Arts & Culture

This Artist From Negros Became Part of the Art Elite in Paris and New York

Alfonso Ossorio, the son of a Negros sugar baron, went to Harvard University and the Rhode Island School of Design.
IMAGE COURTESY AYALA MUSEUM/ PIERRE A. CALASANZ
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Through “Alfonso Ossorio: A Survey 1940–1989” now on view at the Ayala Museum, we are presented with an intimate look at the life and art of Alfonso Ossorio, an artist of various cultures, traditions, and races. He was born in Manila in 1916 to an American father with Spanish roots, Don Miguel Ossorio, and a Filipino mother with Chinese blood, Maria Paz Yangco. Don Miguel was a baron who founded sugar estates in Victorias, Negros Occidental, while Maria Paz descended from a wealthy shipping clan. Ossorio was raised in Manila until he left for England at the age of eight, then for the U.S. at the age of 14.


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Untitled (Ateneo Art Gallery Collection)

A product of boarding school, he went on to study fine arts at Harvard University, then at the Rhode Island School of Design. He later rubbed elbows in elite art circles in Paris and New York, and traveled extensively throughout Europe and America. Ossorio’s art became a testament of how he lived life. His technique in abstract expressionism—teeming with many parts, layers, and strokes—reflects how he was well immersed in the many facets of the world. This life story is presented through a comprehensive survey of his works spanning five decades.


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Feast and Famine II (Paulino and Hetty Que Collection); Saint Martin and The Beggar (Paulino and Hetty Que Collection)

Ossorio’s early output shows how he highly valued his family— perhaps owing to his position as the fourth of six boys and his closeness to his mother. This is evident in his paintings from 1950, such as Family, 5 Doppelganger, and Two Wounded Children. Another wall shows how he once explored traditional painting and drawing techniques with a realist style. Most apparent is his devotion to the Roman Catholic faith, such as in his painting of St. Martin the Beggar. This faith was tested when he was commissioned by his brother to do a mural in their sugar estate’s local chapel—St. Joseph the Worker Parish Church. He spent 11 months (and drafted at least 300 drawings) in the milling compound to paint a 36 x 20-yard mural that he called The Last Judgement, commonly referred to as The Angry Christ because of the grim image of an enraged Jesus.


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3 Piece Collage; A Toi La Gloire/Thine Be The Glory (Lito and Kim Camacho Collection)

Another series that Ossorio also became known for is his Congregations, an assemblage of found objects and his oil paintings. His thick layers of oil paint would be embedded with buttons, shards, mirrors, ropes, and other objects that add texture. He experimented with this technique in 1958 until his death in 1990. Runs until June 17, 3/F Gallery, Ayala Museum, Makati Avenue corner De La Rosa Street, Greenbelt Park, Makati; ayalamuseum.org.

This story was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Town&Country.

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