Capitalists And Money

Arturo Luz’s minimalist works of art

ONE New Year’s Eve in the early 1950s, Filipino artist Arturo Luz saw three men on a rickety bicycle maintaining perfect balance as they rode down the street. The lean figures of the men were etched in his mind, and later informing his body of work, as first seen in his 1952 oil painting Bagong Taon (New Year).

Unlike most new year’s resolutions, the approach of using lines to create disciplined designs stuck with Mr. Luz, who was later made a National Artist. Displaying linear and geometric elegance and strength, many of Mr. Luz’s paintings, including works that haven’t been seen for decades, are currently on view until July 13 at SM Megamall in Ortigas, Mandaluyong City.

The artist found that his meticulous nature suited the choice to paint a variety of visual elements mainly with lines, be they cyclists, acrobats, musicians, performers, ancient pottery, and even Asian architecture.

“In my own little world, I know precisely what I want to do. And for me, the greatest satisfaction comes from creating works of art. Nothing can compare to it,” Mr. Luz once said.

Art critic Cid Reyes, who curated the exhibition and previously published a book on the Filipino icon’s life and work, said at the exhibit launch on July 2 that there are many reasons Mr. Luz deserves the mini-retrospective.

“Even among the Thirteen Moderns, his style was a stand-out. It has nothing to do with the subject matter; it has mainly to do with a way of thinking, a way of approach to reality, and also the style and technique of what we call minimalism,” he said in an opening speech.

“The taste for minimalism was introduced by Mr. Luz at a time when the aesthetic taste of the Filipino bordered on the extravagant, the excessive.”

The exhibit, organized by the Renaissance Art Gallery, shows a variety of his works — paintings, collages, sculptures, sketches — from his early days to his death in 2021.

STREAMLINEDAmong the highlights is a series titled Cities of the Past, which began in the 1990s. The works were born from Mr. Luz’s frequent travels when he was inspired to paint Asian temples, forts, and palaces.

Gracing the launch were National Artists Virgilio Almario (for Literature) and Ramon Santos (for Music), who told BusinessWorld that Mr. Luz was a very quiet man who was full of talent.

“His imagination as an abstractionist is unique, very different from his peers. Even when I wasn’t very conscious about art, I already liked his works,” said Mr. Almario.

Mr. Santos pointed out the beauty in his subtle form of cubism. “It’s fantastic how he drew a musician, a cyclist, and a juggler using the same type of lines. It’s very simple. The word here is subtlety,” he said.

Despite receiving praise and admiration for his contributions to Philippine contemporary art, Mr. Luz was known to maintain a humble demeanor, the two added.

Mr. Reyes, who had interviewed Mr. Luz extensively in the past and had written a book on him, explained that minimalism used to be unfamiliar in the Philippines.

“Most of the paintings of the past were over-decorative, over-indulgent in terms of form and color. It was Mr. Luz who decided to clean all the unnecessary details of a painting. That is the reason this exhibition is called ‘Streamlined’,” he said.

“By taking a dot from here to down there that comprises a line, and with lines alone, creating masterpieces.”

“Streamlined: The National Artist Arturo Luz Exhibition” is on display until July 13 at the Art Center on the 4th floor of SM Megamall Bldg. A in Mandaluyong. For more information, visit renaissanceartph.com. — Brontë H. Lacsamana