Gil Maningo: Art and passion

The comical display of enlarged faces with exaggerated features that somehow have identifiable likeness to those of public figures and personalities around the room is a clue as to the type of artist that resides there. They are the works of  caricaturist Gil Francis Maningo, but he is not an  artist of just one expertise.

The Play! Pool visited Gil at KULAS (Kusog Ug Lig-on Ang Sugbuanon) Ideas and Creations Inc. in Mandaue where we caught him finishing a piece for his upcoming solo exhibit, Caricatura.

Born in Cebu City, Gil studied Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines Diliman and came back four years after to be under the tutelage of the late Martino Abellana who was dubbed the Amorsolo of the South. Shortly after that, he opened his own gallery and frame shop, “A-Tutz-of-Art.” He left for the US in the aftermath of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. He worked as a graphic artist in Chicago Sun Times Magazines and a part-time caricaturist in New York, Greenwich Village. He traveled and had a chance to study American-Indian Art. He returned  to Cebu in 1989 and started his own company, KULAS, introducing Kulas shirts exclusively for Cebuanos, a line that  has expanded to beachwear, corporate giveaways and more. He also won awards in photography and music, and was one of the first recording artists under Octo Arts Records. His composition was a finalist in the 1990’s Cebu Pop Music Festival.

Standing up to grip my hand in a firm handshake, Gil is a man of tall stature who notably doesn’t fall short of talents. Apparently, he is working on a book on caricatures but he has to focus on his long overdue art exhibit  first. He finally managed to sort his schedule and will push through with the exhibit on the  July 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the SM City Art Center.

According to him, this is all for the glory of God which is why inscribed at the back of the invitation are the Latin words, “Anima Una Et Cor Unum In Deum (One Soul, One Heart for God).” That and the uncanny portraiture of the Sto Niño resting in a corner of the room say something even more about the kind of artist this man is.

Gil Maningo

Gil Maningo

You’re a man of many personae—a photographer, composer, actor, and yet you chose to paint. Why?
Ever since I could remember, I am passionately into caricatures. I read people and draw them. Most of the artists now, they’re into landscape, still life, seascape. I have tried painting those but, it seems everybody is doing it already. I want something different. If it’s a must that I continue to be in the visual arts, I want to create my own approach. I’m not saying nobody has ever done what I’m doing. I have friends who are also good with it, but I would like to initiate this move. As mentioned, there are lot of artists who would probably want to expose themselves. Maybe they don’t see it as their bread-and-butter. But for me, I am very passionate. I want to make people happy. I just want to capitalize myself having this skill because it’s not really easy to come up with very good caricatures. Honestly, I would rather paint a portrait than a caricature.

How is a caricature more challenging than portraiture?
It’s challenging in the sense that you have to find the peculiarity of the person. I will have to thoroughly check the picture and study its character, the features of the subject. Like now, I’m looking at you, I already know what to make of you at the back of my head and find which feature I should exaggerate. It’s an exaggeration, you see. You have to maintain the character, and yet the main persona can still be seen in that picture. Portrait is just following what you see–mirroring. What you see is what you get.

Your caricatures are less satirical than most. Is it the subject or your approach?
It should work together hand-in-hand. If you choose the subject without the technique, it (art) would suffer. You have to believe in yourself and put your heart to it. I don’t draw to make joke or insult. I try to bring out the character that makes you “you.” Back as a child, I was very lonely but this is how I made friends. And this is also how I made an enemy of my 5th grade teacher! But I don’t want to overly-exaggerate. You call that a traditional caricature.

Do you have a ritual before you work on a piece?
When God gives you that gift, you don’t need or do anything else at all.

But would you wait for an inspiration or you just get to work and the creative juice flows from there?
I’m always inspired,  honestly. It’s the time. I told them, as of now, please bear with me because I stopped contributing designs for the shirts. I will just approve whatever designs you have at hand. Allow me to focus on my caricatures.

When did you decide to start an exhibit on caricatures in Cebu?
I have already been doing this (caricature) way back in the ‘80s in Southern Star Magazine. I then got involved in the performing arts. I also love acting so for a while, I stopped being a painter.  I set aside being a visual artist but I often tell myself when should I go back? I have had an exhibit before. To come up a very good exhibit you need ample time. So we had our weekly show at CCTN, Love Letters Trade From Your Heart with Gil Maningo. On our 5th month, I had to call the team and we had a meeting, and told them my entire intention why we should stop. Inasmuch as I want to continue the show, I really have to concentrate for this project and I cannot serve two masters at the same time. It was a dream team but I had to choose. Also, in Facebook where you can see everything, I see the Cebuano’s acceptance of this art. It seems that they are embracing it. They want more! I said to myself now is the time.

You seemed to step out of your comfort zone with this exhibit.
And yet so at home.

Gil Maningo at work

Gil Maningo at work

How do you feel?
I feel so happy. I feel fulfilled. I have freely flapped my wings widely—wisely. But I also ask myself what would society think of this? I hope after this (exhibit), other artists would follow that it can be done. Why should we put limits to art?

And what would you say to those who put a limit to it like discarding a brick of wall or blots on a canvas as art?
That’s because wala sila kasabot (they don’t understand). That’s why we have to educate them. Kanang magpa-kuno pero wala gud na sila kasabot gyud (Those who pretend but actually don’t understand anything). So it’s better to just ask, “What do you mean by this?” rather than pretend to know everything.

Where will the proceeds of your art exhibit go?
The proceeds will help care for the less fortunate kids at Batang Pinanga in Carmen.

What’s your masterpiece?
All my works I personally consider each as my masterpiece! (Laughs).  If I will come up with a caricature, I will always treat it as a masterpiece. Like if you own a Maningo caricature, you will also have a certificate of authenticity and ownership. You will sign it, I will sign it. It’s not so expensive. It’s not soaring twenty thousand or thirty thousand. Well, as of now! Who knows? (Laughs).

As a caricaturist, what is the most challenging subject?
Kanang gwapa (Someone beautiful). (Laughs). Honestly. Lisod kaayo ipabati ang gwapa  (It’s difficult to make the beautiful turn ugly). Where will I start?

How does the mental imagery come to you?
I look at the picture first. I study the eyes, the nose, the lips, the expression. From there, I make a sketch so I can see where to exaggerate. As soon as I have it, I’m going to develop that. Once I am in that momentum already and it gets interrupted, I get irked. My wife understands me and with that I respect her.

What’s your typical day like?
I pray. I start the day with a prayer. I thank God for another day, for giving me strength, and also to teach me to be humble all the time. Then I talk to myself in front of the mirror. Sometimes, I listen to music butt naked. Back as an actor who portrayed Valiente, I convinced myself I am no longer Gil Maningo. I walk around the room stripped off, listening to music, I project myself as the character. I could even be a boy in high school full of energy! It does help. If you wake up and start slouching, it’s going to ruin the rest of the day. At the end of the day, I’d see to it I visit Sto. Niño to pray. I call him “Dodong Niño.” (Laughs).

When did you realize you are an artist?
When my mom asked me whether I should take up pre-med, I said, mommy I want to be in Fine Arts. No second thoughts on that. I already have that in my heart.

What was your first memorable sketch and why was it memorable?
I was in 5th grade when I tried to draw my teacher. Sakita gilunit akong dunggan (It hurt getting pinched in the ears)! She had a big tummy. (Laughs). That’s how I win friends. I make them a sketch. My fingers just seem to itch!

Can you say you have changed over time?
I have many outlets. I can go to acting, singing, compose songs. As a child, I was a loner. I am illegitimate. I would spend my time with my biological dad, with my half-brothers and sisters. My biological mother would also ask me to spend time with her and my stepfather. I grew up with lola and uncles and aunties. Then I have to spend my time in a dormitory because nobody can get me to school or pick me up.

Gil Maningo

What’s the worst and best comment you ever had?
When the late Professor Martino Abellana, known as the Amorsolo of the South, did not give any comment or remarks at all to my work which I thought was already very good. He was the reason I enrolled in Cebu so I could be under his tutelage. I was expecting him to say, “It’s very nice.” I was waiting. In Manila, the professors were giving me compliments. But him, he saw it and said nothing. I realized after, it was his short way of saying you can do better, so go ahead because you’re on the right track.

And when you see a person, flashing a smile, or a thumbs-up, that is enough. That’s already the best.

Who are the artists you look up to?
Picasso, Gauguin, Velazquez, Rembrandt. You could really see their lines. You could see the pureness, the spontaneity. And Picasso is just fearless! He doesn’t care where the lines would go. The crookedness is there. It’s really pure. There’s no fear at all. He could paint more than five paintings a day. That’s where I see passion. You are not hesitant, not afraid of mistakes. He’s a photo realist.

What can we expect from your upcoming book?
The public will surely be entertained. This serves as an inspiration for everyone who loves the charm of caricatures!

What do you think is generally lacking in the art industry today?
It lacks buyers who can appreciate—true connoisseurs. Personally, I’m happy now that we have more exhibits from Manila because it opens a window to educate and have more educated audience on art.

Have any of your children followed your footsteps?
All of them draw and sketch but oftentimes they say, “We can never compete with you dad.” So I told them, only for now. I was a late-bloomer myself. We have that in our blood. We are like wine. As we age, we get better–or like a galloping horse gaining speed.

Is there something about Gil Francis Maningo that the people don’t know but you would like to share?
Gil Maningo is God-fearing. Life is uncertain. You will never know when will be your last laugh, last party, last celebration. So when are you going to express yourself truthfully to the one who created you, the one who gave you everything, nurtured you, gifted you, shared everything from the very first breath to the last one you will have? I can please Him while I’m still alive.

TAGS: art, Cebuano, passion
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