LEE AGUINALDO (Filipino, Sept. 5,1933 - January, 2007)
aka LEOPOLDO AGUINALDO JR.
Lee Aguinaldo, considered a pioneer of Philippine modernism, was born in New York City. He came from a prominent family descended from Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy (1869-1964) a military leader and politician who is popularly considered to be the first president of the Philippines.
From an early age Lee showed an interest in art, and resisted the expectation that he would eventually take over management of the Aguinaldo family business interests.
After attending a military academy in the United States, he did briefly work for his father's company. Fascinated by developments in American modern art, Lee was influenced by the works of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhart and later, Robert Rauschenberg. His art developed in an eclectic sequence, defying any linear progression.
In the Philippines, Aguinaldo was friendly with Arturo Luz, Roberto Chabet, Eric Torres, and Fernando Zobel who acted as a mentor. Among his best known series are his "Flick" paintings inspired by the works of Pollock, his pop-influenced Galumph series, and a minimalist, hard-edge series referred to as "Linear."
Despite personal inconsistencies and growing financial problems, Aguinaldo remained a passionate and dedicated artist into his later years. He is the subject of a recent biography The Life and Art of Lee Aguinaldo
published by the Vibal Foundation.
Geringer Art Ltd.
Following is an edited excerpt from the book The Life and Art of Lee Aguinaldo
. Lee Aguinaldo is part of the exhibition "Windows to Conversations: Chabet, Aguinaldo, Zobel" at the Ateneo Art Gallery, ongoing till 28 January 2012.
While primarily known as an abstractionist, Lee Aguinaldo (1933-2007) had many other interesting facets to his artistic career. One in particular is his being an artist of appropriation.
His appropriative strategies were wide-ranging—from using imagery from newspapers and magazines to employing other artists' methods to making versions of other artists' works to even appropriating himself and making "doubles" and variations of his pieces. As examining Aguinaldo's body of works exposes, Aguinaldo was clearly skeptical about the idea of originality. He confirmed this in an article in Metro
in 1990, saying, "I prefer a good fake to a bad original. You can do variations on somebody else's work."
He had also commented on this way back in 1966 in a letter to the Spanish artist Gustavo Torner writing, "I think that we are going through a 'homage to the past' era both in music as well as in art through the eyes and ears of today. The era of free experimentation is closing and the serious artist is beginning to realize the importance of taking stock. It will be an era of re-saying what has already been said."
Aguinaldo's references to appropriation, however, go back much earlier than that 1966 letter. A self-taught artist whose artistic career was never approved of by his father, he is quoted in an interview by Cid Reyes as saying he began teaching himself by copying the Prince Valiant series of comics. While he had taken interest in art early on—in his unfinished biography he says he probably learned to crawl in order to find something he could use to draw—his beginnings as an artist really took flight during the period he was studying at the Culver Military Academy in Indiana, which he detested. He used that time to learn more about art and he wrote in his unfinished autobiography of that period, "I had read a book on the techniques of the Old Masters and wanted to learn how they made their paintings and most important of all… hoping to find out what made them the great paintings they were considered to be." He continued, "As a consequence of my investigations, I was able to paint a Vermeer or a Pieter de Hooch…and could have made a career as a faker and probably would have made more money if I had not been determined to find out more about what I could do on my own by developing new skills and techniques that would be suitable in aiding me to explore myself more efficiently."
His passionate drive to learn led him to experiment with a number of styles and techniques, paying tribute to, translating and using other artists' methods and influences to his own purposes. His restlessness as an artist was already noted of as early as 1965, when Weekly Women's Magazine
wrote that, "With intensity and devotion he has explored and abandoned one style after another, forever seeking new ways to convey his personal vision. To Lee Aguinaldo, style is of little importance. It is merely a vehicle for the creative act, the external shape of feelings, thoughts and emotions seeking new forms."
In 1953, after having already returned to Manila, he made Homage to Pollock,
an evident tribute to the painter who was an early influence and whose Action Painting he was emulating. After his "Flick" series in the early '60s of arduously flicking paint onto a ground with a loaded scalpel knife, he made the "Galumph" series, which included a number of paintings collaged with images from fashion magazines like Harper's Bazaar. His foray into pop continued with his use of the frottage image transfer technique of Robert Rauschenberg, continually appropriating images from magazines and newspapers. He used this in 1965 and continued his experiments with it for at least two more decades. Contrary to popular belief, Aguinaldo was not solely an abstract artist but consistently explored the figurative as well.
In hard-edge abstraction, he made Linear No. 72
(Homage to Fray Sánchez de Cotán)," a tribute to the Spanish still-life painter who had been interested in simplicity and light. He would continue paying homage to other artists till his last few years as a practicing artist in the early 1990s. Some of the explicitly acknowledged include Homage to Brassai
(1979), using a famous image of a Parisian couple by the Hungarian photographer; Homage to Vermeer
(1983), which used two photographs taken by local photographer Wig Tysmans, which was composited together by Aguinaldo; and the Linear painting Homage to Saul Steinberg
(1994), the illustrator for the New Yorker
whose drawings Aguinaldo admired.
Aguinaldo's last solo exhibition in 1992 at Lopez Memorial Museum showed his pen and ink renderings — his own versions of the self-portraits of Rembrandt van Rijn.
His body of work contains a plethora of wide-ranging art historical references. He even appropriated himself, revisiting old works and making versions of them. He understood, as the art theorist Rosalind Krauss articulated in her seminal text The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths
, that the "actual practice of vanguard art tends to reveal that 'originality' is a working assumption that itself emerges from a ground of repetition and recurrence." The very act of making art was to already invoke past works of art.
His "quoting" the styles of eminent Western artists also touched upon the issues of originality that tie into the debate—often discussed during the period of nationalist fervor in the 1960s and 1970s—of finding a nationalist, Filipino "original" kind of art. Yet, Aguinaldo was against being imprisoned by nativist demands and thinking. Though any artist would be constrained by the particular context he or she was working in, when Cid Reyes asked Aguinaldo about the issue of Filipinism in art, Aguinaldo responded by saying none of the artists responsible for creating the New York School were native American but were all foreign-born or second-generation immigrants.
As the art critic Emmanuel Torres has said of Aguinaldo's position, "If a Filipino painter can use these ideas which comprise some kind of international lingua franca in the visual and plastic arts and create paintings that are artistically good, isn't this all that really matters?"
"Yellow is a very favorable vibration for mental or intellectual activity as it promotes a clear state of mind. Yellow heightens your awareness and alleviates depression, sadness, or any kind of despondency." (T. Yun Kim, The First Element: Secrets to Maximizing Your Energy.)
The late Lee Aguinaldo was an avid student of Josef Albers's theory on the interaction of color, of which his series "Homage to the Square" was the visual exemplar.
Appropriating the geometric shape, Aguinaldo produced his own series titled "Circulation." (The other series he was famous for was titled "Linear.") Within the tight and disciplined confine of the square, Aguinaldo held in opposition one dominant color hemmed in by the tension of another, closing in from all four sides. The result is the extraordinary radiance that emanates as if from within a molten light, summoned by the artist's masterly and controlled handling of the brush, which gradates the distribution of pigment to fine degrees of either warm or cold hues and tones.
As one of the pioneers of Philippine abstraction, Lee Aguinaldo left an enduring legacy of artworks - refined, contemplative, intensely minimalist but redeemed by his exquisite taste for bold and braze colors.
- Cid Reyes
Born Leopoldo Aguinaldo, Jr. on September 5, 1933, Lee found himself immediately in what many would consider an ideal position in life. His father was a rich and powerful man in the Philippines, owning one of the top 50 businesses of the country. Being the eldest son in the family, Lee was lined up to take over the family business and enjoy the spoils of good fortune. As it turned out, though, Lee didn't have a much interest in the business of dry goods. Instead, at a very young age the boy found himself passionately drawn to art. From a toddler on he was obsessed with drawing and creating images, but, as his father did not condone this, he never received any formal training. He was sent reluctantly to Culver Military Academy in Indiana, USA.
Undeterred, Lee pursued his interest independently, reading books on the greatest artists in attempt to understand their techniques and copying images from the Prince Valiant comic series to begin developing his skills. Before reaching the age of 20, Lee entered his first group show, an annual exhibit at the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG). This gallery would host Lee's artwork several more times, even allowing him to participate in the Philippines very first non-objective group art show along with Fernando Zobel, Vicente Manansala, H.R. Ocampo, Arturo Luz, Victor Oteyza and Nena Saguil. He also had individual exhibits there in 1956, 1958 and 1959. Lee continued developing his skills through copying styles he saw and liked, and at this point he had moved to imitating the action-filled style of painting that Jackson Pollock made famous. One piece from 1953 was even titled Homage to Pollock. Lee enjoyed creating bold and colorful non-objective pieces for most of the sixties, often employing the unique approach of using his palette knife to flick paint onto the canvas, making work from this period known as his Flick series. The Flick pieces were met with high praise, winning him first prize twice in the Art Association of the Philippines annual art competitions, along with other high awards subsequent years.
While still young, Lee managed to keep up his artistic passion by night while he tried filling his father's shoes at the family business by day. During this time he was known to have invited other prominent friends in the Philippine art scene to lavish parties aboard his private yacht, living a life of decadence amongst the elite society of Manila. After a few years of burning the candle at both ends, Lee parted ways with his father and devoted himself entirely to his art, seemingly happy to settle for the meager living this decision brought with it. But though he may have been short of funds, he was never short of inspiration, and progressed through styles and techniques with relentless vigor.
Lee continued to stylistically imitate artists he admired, from Pollock to Rembrandt, Vermeer to Rothko. He did this with intent, never denying that his paintings were pulling from the work of others, and indeed continued to title pieces as homage to the inspiring artist: Homage to Brassai (1979), Homage to Vermeer (1983), Homage to Saul Steinberg (1994). He still managed to make the work his own, with a sense of humor sometimes and always a sense of pride in what he created. He could confidently thwart any criticism against his borrowed styles, in turn making the critic feel silly for insinuating that any modern artist could possibly be truly original, could avoid reflecting the same greats as he was openly crediting.
Lee moved from action paintings to a sort of collage-series known as Galumph (a word taken from Alice in Wonderland). This series was inspired by Robert Motherwell, according to Lee, and combined magazine images, pages torn from Harper's Bazaar, often with ephemeral color fields created with gestural strokes, usually with acrylic on wood. In fact, Lee is largely credited in this series with bringing the acrylic medium to the professional artists' toolbox. Lee then seamlessly shifted to heavy-bordered linear paintings and later into pure color fields, holding tight throughout each phase to his distinctive verve for the color palette. Though he is primarily praised as an abstractionist and pop artist, and as one of the foremost modernists in the Philippines, Lee also exhibited a great talent for figurative drawing and even produced several portrait works in various techniques, such as a mask of Agnes Arellano and a mixed-media likeness of Butch Baluyut. His final solo show in 1992 at the Lopez Memorial Museum presented simple pen and ink portraits reminiscent of Rembrandt's own self portraits with masterful handling of light.
Lee might have lost his family fortune early on, and in a way the family that went along with it, but he received in exchange many loyal friends and admirers, and success within his lifetime and beyond. One of the first artists Lee showed with, Arturo Luz, went on to feature Lee's work in his own renowned gallery, the Luz Gallery, again and again from 1962 through 1983. Lee had the honor of participating in the 1971 Sao Paolo Bienale, and had those works also included in an issue of Art International. In the 1970's and 1980's, he enjoyed collaborating with photographers Butch Baluyut and Wig Tysmans, and enjoyed group shows with Cesar Legaspi, Hernando Ocampo, and Vicente Manansala.
Weekly Women's Magazine featured Lee in a 1965 issue, praising his insatiable devotion to exploring new techniques. Besides the Luz Gallery and the Philippine Art Gallery, Lee's work would take center stage at Small Gallery, Cultural Center of the Philippines, and at the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan. He also showed in tandem with other art contemporaries at the Philippine Pavilion, Seattle's World Fair, Near East International Fair, Philippines National Museum, Museum of the Philippine Art, Alegria Gallery, and Galleria Duemila. Additionally, he was awarded first prize at the AAP annual competition (Association of the Philippines) in 1962, and honorable mention the next year. He then took the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila in 1975 and the Araw ng Maynila Award the same year. Although Lee passed away on January 16, 2007, the celebration of his works has continued on.
In 2010 a retrospective show was held honoring Lee's vast artistic accomplishments at the Ateneo Art Gallery, and smaller exhibitions at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Manila Metropolitan Museum.
Source: Windy Kick for Tobin Reese Fine Art