‘Sugbuanon Realism’

By: Raymund Fernandez January 30,2018 - 09:02 PM


The good news is that we can now actually see local movements in the world of Sugbuanon art: There is an emerging contemporary art movement expressing itself in “Street Art” and its extensions; There is an Abstract Expressionist movement emerging sometimes in the most unlikely places; and of course, the continuing “Sugbuanon Realism.” The latter is worthwhile discussing especially in the light of two painting exhibitions currently showing. “Great is His Faithfulness” is a painting exhibit by Fred Galan and Marivel Galan showing at SM Seaside. “Nudi: Exposed” is a show by Yvette Malahay Kim currently showing at the Jose Joya Gallery at the UP Cebu campus.

“Sugbuanon Realism” derives from a painting style whose best known icon was the late painter Martino A. Abellana. Abellana’s art was a highly technical reaction to the perceived crudity of earlier masters of painting. Masters like Canuto Avila and Reymundo “Rey” Francia. Abellana learned his techniques not from them but in UP Manila from the tutelage of masters like Fernando Amorsolo. This became in Cebu the accepted “Academic Style,” becoming in due course the main frame of a pedagogy, which continues even to this day. And it seems a quaint fact that this academic style should find its way in the art both of Fred Galan and Yvette Malahay Kim, two artists who are many generations apart.

But there it is. Clear as day. So clear in fact that we might as well coin a quaint term — “the Abellana school” — and then ask ourselves: Do these two shows stay inside the Abellana school? Or do they venture beyond its borders?

These questions are important because the Abellana school in its current state has somewhat been plagued by the inertia of its own success. The Abellana school is mostly portraits and landscapes with a spattering of abstract art. It is painting based on a photograph when it is not landscape done “plein air.” It has definitely found its market both locally and, as I heard it told, nationally as well. But it has not moved much stylistically and philosophically for a while now. It will go into a period of decline unless a practitioner comes forward who would raise it to a higher plane. This higher plane would define the future of the Abellana school of painting. And so therefore, the contextual validity of the questions I asked. They are valid measures for looking at the paintings of Galan and Kim.

In my view, the time has come for the Abellana school to evolve. Such evolution would be characterised by the birth of a newer and philosophically bigger term than “the Abellana school.” My guess is that this term would have to be “Sugbuanon Realism.” Or, if we were to try to sell it to a bigger, more national, more global audience, the easier term would be “Cebuano Realism.” Such a term grows out of the Abellana school but goes into the future much more reflective of current and contemporary realities and views. To achieve this, “Sugbuanon Realism” will have to outgrow the Abellana school’s obstinate and obsessive attention to painting techniques. This attention appears too engrossed with proving the technical expertise of the painter at the expense of the painting saying anything at all that is meaningful. It ought to remove itself from the retinal and photographic picture: Life as our eyes or the camera see it, and move into the deeper reality of: Life as can be seen only with the mind’s eye, the imaginative eye. And truly, the issues of meaning and purpose will be pivot points for this emerging “Sugbuanon Realism.”

How well do Galan’s and Kim’s art reflect the hope for this emergence? You would do well to see the shows to find out. Kim’s “Nudi” is ongoing at the Joya Gallery at the UP Cebu campus. Galan’s show is at SM Seaside and may still be showing on the day you read this. Please call SM Seaside before going.

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