Arturo Luz: Finding Freedom
Finally creating art without restrictions, Arturo Luz continues to be amazingly prolific.
At 87, National Artist for Visual Arts Arturo Luz is an inexhaustible one-man industry, producing hundreds of paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, sculptures and collages. On 2013 alone, he held three of the biggest exhibitions in his life: paintings at the Manila Contemporary Gallery, wood and metal sculptures at Finale Art File, and black-and-white photography at Silverlens.
“My life is to paint. Because I keep working, I could give any show any day of the week. If someone asks me to show my recent paintings, there are over 150 in my studio. There is a bodega [storeroom] of more paintings. I just take my pick and frame them,” he says. Likewise, the metal sculptures are cast and stored in a huge atelier in Laguna while the wooden pieces are carved and kept in Antipolo.
Luz has just created three portfolios of 20 photo collage prints on leaves from his yard, superimposed on intersecting bands of ochre, grey, and black. Each album is designed in his trademark non-colours: black accentuated by his doodle-like signature in contrasting white. “If you want to understand my art, the key word is transformation. I transform one thing into another. For example, when I take a photo of a painting or leaf, I would cut it up make it into a collage. It has gone from painting to photograph to photo collage,” he explains.
His wit is still sharp as a tack and so is the precision of his artworks. “Today I feel I am completely free. For so long, I worked for the government and for the people. Now, I answer to no one. I do only what I want. Money is the last thing on my mind,” says Luz.
The proponent of Philippine modern art established and managed the Design Centre of the Philippines and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, both of which were the bastions of industrial design and contemporary art, respectively. His Luz Gallery featured the country’s best contemporary artists for 42 years. He folded up the gallery more than 10 years ago as the art market declined then.
While today the art scene has become vibrant again, Luz is a bit wary. Artworks seem to be turning into commodities whose prices escalate annually. Last year, Luz’s paintings were pegged at 50,000 Philippine pesos per square foot; last January, it went up to 60,000 pesos. “Next year it might increase. Why? Most artists, including the very young, keep raising their prices. People like me can’t sit there and wait. The younger ones have done nothing; they have neither the track record nor reputation of any kind. Yet, they set their prices very high. They have this mistaken idea that by hiking their prices, they improve their art. They do not. If I don’t do anything, they will end up being more expensive than me.”
TRANSFORMING AND TRANSITIONING
Luz has earned more than 60 years of critical respect. He has created a vernacular of colour, form, and line to translate his impressions into compositions that reflect his interest in Asian architecture and performers. He utilises his abstract language to delve into memories of travels to India, Cambodia, and Thailand. The intricacy and linearity of the Asian cityscapes have appealed to Luz, and he has gone all-out for these qualities in his abstractions.
Similarly, the performer series appears like an abstract style of hieroglyphics that reflect his aesthetics of the human form. The recurring themes of cityscapes, jugglers, and musicians may seem predictable. Upon closer inspection, the restrained colour palette and the unexpected composition of shapes reveal a quiet poetry that can change the way we look at things.
“For 60 years, I have been doing cityscapes and circus performers and using the same colours—black, white, red, and yellow. The difference is that every year throughout my whole life, they keep reinventing themselves, Luz explains. “When I say landscape in Rajasthan, you won’t see them there. In my trips around Southeast Asia, I have realised that it is impossible to even come close to the complexity and beauty of these cityscapes, temples, and desert architecture. What did I do? I invented my equivalent. They don’t exist. But it gives the look of a cityscape. Do the performers look alike? Over time, they have gone through many transformations. These are my innovations of the human figure.”
In sculpture, Luz’s metalworks, with swooping contours, cubes, grids, and origami-like folds, punctuate public spaces with a distinguished viewpoint. On the other hand, the wooden sculptures, inspired by ancient carved idols, suggest a primeval quality. Still, reduced to basic geometric shapes, the sculptures look very modern for their simplicity.
For his photography, Luz prefers one light source to produce shadows that turn still-life figures into geometric shapes.
Luz credits his manager, Sari Ortiga, owner of Crucible Gallery, for motivating him to keep on holding exhibitions. His art is also his fountain of youth. “This is the only thing that I know and enjoy,” says Luz.
At this stage in his life, income is immaterial. “Never mention sales and money in relation to art. They have no significance. It’s not fun to buy art for investment. It relates
to value, not beauty.”
For Luz, art is something he shares with close friends. Early this year, Evelyn Lim Forbes, owner of Tai Ping Luxury Custom Carpet Company, asked Luz for some of his artwork that would be developed into rug designs for a trade fair. Luz gave his collages to her as a gift. Touched by his generosity, Forbes said she would use the money normally allotted to the artist’s commission to build boats for the typhoon-ravaged provinces.
Luz couldn’t ask for anything more. His world revolves around his studio. Luz rarely attends socials but enjoys eating in restaurants with his wife, Teresita, his three daughters, and
Aside from his prolific art, Luz is also proud of having celebrated his 51st wedding anniversary. “I have found the simple secret, which I keep sharing with my friends: the husband and wife must never be angry at the same time. This contains all the wisdom you can think of.”
Find out more about the prolific National Artist in the Philippine Tatler May 2014 issue, downloadable via Magzter and Zinio. | Photography by Mau Mauricio