Fires of creation and destruction

Federico Aguilar Alcuaz was originally proclaimed National Artist for Visual Arts in 2009, but controversy hounded its selection process.

In 2016, he was fully conferred the title posthumously.

He died in 2011 at age 78.

Alcuaz lived intermittently at the then Manila Hilton (now Waterfront Manila Pavilion) with two rooms serving as his abode and studio cum storage from 1968 until his death. Fifteen of his paintings were on loan to the hotel until a fire broke out in 2018 which damaged the building.

‘Beatification of San Lorenzo Ruiz.’

Luckily, the paintings, which included two murals, the Proclamacion de la Nueva Republica and Beatification of San Lorenzo Ruiz, both done in 1981, were spared from the fire. These works were also unique as these have titles which Alcuaz rarely gave.

Curiously, this was not the first time that Alcuaz’s paintings were put in danger as a similar incident happened also at the Manila Hilton in 1983.

Alcuaz noted in his journal entry that he was at first not worried upon knowing from a friend that the hotel was on fire. But he was frightened after he checked his rooms.

“I looked up and saw the spectacle — my room looked like a frying pan — the fire underneath my room gnawing as if clutching my windows,” he wrote.

He thought it was all done: “Goodbye to the paintings up there — no more Tres Marias — my possessions in my handbag, my new suits and my poor plants — they must be withering now.”

‘SELF-Portrait.’

Fortunately, all his works survived.

“I would really consider it a great miracle — there I could see how I was being taken care of by Him,” he said.

Most of Alcuaz’s works are now part of the collection of art patron Eddie Chua who owns a museum in Quezon City. Chua has recently published a book on Alcuaz’s works in Spain in support of the quincentennary celebration of exchange between Spain and the Philippines.

‘UNTITLED.’

“The strength of the Chua collection is Alcuaz’s landscapes of Spain, represented by not just the bird’s eyeview of cityscapes, coastal towns, seascapes and nightscapes, but also an abstract surrealist sense of shapes, patterns, and colors,” said National Museum deputy director general Ana Labrador.

“These later transmitted to his more abstract forms, particularly in his 10-year Art Protis creations from 1970 — the non-woven tapestries that he made in then Czechoslovakia,” 16 of which are in the Chua collection, she added.

‘Magnolias and Flowers Under the Moonlight.’

Chua admitted that his vast Alcuaz collection will not be possible without his late wife Norma. Their love for what is beautiful as well as on the universality of art in general pushed and guided them in collecting masterpieces by Filipino masters, notably Alcuaz.

Chua shares the collection to the public through the museum they built and the books they published. Alcuaz’s works, said Chua, are visions of the rich artistic heritage of the country.

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