He has been painting professionally for 45 years, but Nestor Olarte Vinluan just won’t stop. That’s despite having a record of 150 exhibits, 21 of them solo. And even if he has retired from the College of Fine Arts (CFA) of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where he served for 32 years, nine of them as dean.
No, Vinluan will not stop. In fact, UP president Alfredo Pascual recently opened an exhibition of Vinluan’s artworks from the artist’s own collection. The exhibit marked the artist’s retirement from the university and was held at his own college at Bartlett Hall.
Fulbright-Hays bestowed on Vinluan the most outstanding Fulbright alumnus in arts and humanities award on its 60th year of scholarship program in the country in 2008.
In 2012, UP conferred on him the Artist III productivity award, which came with a cash bonus that was considerable for a UP faculty. The amount came in handy, but was not enough, for the medical needs and hospitalization of Vinluan’s wife. Maria Erlinda Romualdez Vinluan, Lyn to Nestor and mother to Lel, Paulo and Liv, eventually succumbed to colon cancer.
The youthful artist looks forward to doing more works. “There’s more that I can do creatively,” says Vinluan. He plans to do more solo exhibits, which he put on hold during his deanship. He also wants to do more artist residencies following those in Singapore in 2004 and Salzburg, Austria, in 2007.
And he still wants to teach, to impart to young artists the importance of learning from the masters and gallery exhibits aside from mastering the books. He wants them to look for opportunities to travel and have residencies in order to meet other artists in the world.
His advice to his students: “Be observant. A leaf or a stone can be an inspiration.”
Even as he paints, Vinluan wants to go back to music. He enrolled at the UP College of Music long ago but had to stop. Still, his passion prods him to play the flute and conga. He even composes while jamming with artist friends. A cherished possession is a Gemeinhardt flute he got in the 1970s from Haydee Yorac’s brother, in exchange for his one of his paintings.
When my late daughter Maningning did her undergraduate thesis at UP CFA in 1993, she chose Vinluan to be her adviser as he had been her mentor and dean. Her thesis was an abstract painting entitled “Embrace,” composed of curvilinear forms in both smooth and bold brushwork.
It was painted in situ on a three-dimensional surface on the walls of her attic-cum-bedroom in the Samba-Likhaan Village at the Asian Institute of Liturgy and Music in Quezon City, where she was an artist-in-residence.
“She was an intense artist,” he says of his student, “very much involved in her work, and was able to do her huge thesis on an environmental subject.”
“With ‘Embrace,’ which preceded her landmark 44 ft x 8 ft mural ‘Soliloquy,’ Maningning tried to mold an ancient Chinese painting tradition into her Philippine experience,” he adds.
When Maningning’s art was posthumously exhibited again at Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2002, Vinluan included her “Soliloquy,” first exhibited at the CCP from October 1994 to February 1995 when she was still alive.
His other students included Manuel Ocampo, Emmanuel Garibay, Elmer Borlongan, Mark Justiniani and Karen Flores.
Vinluan smiles as he reminisces about UP CFA’s early nomadic existence from the UP Library basement, to the Vargas Museum, and finally to its present location at Bartlett Hall. The conversion of the former College of Veterinary Medicine to the College of Fine Arts was the crowning glory of Vinluan’s deanship.
Real art movement
Vinluan can easily relate with young artists. After all, as a young ’70s artist himself, he spearheaded a movement that art historian and critic Rodolfo Paras-Perez has hailed as a real art movement.
Paras-Perez wrote: “The visions of Vinluan are essentially that of the earth and air: almost primeval in context… but achieves his sense of tension through a simple process of converting his earth forms into light airy structures… while his skies, the air or atmosphere, are endowed with a sense of solidity of the colors and their geometric delineations.”
Taking up his Bachelor of Fine Arts in the ’60s-’70s, Vinluan says he went through a phase of dark paintings and did figures of Andres Bonifacio and others. He even exhibited at Red Gallery, known then for its militance.
A visit to his hometown of Pozzorubio, Pangasinan, made him tone down his art. His parents were well-known educators there, while his grandfather was a respected landowner.
He started expressing his social commentaries through abstraction. From then on, Vinluan committed himself to non-representational painting.
“I get inspiration from the natural world… the earth and the sky, and rock forms, too,” he explains. “I look at their texture and color, distill them in my mind, and translate them on canvas.”
And thus they are abstracted.
He has received numerous awards—the Shell, Art Association of the Philippines Annual and Thirteen Artists Awards.
Impressionists Van Gogh and Monet, the surrealist Max Ernst, and German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer were his big influences, he says.
But what energized him most when he was young was the creative energy around him, along with the galleries, the bookstores, his schooling and his mentors—Jose Joya, Paras-Perez, Constancio Bernardo, Emil Rodriguez.
He fondly remembers the lectures of Fernando Zobel at the Luz Gallery, and the outstanding exhibits at F. Sionil Jose’s Solidaridad Gallery.
The humility which characterizes Vinluan’s persona finds expression in the way he handles his academic life and art. The intensity in his art only reflects his relationship with his family, his students, and his colleagues.
His mantra? “To look at things freely and imaginatively like a child.”
The author is senior vice president of Data Center Design Corporation and executive director of the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, which is holding its painting competition this year. Visit www.maningning.com and www.facebook.com/pages/Maningning-Miclat/47647085844?ref =hl. E-mail alma.miclat @gmail.com.