“Mabini Art” has become a pejorative term for crass profit-prone art-making, but an exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines shows that the legacy of the several galleries that used to line Mabini Street and nearby M.H. del Pilar Street in Ermita and Malate districts in Manila should not be taken for granted. After all, the art bazaar that was the Mabini gallery row produced several masters of Philippine Art, including National Artists and internationally known art practitioners.

Artworks of three generations of Mabini Artists are showcased in The Mabini Art Movement at the Bulwagang Juan Luna (Main Gallery) of the CCP until February 14.

Exhibit curator is Pearl Tan.

Mabini Art may be called a genre in Philippine painting that developed in the 1950s from the galleries that started to sprout on Mabini Street in Ermita. Largely influenced by Fernando Amorsolo, the first generation of Mabini artists were called “conservatives.”

The first generation’s works were often criticized and labeled as “cheap art” since their paintings were easily produced and reproduced in big quantities.

They started as freelancers who supplied paintings to art shops and dealers. Their genres included still life, landscape, portrait, human interest, street scene, wildlife, religious, abstract, and old masters.

Only few of them had formal education, but some had been taught by Amorsolo himself and Teodoro Buenaventura (1863-1950), a master of classical realism.

This was the period when the varied self-taught artists, college dropouts and a few academically trained artists filled the galleries and studios of Mabini.

Among the the first generation of Mabini Artists were Gabriel Custodio, Simon Saulog, Miguel Galvez, Cesar Buenaventura, Crispin V. Lopez, and Ben Alano.

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Antonio Dumlao, who finished runner-up at the UST National Art Competition for Filipiniana Composition in 1941, belonged to this group. He was also widely recognized for his restoration of Juan Luna’s “Spolarium.” The oil-on-jute-sack “Mountain Belle” depicts a half-nude ethnic woman carrying a “bilao” or native basket full of white flowers in it. Dilapidated bamboo houses along the river are portrayed in “Tabing-ilog.”

But the conservative art of the Mabini artists was challenged by the postwar rise of modernism. Works by modern artists began to compete for space with those by conservative artists in Ermita.

The second generation of Mabini artists thrived in the 1960s and included Paco Gorospe, Emy Lopez, Roger San Miguel, R. Zablan, and J. Pullido.

Gorospe, called by some sectors of the press as the Picasso of the Philippines, tackled multiple mediums such as watercolor and oil. Gorospe also tried his hand on acrylic with his “Man with Fish” where a man holding a fish is depicted in a semi-abstract way in hues of brown, orange, and yellow. He used to be a Fine Arts student of UST but dropped out.

Meanwhile, San Miguel focused on impressionism. A Fine Arts student in the University, he chose to depict scenes as a play of light and shadows. Typical of his style is the oil-on-canvas “Vendors,” which shows a woman amid a busy market carrying a basket of fruits atop her head while holding one arm out to her son.

“Mabini then was a hub for different groups of artists, a Divisoria of sorts,” said San Miguel. “During our night sessions when we had dinner and drank together, we would share and brainstorm on issues concerning the arts. We would learn by comparison and experience.”

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The third generation of artists—those who belonged to the 1970s—seemed to have rebuilt the connection with the first generation of Mabini artists by painting stereotypical scenes and other genre works.

Paintings in the CCP exibibit are loaned from established collections such as those by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Clark Museum and UP Vargas Museum as well as from private collections. Aliliana Margarette T. Uyao

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