Very few people know that National Artist for Visual Arts Federico Aguilar Alcuaz attended the Ateneo Law School of the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. In fact, he was awarded the institution’s Outstanding Law Alumnus in 1981.
He was bashful and said of the award: “It was a law award to an artist alumni.”
Nevertheless, he attended the awarding and accepted the award, one of the many he received as an accomplished citizen of the Philippines and of the world culminating in 2009 with the declaration of the Order of National Artists, as selected by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Aside from being a visual artist, Alcuaz also played cello when he was young, a skill that he learned from his musician father in high school.
As one of the premier artists the Philippines has produced, Alcuaz created hundreds of masterpieces depicting his numerous moods as seen in a number of his works.
In December 1981, he wrote that at the San Francisco Airport, while waiting for his trip to New York that evening, he felt very lonely that he cried, and these happened many times when he was alone in his studio.
“I would pray and offer to Him the loneliness and the sadness that bore the paintings I produce as the fruit,” he wrote.
“People will never believe the loneliness that hovers around me when I look and see, when I hear sounds, sweet or sour, when I feel in the best of spirits and happy. I become sad, and when sad, it becomes more unbearable,” he said.
Undoubtedly, these feelings are reflected in his choice of dark palettes while still showing the creativity, talent and genius.
In the latest book, Alcuaz: Navigating the Spanish Soul (CrownPlas Museum, 2020), published about him through the efforts of Alcuaz’s biggest collector Eddie Chua, the artist was likened to Domenikos Theotokopoulos, widely known as El Greco, whose works were marked by ambiguity and surreal quality.
The book notes that Alcuaz’s “landscapes and cityscapes are neither run-of-the-mill pastoral scenes imbued with ethical profundity nor based from real-life settings, but culled from his memory and emotion for a particular city and its environs.”
Aside from the color and forms, “Alcuaz communicates either a light-hearted wonderment for the expansive geography or despondency for his solitariness as an itinerant artist.”
These are evident in his works such as The Calm Riviera, Serene Nights for the City, and By the River Bank.
Like all other great artists, Alcuaz’s talent rested on his ability to execute the scenes of the environment he was in, the sitters in his portraits amidst the cacophony of emotions playing in his mind.
What he had achieved in life proved what he would regularly hear when he was young — that he would live “a miserable life” for being a painter.
On his craft, he said in 1976: “Painting is not a competition to prove that one is better than the other. It is more of an internal struggle with oneself, to do better, to improve, for there is satisfaction we derive from painting and not what others really say or think.”
He also noted that “people would know how to distinguish high art from low comedy as painting to cartoon” and compared art to sacredness.
“A sacred thing as art should be treated with seriousness, intelligence and absolute sincerity,” he noted.