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Romulo Galicano has it all figured out

The famed visual artist says he has come full circle in the Lapu-Lapu painting — a figurative work which has elements of portraiture from which he learned about skin tone; landscape which was about color tone; and realism which he channeled through the scene’s somber hues.



Illustration by Glenzkie Tolo

Romulo Galicano sounds emphatic.

Over the phone, the famed Filipino visual artist tells Daily Tribune: Sa tingin ko, natutupad na ang pangarap ko (I think my dream is coming true).”

‘ANG Dumadaug na mga Mangungubat ni Datu Lapu-Lapu (The Victorious Warriors of Datu Lapu-Lapu)’ 70” x 100” oil on canvas, 2021.

Mulong, as he’s known to friends and the art community, is talking about his evolving interest in figurative painting, which he pursued with painstaking detail in Ang Dumadaug na mga Manggugubat ni Datu Lapu-Lapu (The Victorious Warriors of Datu Lapu-Lapu) — his latest painting that is among the works on exhibit at ManilART 2021, the annual, week-long art fair that runs from 20 to 24 October at the SMX Aura Convention Center, Taguig.

The painting’s depiction of the Battle of Mactan — done in oil on canvas and measuring 70” x 100”— is part of the National Quincentennial Commission (NQC) exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Philippine part in the first circumnavigation of the world, the victory in Mactan, and other related events, collectively known as the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines (2021 QCP).

Two striking images catch the eyes: the agony of a fallen Ferdinand Magellan; and the bloodlust stance of natives about to rain deadly blows, including one clutching a big rock, on the foreign intruder.

‘NOTRE Dame, Winter Time’ 35” x 45” oil on canvas, 1983.

Another attention-grabbing detail: the symmetrical incline of the warriors, frozen in time but evoking rhythmic movement.

Finally, the signature vertical line in most Galicano paintings — in this instance, red and black, appearing to divide and yet unite the tableau.

The artist gladly informs this reporter of the nitty-gritty behind the making of his new opus. He read three books, including Antonio Pigafetta’s account of the early-morning attack, and the Boxer Codex, which contained illustrations of Visayan warriors. He got hold of photos of what was then Lapu-Lapu’s kingdom, specifically Sitio Buwaya where the action took place.

He doesn’t paint anything without research, he stresses. For instance, he points out, the beach where Magellan met his end didn’t have sand like that of Boracay. Sitio Buwaya in Mactan, he says, is rough and rocky — which explains the warrior who’s about to pound Magellan with a large stone.

That’s what artistic integrity means, says Galicano. Oh, yes, he adds, it comes hand-in-hand with artistic license — which, in the painting, is expressed in Magellan’s helmet. It’s supposed to have slipped out of his head, according to Pigaffeta, but Galicano decided to put it back in place as a nod to Spanish pride and power.

How to portray Lapu-Lapu, says Galicano, is likewise an exercise in artistic license. He was 76 years old at the time, so he must’ve just issued orders and watched in the sidelines.

GALICANO at work.

“I am 76 now, so I put myself in the painting,” Galicano reveals, pointing to the man wearing a vest and a red headgear.

There are more details, the artist volunteers. The entire piece was composed in a pattern of three pyramids to represent Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. And the victorious raising of hands and weapons harks back to David slaying Goliath, a symbol of the weak beating the powerful.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, says Galicano: “I’m expressing myself here as a Filipino, not only as a Cebuano.”


Abstract expressionism

He’s come a long way from Carcar, his birthplace, where his grandfather Jose Galicano was a writer, and his mother Josefa was good in drawing.

Recalling his early days as an amateur painter learning the ropes from the Dimasalang group of Sofronio Y. Mendoza and E. Aguilar “Abe” Cruz, and enrolling at the University of the East, only to drop out on the first semester of his freshman year, Galicano says he spent a long time chasing his muse.

‘MADRIGAL and Eduque Family’ 44” x 53” oil on canvas, 2006.

Primarily known as a realist and who became a sought-after portraitist, he recounts stumbling upon American abstract expressionism, particularly Barnett Newman’s zips — thin, vertical lines which Galicano found liberating.

People couldn’t understand those lines at first. “Nakakasira sa painting (It messes up the painting),” they would comment. “Now they always look for it,” Galicano says, laughing.

He has come full circle in the Lapu-Lapu painting, he muses — a figurative work which has elements of portraiture from which he learned about skin tone; landscape which was about color tone; and realism which he channeled through the somber hues.

An artist must never be stagnant, he stresses, and that’s the dictum he lives by.

“I’m still a ‘struggling’ artist,” he declares — maybe not in a financial sense, but in his thirst for knowledge.

“If not for the pandemic,” he adds, “you’ll find me at Fully Booked looking at all the new art books.”