Arts & Culture

Colorblind National Artist Continues to Inspire Young Artists

The family of the late Cesar Legaspi celebrates his 100th birthday with an exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
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When people talk about National Artist Cesar Legaspi, they tend to mention that the he was colorblind. But in truth, the master painter only had trouble seeing the colors red and green. Interestingly enough, those two colors dominate the palette of his most famous works, as we are reminded at the exhibit celebrating his birth centennial.

Famous for his neo-realist work, Legaspi achieved what many would identify as cubist.


Cesar Legaspi, a plaster sculpture by Ron Hay

Located at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the tribute is given the name “Lying in State.” Legaspi’s granddaughter and the exhibit’s co-curator, Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, explains that its name was derived from how the artist’s remains now rest beside his wife’s, after being excavated from their resting place at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. Legaspi-Ramirez explains that the name also roots itself in the fact that “there’s a lot of myth-making that goes on in terms of how we construct stories about the nation,” and her grandfather’s role as a national artist “participates in that construction of what we see and believe about the Philippines.”

Some of Legaspi’s art pieces included in the exhibit were commissioned during the martial law period in the Philippines by the leaders who built the foundation that houses the current walk-through exhibit.


Items from Legaspi's studio were distributed among his family members and some of his valuables were put on display at the exhibit.

Instead of exclusively showcasing the artist’s works, curators Eileen and Claro Ramirez wanted to engage with the artisans of today. Among original knickknacks and tools from Legaspi’s dismantled studio and some pieces from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas collections, modern renditions from young artists are interspersed throughout the gallery. A prime example is an enlarged death march marker—former first lady Imelda Marcos had the artist create the human figure on these markers—reimagined in video form.

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Another eye-catching piece is one of Legaspi’s murals recreated by the lantern-makers of San Fernando, Pampanga, which glows with dancing multi-colored lights, patterned after the giant lanterns native to that province.


Piabe-Abeng Sikanan by Arnel and Mark Flores of Pampanga.

Still, there’s nothing quite like an original. The popular Triptych was taken down from CCP’s lobby to take up a large space in the gallery. There are also less famous works recovered from the Marcos era. One found in Malacañang Palace, in particular, oddly makes an enchantress its subject.


Legaspi's untitled piece now known as Triptych.


Engkantada was commissioned during the Marcos era.

Evidently a nod to the country’s history, the exhibit hopes to inspire visitors to “emerge from tussling with the past wiser and braver than we have pretended to be for far too long.” Of course, the tribute was also made to honor this great artist and his contributions, as well as to invite the younger generation to take a look back and draw inspiration from the past.


Figures in a Landscape by Cesar Legaspi

The “Lying in State” exhibit is on display at the Bulwagang Juan Luna (CP Main Gallery), Pasilyo Guillermo Tolentino (3/F Hallway Gallery), and Pasilyo Vicente Manansala (2/F Hallway Gallery), from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until June 4, 2017.

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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
Hannah is a communications graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. She’s originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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