Spaniards which lasted 400 years to the sacrifices of its heroes, Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal.

Of the watercolor works by Botong, I was thoroughly captivated by The Pilgrimage to Antipolo circa 1960. In this canvas, an elegant woman is carried in a hammock by two men on her way to the pilgrimage site. (There's a lot of implied irony here when the real meaning of a pilgrimage is understood.) In the foreground are two little kids who are carried in separate baskets by their father. Their heads bob from the depths of the basket. This painting arouses a feeling of nostalgia, the age of innocence and happy, carefree days.

There’s so much to discover and love about the chef d’oeuvres of Botong, the Poet of Angono, who shows us through the fine details in his works, his immense love of his craft and country.

“And to live we must go back to a bigger audience. For this it must have the power to communicate and not repel. That is why I love to paint big murals for like a composer, I can create a symphony from a history of our country or our own way of life." Letter of Botong to his daughter, Carmen, March 5, 1968.

(Image from the Carlos "Botong" Francisco Centennial Facebook page)

The exhibit will run through March 31, 2013 at the Ayala Museum on the corner of Makati Avenue and Dela Rosa Streets.

*Note: Please check out my article, This Small Museum Packs a Punch written in August 2016 for more entries about Carlos Botong Francisco.

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Images by Charie


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