Inside The Light-Filled Home of Philippine National Artist Arturo Luz
Walking into Arturo Luz’s house was like viewing one of his paintings. The clarity of the space cleared the mind and lifted the spirit, leaving the viewer with a feeling of lightness.
“It’s uncluttered, simple, straight to the point,” said the National Artist. “That’s me. That’s my art.”
Light cascades down the staircase from a sundeck on the top floor, and comes in softly from high, narrow windows revealing sky and greens.
Everything in that house in Pasig was white, from the gate to the doors, from the walls to the staircase and banister, even the laminated plywood relief art, the artist’s own work from the 1970s.
What’s not white seemed to be pretty much black: the sofas, the grand piano, the slate flooring from India—a country of which he is very fond—and the tubular metal sculptures by the artist.
By the piano, a work titled Cities of the Past introduced a splash of burnt red. “It’s a painting of recollections of palaces, forts, and monuments I’ve seen in India, reinvented, stylized and simplified,” said Luz.
Everything in this house was white; what’s not white seemed to be pretty much black: the sofas, the grand piano, the slate flooring from India and metal sculptures by the artist. By the piano, a work titled “Cities of the Past” introduces a splash of burnt red.
Though situated in a densely packed neighborhood, the house was surrounded by high white walls and giant ferns, which infused it with a feeling of calm and great privacy. Light cascaded down the staircase from a sundeck on the third
Dressed in a casual gray shirt and trousers, with his salt-and-pepper hair combed back, and square red glasses framing his face, Luz leaned back on one of the black sofas in his living room.
When he decided he wanted to build his own home, after renting in Makati for 35 years, Luz rang his good friend, Lor Calma. “Lor said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it for you.’” Lor Calma did the initial planning with his son, Ed Calma, before turning the project over to Ed to implement.
“Ed Calma and I had one meeting,” recounted Luz. “It lasted 10 minutes. I told him I wanted something simple, open and light. Fortunately, he knew me and I knew him quite well. He went off, made the plan, showed it to me and I said, ‘This is perfect. Build it.’ I didn’t change one line or one dot in that plan.”
Ed Calma delivered two studios, three bedrooms, a living room, and kitchen—all in 406 square meters. “I thought it quite remarkable,” said Luz. “This must be the smallest, cheapest house he’s ever built!”
Luz offered a tour of the house, beginning with the studio adjacent to the sala. “This is what I call my bodega,” he said, pushing open a heavy white door to reveal a roomful of unframed paintings.
His years of experience running The Luz Gallery was evident in the way the paintings are neatly stacked and organized on white shelving.
“‘Why are the doors so heavy,’ you ask? Because of Ed Calma’s obsession with German fixtures! My wife is getting arthritis from opening doors,” Luz said laughing.
The deadpan humor and delivery were unexpected. So how much of the house was him, and how much of it was his wife, the elegant Tessie Luz?
“When you see clutter, that’s her,” he said, deadpan of course. “Part of the solution for that is our master’s bedroom, which is full of closets.” Ribbing aside, Luz said that in all their years of marriage, they have had all of two minor arguments. “We get along,” he concluded.
The two other bedrooms in the house belonged to their children.
A feeling of openness suffused the entire third floor, thanks to a sundeck that overlooked the rooftops and treetops of the neighborhood.
Upon entering his studio on the second floor, I was transported to a world far removed from the suburbs. A long white table spanned three-fourths of the rectangular room. On the table rested the master’s tools: dozens of brushes, pencils and ink pens.
Art books and terracotta figures filled the cube-shaped shelving lining the walls. The pottery was 700 years old, dating to the Madjapahit Empire in Central Java, and bought during his travels to Indonesia.
Complementing the natural light that streams in through tall, narrow windows, fluorescent panels hung from the ceiling some three and a half meters above.
Tall and seemingly at home, his works leaned on the shelving in stacks of five or 10—the number of paintings he paints in a series.
“This is where I live,” Luz said. “Most often I wake up at 7 a.m. The first thing I do is come here. I work till 1
“I make hundreds and hundreds of drawings,” he said, pulling out rolls of paper from beneath the worktable. The drawings are studies of paintings-to-be. He unfurled one drawing of a Cityscape and showed me the painting, about 10 times larger than the drawing, now completed and resting with others in his Cityscape series.
“Cities don’t look like that. I never paint what I see, only what I remember and feel,” he said, giving a glimpse into his creative process. “Sometimes I paint directly,” he said, showing me a work-in-progress on the worktable. “Unlike most artists, I never use easels. I work
Asked about an iron sculpture near the window, he said he had a series of archetypal figures he was working on in his Laguna workshop. “See those dinky little things?” he asked, pointing to a cardboard model on a shelf. “I’m turning those into huge metal sculptures as tall as this room.” He hoped to have an exhibit of his ironwork later that year.
“My definition of happiness,” Luz said, leaning closer and giving me the feeling of being in a very privileged position, “is to do what you like to do, not what you have to do. As you and I know, 95 percent of humans do what they despise because they need to earn a living. I do what I love to do.”
How would he like to be remembered? “As a man who enjoyed painting,” he said with a smile. And with that, I take my leave to allow this affable National Artist his precious siesta.
A Matter of Light
“He gave me full freedom,” said Ed Calma about working with Arturo Luz. “The only requirement was he wanted a certain amount of light to enter his studio and the house.”
Calma came up with the concept of designing the house to work as a camera aperture, limiting the amount of light that spills in from the roof deck, and through narrow windows on the sides of the house.
“The main staircase is like a light shaft coming from the third-level roof,” says Calma, who earned his Bachelor’s in Architecture from the Pratt Institute in New York, and his Master’s in Advanced Design from Columbia University.
The result is that the main living and dining areas have just the right amount of light—never too bright, and never too hot, even on a summer day.
With a limited budget, Calma chose to work with mostly concrete. The flooring on the ground floor is black slate from India, and the flooring on the second and third floors, bleached teak from Indonesia.
“The house is very basic,” said Calma. “It’s a box but a single idea still dominates it.”
This story was originally published in the July 2008 issue of Town & Country Philippines. Minor edits were made by the