Arturo Luz is a Filipino modern artist best known for his minimalist, geometric, and abstract styles of art and his animated paintings of circus performers and musicians as well as his revered cityscape series. He is considered a pioneer of the Philippine Neo-realist movement (1950s-1960s) along with fellow Filipino artist Fernando Zobel de Ayala, for their adoption of a modernist approach to interpreting daily life in their native land. Many of these two artists’ works are now considered masterpieces. In the later years of Luz’s career he also received recognition and praise for his sculptures, murals, photographs, and general taste in design. Although many of Luz’s works include only the essential elements of lines, curves, and a few toned-down colors, the Filipino people continue to show enthusiasm, devotion, admiration, and curiosity for them. Luz won the distinction of being designated National Artist of the Philippines, the highest artistic honor in the country, for Visual Arts in 1997.
Luz was born on November 20, 1926 in Manila. He studied painting first in the Philippines, then the United States, Europe, and again in the United States in the following order: the School of Fine Arts at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila; under scholarship at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California; the Brooklyn Museum Art School in New York (1950); and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris (1951). Luz began exhibiting his works as a college student and received his first award at the annual art contest sponsored by the Art Association of the Philippines. He became known on the Philippine art scene when he held his first solo exhibition in 1951 at the Manila Hotel, following a previous exhibition of his drawings at the Raymond Duncan Gallery in Paris. Luz spent 1954 in Spain and in 1955 exhibited his work at the Metropolitan Museum in Manila. He married artist Tessie Ojeda Luz and in 1960 established the renowned Luz Gallery in Manila. Throughout its history the Luz Gallery displayed many exhibitions important to the modern art movement, assisted and influenced up and coming Filipino artists, and caught the attention of important collectors looking for the next artistic trend.
Luz’s early works were figurative with his later works evolving into further abstraction, with forms and shapes losing identifying characteristics as he defined his style. Luz said, “I cannot paint flowers. They are by nature too decorative and pretty. I like things that are very stark, elemental, simple—like a stone or a shell.” One of his most celebrated series is the beloved cityscapes, which was inspired by his many travels to the historic and “lost” cities throughout Asia. Using his vivid and wild imagination, Luz transformed architectural elements, buildings, and temples into circles, rectangles, lines, and colors. In 1969, considered late in his career to start practicing another genre, Luz began experimenting with sculptural abstraction using metal, concrete, wood, and marble. He continued the Neo-realist themes of his paintings, along with linear simplicity and geometric form, in his sculptures. From the 1970s to 1980s Luz served as the founding Director of Art at the Museum of Philippine Art (MOPA) where he gathered an impressive collection of modern Philippine art. The artist’s photographs, especially those of his travels during the 1990s, were often used as inspiration for later paintings. For further photographic inspiration Luz often studied the paintings and prints of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi for their simplicity in content and technique.
Luz’s works have been and continue to be a part of private collections as well as exhibited in international galleries and museums, including the Manila Contemporary. The artist’s works are popular at auction as well. In 2013 Candle Vendors (oil on canvas; 1952-54) sold at Christie's Hong Kong Asian 20th Century Art sale for nearly $380,000. This early work by Luz depicts a common scene from everyday Philippine life—three women gossiping while they sell candles in the marketplace. This work was one of the last by Luz to include stronger figurative detail. Shortly after the creation of this painting, he moved towards less distinguishable facial features, clothes, and props, so much so that the individuality of his later figures is nonexistent.
The artist describes his paintings as “semi-representational, semi-abstract”. Fernando Zobel de Ayala, a fond admirer of Luz, called him "a painter's painter" and explained that other painters are the most common purchasers of Luz’s works at auction due to an appreciation for the artist’s meticulous craftsmanship. Luz paints every day of the week from the time he opens his eyes until he feels weary. He works on sculpture once a week. He said, “I don’t take a day off because I love what I am doing. Painting is not work for me.” As the artist approaches nearly ninety years of age and a nearly fifty-year career, he is still equally as passionate and energetic, if not more, about art than he was when he was younger. After eighteen years of refusing to give an interview, he finally opened up to a female reporter a few years ago during a showing of his work. He said, “I have very little to say about what I do…no clutter, no nonsense, no stories…just simple, plain abstract objects. I want to transform everything I see, everything I admire, into my own personal vision. That’s it.”
A partial list of his achievements is as follows:
1950s- 1960s Three 1st Prize Awards at the Art Association of the Philippines Annual Competition, California Art Association award 1955 Outstanding Young Man in Art, Manila Times 1956 A book of his drawings was published; introduction by Emmanuel Torres 1960 Established the renowned Luz Gallery (Makati, Philippines) 1962 First International Art Salon; 1st Prize (Saigon, Vietnam) 1966 Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Painting (Philippines) 1971 Represented Philippines in 1971 São Paolo Biennial (Brazil) 1976 Founding director of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila in 1976 1978 Order of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, by the French government 1981 Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award, from the City of Manila 1984 8th British International Print Biennale (Bradford, West Yorkshire) 1987 Promoted to Officiel by the French government 1989 Gawad CCP para sa Sining, from the Cultural Center of the Philippines
A partial list of his major works is as follows:
1946 Lavandera 1953 Awit 1959 City 1960 Anito “Idol” (sculpture) 1979 Painted Steel (sculpture) 1997 Bagong Taon 1997 Man with Guitar Vendador de Flores Skipping Rope Candle Vendors Procession Self-Portrait Night Glows Grand Finale Cities of the Past Imaginary Landscapes
A partial list of his exhibitions is as follows:
2013 Silverlens; photography (Manila, Philippines) Galerie Joaquin; works from 1997-2004 (San Juan, Philippines)