Obituary: Arturo Luz (1926–2021)
By Chloe Chu
On May 26, painter, sculptor, and photographer Arturo Luz passed away in Manila from an undisclosed cause. Aside from introducing neorealist tenets to postwar Philippines, in 1960, he established Luz Gallery, one of the first commercial art spaces in the country, and was the founding director of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, the Design Center of the Philippines, as well as the now defunct Museum of Philippine Art in the 1970s and ’80s. For his contributions to culture, he was recognized as a National Artist of the Philippines in 1997.
Born in 1926, Luz’s love for art began when he was 17. Speaking to AAP in 2013, he recalled: “I made a drawing of my mother and at that moment I said, ‘I’m going to be an artist.’ And I never looked back.” He enrolled at the College of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, before studying in California and New York in the 1940s, and in Paris in 1951. Upon his return to the Philippines in the early 1950s, he regularly convened with other artists, such as Cesar Legapsi, Hernando Ocampo, and Vicente Manansala, who sought to break through the conventions of figurative art and instead convey their subjective experiences through abstraction.
Throughout Luz’s life, he continued to travel, rendering his memories of places and people in semi-abstract paintings with lines that carve up blocks of black, white, red, and ochre—the four colors that he used exclusively for over 60 years. Motifs such as musicians, cyclists, and the stupas of Indian palaces recur throughout these compositions. Luz was also recognized for his Anito [idol] sculptures, which he began creating in the early 1970s. The works—columns with stacked geometric forms—were inspired by the carved wooden figures thought to embody spirits or deities in the Philippines, and other sacred totems found throughout Asia. A five-meter-tall Anito, made in steel and donated by the artist to the government in 2011, stands in Quezon City, at the Batasang Pambansa Complex. Several other pieces by Luz are permanent fixtures in the public landscape, including a 1976 stone Anito at the Philippine International Convention Center and a sculpture of a supersize, untwisted paper clip on the south lawn of the Cultural Center Philippines.
Of his passing, the Philippines’ National Commission for Culture and the Arts wrote on social media, “We mourn a huge loss with the passing of one of the Philippines’ great modern artists but we will forever be grateful for the creative legacy that Arturo Luz has bequeathed the Filipino nation.”
Chloe Chu is the managing editor of ArtAsiaPacific.
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