Books & Art

Honoring the Masters of Mabini Art After Decades of Being Belittled

M Gallery unveils previously hidden Mabini Art masterpieces. 
ILLUSTRATOR Paco Gorospe, Cesar Buenaventura, Simeon Saulog
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When Mabini Art gained popularity in postwar Philippines, it was generally looked down upon by members of high society, who used the name as a derogatory term for what they considered low-class art. The name had nothing to do with Apolinario Mabini, but was derived from a street in Ermita where these paintings were peddled at the time: Calle Mabini

Curators and art collectors hated this genre, whose artists usually exhibited in the streets around Luneta instead of galleries. More than 70 years later, Mabini Art has become a sought-after style and their once-belittled artists are now considered masters. 

Honoring the Mabini Art Masters

M Gallery celebrates Chinese New Year 2021 with the retrospective art show and sale Pagdakila sa Sining Mabini: Honoring the Masters of Mabini on February 9, Tuesday, 6 p.m. The show will run through March 6, 2021.  

The exhibit sale pays tribute to eight masters of the Mabini Art School: Cesar Buenaventura, Salvador Cabrera, Jose D Castro, Gabriel Custodio, Miguel Galvez, Paco Gorospe, Crispin Lopez, and Simon Saulog. 

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“We want to revive appreciation for the Mabini artists,” says Jeane Enriquez Monteverde, owner of M Gallery. “We are unveiling previously hidden masterpieces from Mabini to show that all art is beautiful, no matter where they come from.”

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Reintroducing Mabini Art in the 21st Century 

"Now, we’re taking the opportunity to reintroduce 31 outstanding works by Mabini artists to Manila’s new art audiences: the new and often younger art collectors and aficionados," she revealed.

Headlining the show are two big museum-worthy impressionist pieces by Gabriel Custodio (1912-1993), “Still Life-Going” (43” x 51.5”, oil on canvas, 1956) and “Ruin” (33” x 47”, oil on canvas, 1954).

'Ruin' by Gabriel Custodio 

Photo by Gabriel Custodio.
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Hailing from Tanza, Cavite, the U.P. School of Fine Arts graduate of 1939 gained prominence for doing the marvelous murals at the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Makati and for co-founding the Talahib Art Group. 

Paco Gorospe (1939-2002), from Binondo, Manila and known as "The Picasso of the Philippines,” has three modernist works on sale, including the colorful piece called “Musician” (47.5” x 35.25”, acrylic on canvas, undated).

'Musician' by Paco Gorospe

Photo by Paco Gorospe.
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Untitled Work by Paco Gorospe

Photo by Paco Gorospe.

Untitled Work by Paco Gorospe

Photo by Paco Gorospe.
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On sale, too, are still lives from J.D. Castro (1908-1994) from Carmen, Nueva Ecija, who did flower paintings for National Book Store, and portraits from Salvador Cabrera (1930-1986), who is known in art circles as “The Quick Draw Artist” for finishing as many as 10 paintings a day.

Untitled Still Life by J.D. Castro 

Photo by J.D. Castro.
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Untitled Still Life by J.D. Castro 

Photo by J.D. Castro.

Untitled Still Life by J.D. Castro

Photo by J.D. Castro.
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Untitled Work by Salvador Cabrera (1985)

Photo by Salvador Cabrera.

Untitled Work by Salvador Cabrera (1981)

Photo by Salvador Cabrera.
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There is a seascape by Miguel Galvez (1912-1989) from Paombong, Bulacan, who is the first Filipino to win in the Southeast Asia Art Festival, and a painting of a beautiful maiden by Simeon Saulog (1916-1995), whose works have made the rounds of the auction circuits, realizing prizes as high as $7,266.

Untitled Seascape by Miguel Galvez 

Photo by Miguel Galvez.
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Untitled Work by Simeon Saulog

Photo by Simeon Saulog.

Aside from the historical oeuvre “Katipunan” (43.4” x 35.5”, oil on canvas, 1976) by Crispin V Lopez (1903-1985), the show also features 15 alluring landscapes, one of which is a diptych by Cesar Buenaventura (1922-1983) from Manila. The peasant life and landscape works of Buenaventura, who is the son of painter Teodoro Buenaventura and a student of Maestro Fernando Amorsolo, were likened to those of Vincent van Gogh.

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Untitled Works by Cesar Buenaventura

Photo by Cesar Buenaventura.

Photo by Crispin Buenaventura.
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Photo by Crispin Buenaventura.

Photo by Crispin Buenaventura.
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Interestingly, Monteverde’s decision to launch this Mabini show, foreseen to be the first of many, firmed up when PR man Philip Abadicio filled her in on how Cesar Buenaventuras are raking big money in the auction circuit. 

What makes these Mabini artists great is their masterful brushstrokes, she confessed, "coupled with depth, balance, and colors that bring out feelings that speak to everyone." 

Thus, for Monteverde, this retrospective is aimed at "pure appreciation of beauty and to honoring the goodness of the masters for the people's appreciation."  

I want to magnify only the beauty of visual arts because to let real beauty and truth shine through, she said. 

Pioneering Art Supplies in the Philippines 

Although M Gallery started only seven years ago, its roots are deeply grounded in the owner's very auspicious family history. The gallery has been mounting group exhibits by both veteran and young artists since 2014. Monteverde is the granddaughter of the Philippines' pioneer art supplies store patriarch Mariano Enriquez, who opened the only art supplies store in Recto. 

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M Enriquez Art Supply started as the only importer, dealer, distributor, and seller of quality materials, becoming a household word among students and artists.   

“I was a teenager then and I would meet all sorts of artists and students visiting our store to buy their art supplies,” Monteverde recalled. We catered to architecture and engineering, too."

"Painting then was more of a hobby than a profession," she explained. "Artists would sometimes give us their paintings in exchange for art supplies—or simply because they're happy. 

This accounted for how the family started to accumulate so many paintings over the period of 50 years. They supplied National Book Store with imported but affordable art top-quality materials like Grumbacher, Talens, Holbein, and Sakura.

We would have the likes of BenCab, Vicente Manansala, HR Ocampo, Ibarra dela Rosa, Oscar Zalameda, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, Lopez, Custodio, and Buenaventura dropping in to buy paints and supplies," she mused.

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Many of these works were the artists' own gifts to our grandfather. Others were bought from galleries. Many were procured in bulk from galleries that closed,” she said. And, thus, the Monteverde art collection grew through the years and is now being sold for the first time. 

Getting Inspiration from 1930s Architecture

The architecture was exquisite! she delighted. Thus, the inspiration to come up with a gallery came from the purchase of the beautiful pre-War Rufino ancestral mansion on Taft Avenue.   

The artworks found a new home. "When I bought the mansion, I knew it would have to more than just our office,” Monteverde said. She now handles the family's importing business.

Traditional Chinese women aren't allowed to inherit and run the family business," she confessed.So I concentrated on something else I knew would be a great livelihood, too. 

I have always been fond of old things—furniture, lamps, and, yes, paintings—and we used to import shiploads of antique from around the globe, she shared.

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So, we came up with M Gallery or Gallery M, which could mean Monteverde, museum, or even Mabini, she teased. “Depending on how you want to look at it.

mgallery.ph

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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