Born in Santa Cruz on September 19, 1924, Nena Saguil would grow up to become a breakthrough female artist of the Philippines. One of ten children to father Epifanio Saguil (a private physician to President Manuel Quezon) and mother Remedios Laconico, Nena would follow a path quite unexpected given her conservative Catholic upbringing. Refusing to attend Catholic school, Nena instead joined the arts program at the University of the Philippines. During her studies, she worked alongside classmates Anita Magsaysay & Hernando Ocampo. Her instructors included famed artists Fernando Amorsolo and Fabian De La Rosa, though these artists failed to capture the young student’s ardor. Her passion was committed to a new movement of abstraction and surrealism. Young Nena was drawn to artists like Pablo Picasso, and she would focus her studies on his works and other artists paving the way with exciting new movements in abstraction. In 1949, Nena received her Bachelor of Fine Arts. The following year, she would devote much of her time to the newly opened P.A.G. (Philippine Art Gallery), a project of Lyd Arguilla’s. Nena exhibited her own paintings at the gallery and worked alongside up-and-coming artists such as Vicente Manansala, Arturo Luz and Fernando Zobel. In 1954, Nena applied for the Walter Damrosch Scholarship. Winning this award allowed her to travel in 1955 to Spain. There, she would study abstract and modern art at the Institute of Spanish Culture. The Institute recognized her unique talent and even awarded Nena a second scholarship, allowing her to continue her studies through 1956. For her next move, Nena made her way to Paris. She enrolled at the School of American Arts there, and soon held her first solo art exhibit at Galerie Raymond Creuze. Life in Paris wasn’t always easy for the expatriate. Nena lived in a tiny apartment in the Saint Germain des Pres district, offering maid services in order to make rent while steadily creating new works. She never pursued a husband or children of her own, but she enjoyed the city of Paris and would call it home for much of her life. It is said that her collection of works can be divided into two parts: The Manila works and the Paris works. Most of her paintings created during her time in Manila remained figurative and harkened a sense of nostalgia for the place and people of her homeland. In contrast, her distance from this land seemed to free her to find her own unique voice in high abstraction of varying types. Her works made in Paris moved through cubism, impressionism and even surrealism fluidly. Her signature pieces over time used recurring themes of geometric shapes repeating into patterns which seem to symbolize either the universe at large or on the microscopic level- or some combination thereof. These shapes are generally understood to reflect Nena’s interest in mysticism and enchantment with the invisible existence beyond our everyday experience of life. Nena’s art was well received in Manila, Paris and far beyond. By the end of her career, Nena had exhibited paintings in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Turkey, Sweden, Indonesia and the United States as well. In 1974, she was named one of Twelve Outstanding Overseas Filipinos. After Nena Saguil passed away in 1994, her recognition continued to expand. She would soon be honored with memorial exhibitions at the Lopez Museum (1995), at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (1997), and at the Ateneo Art Gallery (2003). She was even awarded a Presidential Medal of Merit in 2006 by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Associated Organizations University of the Philippines, School of Fine Art Philippine Art Gallery Instituto de Cultura Hispanica Ecole des Artes Americane Galerie Raymond Creuze Solidaridad Galleries (Manila) Cultural Center of the Philippines
Some Known Works Power Room 1953 Barrio Mother and Child 1953 Abstract 1961 Landscapes of the Mind 1969 Illumination II 1977