Malang—a leader of the second generation of modernists that rejuvenated Philippine painting in the post-Pacific War period—died at his home in Quezon City last Saturday (June 10), just short of 90.
Largely self-taught, he was noted for his imaginative use of color.
Malang’s contemporaries include Arturo Rogerio Luz, Ang Kiukok, Hugo Yonzon, Juvenal Sanso, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, Robeerto Rodriguez Chabet and Romulo Olazo.
Born Mauro Malang Santos in Manila’s Sta. Cruz district in January 1928, he used his maternal surname—that of a pre-Spanish clan in San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan—for his artistic signature.
Malang took no formal art lessons beyond those given by a retired art professor in his neighborhood, and half a semester’s classes at the UP College of Fine Arts.
After a few months of drawing comics strips for the Roces chain, he moved to the Manila Chronicle in 1947.
There he was encouraged to paint by the abstractionist H. R. Ocampo, then one of the editors.
Malang also developed friendships with Carlos V. Francisco, Vicente Manansala, Cesar Legaspi, Emilio Aguilar Cruz and the younger “neo-realists” of postwar Manila. Among the international masters, he was most influenced by the Russian-French expressionist Marc Chagall.
In the 1950s, Malang started painting vignettes of Manila’s folk culture in gouache—opaque watercolor—that he found the easiest to use. As it matured, his work became more and more abstract. That it was still capable of engaging the viewer with its variety surprises, since his subjects remained the same: the graceful and sad Filipina; curiously decorative barong-barong; and our archipelago’s exuberant vegetation.
Malang’s infectious optimism brought him commercial success long before the critics discovered his work. His first one-man show in 1962 sold out, and he never looked back.
Malang also promoted artists’ causes until, worn out by their incessant factionalism, he retreated into evangelical religion.
Malang regarded his life’s work not as art but as a craft. “I don’t make social statements,” he often said. “When I look around me, I see patterns. I just enjoy what I do; and perhaps it shows in my work.”
Using gouache, Malang would paint quickly, adding layer after layer, but allowing some of the earlier layers to shine through from underneath—“letting the viewer’s eyes themselves mix the colors.”
Color the painter’s blood
“Color is the blood of the painter, as poetry is the blood of the poet,” said Chagall, who ascribed the qualities of color not only to objects but also to feelings, moods, voices.
Filipino critics agree that a great deal of Malang’s painterly charm comes from his highly imaginative use of color. Cid Reyes has described Malang’s paintings as the most color-irradiated ever done in the history of Philippine art. “There is no color he avoids; no color he cannot orchestrate in his palette…”
Arturo Luz in 1981 noted that Malang’s “colors glow, running the spectrum from end to end. Each painting is a visual feast—saturating the canvas and filling the senses…”
The artist as Filipino
The post-war neo-realists—seeking to redefine Filipino aesthetics—thought that Philippine forms and not subject matter would finally differentiate Filipino art. The painter and occasional critic E. Aguilar Cruz seemed to discern this emerging aesthetic in Malang’s work.
As early as 1973, Aguilar Cruz wrote that “while Malang’s art is as unlike those of the traditional schools represented by Amorsolo as a straight line is from a scroll, yet they both bear the same stamp of that quality Filipino art lovers mean when they say “Filipino.”
“The Artist as Filipino”: that’s a summary of his life and work I’m sure Malang would have liked.
(Memorial services are being held at 7 p.m. at Arlington Memorial Chapels in Quezon City, until June 13, 2017)