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Federico Aguilar Alcuaz

 (1932 - 2011)
Federico Aguilar Alcuaz was active/lived in Philippines, Spain.  Federico Aguilar Alcuaz is known for abstract landscape-skylines, portrait and still-life painting.

Federico Aguilar Alcuaz

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Federico Aguilar Alcuaz
"Remembering Federico Aguilar Alcuaz -'epic troubadour of the urban landscape' "

By Duffie Osental
Philippine Daily Inquirer
2:49 am | Monday, June 4th, 2012

Three years ago,  the Republic of the Philippines, through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, bestowed on Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (1932-2011) admission into the Order of National Artists.

This titan of Philippine visual art was recognized for having influenced an entire generation of artists with a body of work that is critically lauded both here and abroad. Alcuaz had the soul of an artist, yet attained the pinnacle of mainstream artistic achievement. His complex and nuanced personality—music-lover, bon vivant, astute observer of the world around him—had cemented his legend as an artist without peer.

This week would have been the 80th birth anniversary of Alcuaz, one of the pillars of Philippine modernism. Unfortunately he never reached this milestone. On a sad Thursday morning, a little less than a year and a half ago, he was found by hotel staff slumped in his suite, having expired from natural causes.

That untimely death has renewed interest in this towering figure. In his 55-year career Alcuaz was one of the most awarded and acclaimed Filipino artists on the international scene. He held exhibits in Spain, Portugal, Germany, the United States, Poland and Singapore. His works were among the earliest works by Philippine masters sold at the top auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's.

Alcuaz had raised high the banner of Philippine achievement and garnered recognition for his country as early as the mid-1950s. While based in Spain, he won the Premio Moncada in 1957 and the Prix Francisco Goya. In Barcelona, he won First Prize at the Pintura Sant Pol del Mar in 1961, and Second Prize at the Premio Vancel at the Fourth Biennial of Tarrasa in 1964.

In France, he was awarded the Diploma of Honor at the International Exhibition of Art Libre in 1961; bestowed the rank of Chevalier for Arts and Letters in 1964; and accepted into the Order of French Genius in 1964.

In his own country, he was, in 1965, recipient of the San Beda Outstanding Alumni award as well as the Republic Cultural Heritage Award. In 2001, he was given the Outstanding Manileño award. In 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Merit Award. In 2009, after an extensive three-year vetting process, he was granted the rank of National Artist.

Art came naturally to Alcuaz. Even while he was in grade school, his teachers already noticed he was very talented.  He drew and sketched endlessly, sometimes sketching people from memory. He became a favorite of his teachers, as he would draw and gift them with their portraits.

Music, too, was a great influence. Alcuaz came from a family of musically inclined and talented people. His father, Mariano, although a lawyer, could play the piano and violin, as did his siblings. Mariano encouraged the young Federico to play the cello.

While pursuing a pre-law course at San Beda, Alcuaz cross-enrolled at the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, where he had as professors National Artists Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino. Juvenal Sansô and Araceli Dans were a year ahead, while National Artist Napoleon Abueva was his classmate.

From his paintings and portraiture, Alcuaz earned a tidy sum that helped finance his studies and gave him sizeable pocket money. He went on to pursue a law degree at the Ateneo College of Law.

Then, he decided to accept a scholarship in Spain from the Spanish government. Artist and philanthropist Fernando Zobel helped him secure the scholarship.

For nine years (1955-1964), Alcuaz made Barcelona his base. He worked, honed his art and maintained a studio on the fourth floor of 285 Aragon Street.

Though he had to come back home to Manila for  recuperation after a near-fatal accident on a European freeway in 1964, Alcuaz maintained his Barcelona studio until 1997, or  a little over 40 years.

In Barcelona, he formed a group of Catalan artist-friends and intellectuals. They would meet regularly at La Punalada, a restaurant along Paseo de Gracia. This informal discussion and get-together was called a tertulia, and the La Punalada group was one of the most influential and trailblazing among the artist groups in the city.

The group was founded by artists who rebelled against the conservatism of the old Salon artists. Among Alcuaz's contemporaries were Jaume Muxart, Jordi Aluna and Sergio Aragones—today pillars of Spanish modernism.

Alicia Coseteng wrote that with such contemporaries, the group "began to identify themselves with the neo-figurative movement, by then gathering momentum in France, Italy and Spain. They became the Spanish 'neo-figuratives,' following in the spirit of the great Spaniard—Picasso."

Jack Teotico, writing for Contemporary Art Philippines magazine, noted that "Federico Aguilar Alcuaz lived in the Spanish city during a glorious time in its cultural history."

This was also where the artist met Ute Schmitz, a spirited and genial German. Romance blossomed and the two got married in Barcelona.

The tertulia, Teotico said, "was a regular informal social gathering where issues of common interest were discussed. It was an artists' get-together. In Alcuaz's case, his tertulia was exclusively for members only. They would have good food, wines, cheeses, good bread—items that found their way as subjects in his still-life paintings. The topics of informal discussion invariably revolved around trends in art, changes in society, politics, or even the latest gossip."

From his Barcelona base, Alcuaz had exhibits in noted galleries such as Maragall Gallery as well as Galerias Layetanas, Galerias Manila Barcelona and Galerias Vayreda Barcelona. Occasionally, Spanish surrealist painter and sculptor Joan Miro's exhibitions occurred at the same time as Alcuaz's.

He also exhibited  in Portugal and in France. Alcuaz loved traveling. He traveled to Santander in Galicia or Lisbon, and loved going to the Costa del Sol area in Andalucia and the Mediterranean coast. The plants, structures and fruits he saw there would find their way into his dramatic, latter-year Barcelona paintings.

Alcuaz was on his way to Germany when the vehicle he was in figured in a  crash. He had to return to Manila to heal. But soon after, he was again busy on the art scene. Exhibits at Luz Gallery came, followed by a 10-year retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery.

Then he was off to Japan, exhibiting at Itoh Gallery in Tokyo. This was followed  by an exhibit at Malacañang Palace  and a second one-man show at Luz.

Since then, Alcuaz divided his time working in his corner suite at the Manila Hilton along United Nations Avenue in downtown Manila, and in his Barcelona studio at Aragon Street.

His art took him all over the world, with New York as his other favorite location. The artist enjoyed the bustling art scene there, and he loved  painting the cityscapes of New York. He was also in Japan, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, or wherever his spirit would take him.

From 1968 to the early 1980s, Alcuaz traveled to Czechoslovakia,  to a town outside Prague, where he started working on his monumental tapestries. He enjoyed mingling with the workers and returned every year to have his tapestries made.

Aside from his tapestries, Alcuaz has come to be known for his "Tres Marias," his Manila landscape series, portraits and his abstracts. After he closed his Barcelona studio, the artist brought back outstanding works of art that are now referred to as his Barcelona series.

His "Tres Marias" series was started in the late 1970s. It is similar to the Three Graces, a subject that has inspired many great artists throughout the history of Western art. He used as models hotel staff and waitresses of the different outlets of the Manila Hilton, and immortalized them on his canvases.

He first started expressing interest in landscapes, following his professor Toribio Herrera at UP. He began by painting barong-barongs, then progressed to the cityscapes of New York, before concentrating on the urban landscapes and skylines of Manila.

Rod. Paras-Perez described him as the "epic troubadour of the urban landscape." These landscapes were painted from a high vantage point, usually from his hotel room or from a tall building.

His abstract works were inspired by neo-figurative concepts from his La Punalada group. His ceaseless travels introduced him to a world where Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Kandinsky, Matisse and De Kooning proved to be indelible inspirations.

His art lives on in the minds and hearts of art lovers not only in the Philippines but also in other parts of the world that were graced by his presence.


Biography from Tobin Reese Fine Art
Filipino master artist Federico Aguilar Alcuaz was admired by many people throughout his 55-year career. He was a favorite student among his grade school teachers for his constant sketches and drawings, which he often gifted to them and later was a favorite painter in his home country of the Philippines. He became a revered landscape and abstract painter emulated by the generation of artists that followed him and was eventually recognized as an internationally renowned and award-winning Filipino artist, referred to by art historian, Dr. Rod Paras-Perez as the "epic troubadour of the urban landscape".

His personality and interests were just as complex and multi-faceted as his artistic talents, which included not only painting, but also tapestry design, ceramics, and inventive art using paper scraps and cigarette wrappers he called "Alcuazaics".

Alcuaz was not only a master artist; he also mastered the art of living by enjoying and partaking in the cosmopolitan lifestyle of daily walks around town, good food, fine wine, travel, laughter, and social events. He loved music and enjoyed lounging in hotel lobbies while playing his Casio recorder aloud. He enjoyed people watching and observing the smallest, albeit significant, details of the world around him. Alcuaz is considered a creative genius for his unconventional methods and range of artistic abilities.

Some of Alcuaz's most celebrated paintings are his landscapes, particularly those of the skylines of Manila for their color schemes and combinations of elements. His abstract Barcelona Series is equally notable for its use of geometric shapes, lines, colors, and mixture of mediums of canvas and paper. His ability to interpret and transform subjects and figures—such as a table or a chair—from real to abstract, was held in such high regard that the artist's works were frequently forged. Christian Aguilar, son of Alcuaz, when asked about his father's creative process, said in an interview, "The outcome of his works—what he thinks—it can be anything and nothing at all. My father always made something like a mystery about the messages in his paintings. Whenever people asked him what the whole thing [a work] was about, he always said it was about what you see. If you don't see anything in it, then it's nothing. It's up to you what you see in it."

Alcuaz was born on June 6, 1932 in Manila and was the sixth of eleven children. As a child he attended public primary and secondary schools. Alcuaz was a devoted and hardworking college student, perhaps in part due the influences of his many famous Philippine teachers, including Fernando Amorsolo (painting), Guillermo E. Tolentino (sculpture), and Toribio Herrera. During the day he studied fine arts at the University of the Philippines for a bachelor's degree, and at night, attended classes at San Beda College for an associate of arts degree.

He traveled on scholarship from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Madrid in 1955 where he studied at the Academia de Bellas Artes San Fernando. One year later, pleased with his life in Spain and already the recipient of a number of major art awards, Alcuaz decided to move to Barcelona, set up a studio, make the city his artistic base, and connect with the artists' communities there, including the La Punalada Group.

The La Punalada was a restaurant were Alcuaz gathered with his contemporaries for informal meetings called "tertulias" to discuss contempt for the artistic conservatism of the Spanish Salon artists. They also bonded over their growing identification with the neo-figurative movement and artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and Jackson Pollock. In 1959, he met his wife, a German woman named Ute Schmitz, in a fencing class in Barcelona, whom he would eventually marry and have three sons with. Schmitz and Alcuaz shared many things in common, especially a love for Asian culture and art. Alcuaz and his family stayed in Europe for the majority of his career, which allowed him to become fluent in English, Spanish, and German, and develop some ability in French. For over forty years, other than a short time period when Alcuaz returned to Manila to recover from a car accident, Alcuaz used the Barcelona studio.

Alcuaz began to gain popularity in the mid-1950s, but his most praised and "exciting" works are believed to be from the mid-1960s to late 1970's. Throughout his career, he held numerous exhibitions at leading galleries in the Philippines and abroad, including Spain, Portugal, Germany, and the United States. In 2009, after three years of intense debate and protests over the politicization of the award and involvement by the Supreme Court of the Philippines, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, granted Alcuaz the National Artist title for visual arts, painting, sculpture, and mixed media.

Most of Alcuaz's works are displayed in roughly twenty museums in Europe, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, the Bulvenkian Foundation Museum of London, the Museum of Modern Art of Krakow, and the Philips Cultural Museum of the Netherlands.

Alcuaz died of natural causes on February 2, 2011 in Marikina City, Philippines, where he is buried at the Loyola Memorial. Many art critics agree that his popularity soared exponentially with a new interest in his art born after his death. In 1975, Alcuaz said, "Art, like religion, should be universal." Through his art he helped elevate a Filipino sense of national pride, but also left a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of art appreciators around the globe.

A partial list of his award winning exhibitions is as follows:

1953 University of the Philippines CFA Art Competition; First Prize
1954 Roadside Squatters, 4th SNSAC Modern Painting Category; First Prize
1957 Premio Montcada (Spain); Gold Medal
1958 Prix Francisco Goya, Cercle Maillol (Spain); First Prize
1961 Pintura Sant Pol del Mar (Spain); First Prize
1961 International Exhibition of Art Libre (France); Diploma of Honor
1964 Premio Vancell at the Fourth Biennial of Tarrasa (Spain); Second Prize
Granted the Chevalier for Arts and Letters (France)
Accepted into Order of French Genius (France)
1965 San Beda Outstanding Alumni Award (Philippines)
Republic Cultural Heritage Award (Philippines)
2001 Outstanding Manileño Award (Philippines)
2007 Presidential Medal of Merit Award for accomplishments in visual arts
2009 National Artist (Philippines)

A partial list of his solo exhibitions is as follows:

1953 San Beda College (Philippines)
1954 Centro Escolar University (Philippines)
1955 PAG (Philippines)
1956 Museum of Contemporary Art (Spain)
1956 Galerias Layetanas Barcelona (Spain); also in 1957
1956 Galerias Manila Barcelona
1957 Hispanic Cultural Hall Madrid (Spain)
1957 Galeria Dintel; also in 1958
1958 Gallery of City Hall (Burgos, Spain)
1959 Asociación Artistica Vizcaina Bilbao (Spain)
1959 Galeria Ilescas Bilbao; also in 1960, 1962, and 1972
1960 Sala Vayreda Barcelona (Spain)
1973 Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao - tapestries (Spain)
1973 Eindhoven - tapestries (Netherlands)

Source: Kristin Guess for Tobin Reese Fine Art

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About  Federico Aguilar Alcuaz

Born:  1932 - Santa Cruz, Manila, Philippines
Died:   2011 - Marikina City, Philippines
Known for:  abstract landscape-skylines, portrait and still-life painting