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. His works are known to sell well above their estimated values at auction. For example, Tres Marias, a painting of three women in formal Filipiniana attire (1982; oil on canvas) sold for nine times more than expected and Still Life with Landscape (1979; oil on canvas), five times more than expected, at Sotheby’s September 2007 auction in Singapore.
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 (Philippines) 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)