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Romulo Galicano: Philippines' national treasure

When you see a masterpiece of Romulo Galicano, you can almost always recognize it is the master painter’s work because of the vertical elements present in them.

He tells me that he always had that love for vertical elements even as a young artist, when he would include trees, poles, wood and similar elements in his composition. As he matured and continuously learned about art, he encountered the book, “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting,” wherein he discovered about theosophy, which has influenced the works of many visual artists such as the presence of vertical movement in paintings.

While he is a realist painter, Galicano explains that he reads about abstraction to have a better understanding of his journey as an artist and how he can integrate it in his art. He says that the vertical lines in his paintings are “reconciliation between opposite poles and the merging of the Subjective and the Objective—creating a new meaningful work of art.”

He recalls a time when an art collector said that he would buy Galicano’s paintings if only he would remove the vertical lines. Of course, that was non-negotiable for an artist like him whose value for artistic integrity is second to none.

For Galicano, the hardest part of being an artist is ensuring artistic integrity is never compromised. He shares there are artists whose works are beautiful, but lack statement and substance. That is why each time he gets to work is a memorable experience for him because there is always that challenge of succeeding.

He explains, “Kung gusto ko lang mapaganda ‘yan, ‘yung maganda sa mata but without the artistic integrity, magagawa ko ‘yan. Pero, para ano? Para kumita? ‘Yan ang iniiwasan ko. Kaya ang pinaka-shield ko sa buhay bilang artist, ang artistic integrity kailangan, sana lagi ko mahahawakan. Kumita man o hindi, may makain o wala, so be it. Kasi ang painting lifetime ‘yan maiiwan.”

(“If I want a painting to just look beautiful, pleasing to the eye but without the artistic integrity, I can do that. But for what reason? So I can earn more? That’s what I want to avoid. That is why I give so much importance to my artistic integrity, it’s my shield as an artist. It does not matter if I earn or not, or if there’s food on the table or none, so be it, because my paintings will be there even after my lifetime.”)

Galicano says that art is a way of life and artists, no matter their medium, have their own interpretation of their experience, the realism of their lives. That is why when he talks about criticisms with his fellow artists, it’s more about refinement, it’s never about the style, but more on how to elevate the process and contribute to the maturity and profoundness of the artist and his art.

He shares that he was six years old and in Kindergarten in Cebu, when he first discovered his interest in the arts. His teacher had colored chalks and would draw a mountain, flower, etc. and he would really be attentive while the other kids were less interested. That was when he realized he wanted to draw, to paint, that this would be his life.

Between 1961 and 1965, he had private arts lessons with Cebuano Realist master Martino Abellana of landscapes and figure paintings. When he arrived in Manila in 1965, he pursued artistic training under another Cebuano artist, SYM (Sofronio Y. Mendoza); and in 1968 he underwent full time studies in Painting.

Galicano is one of the most sought-after portraitists today. He has a long list of solo art exhibits and participated in numerous group shows. But probably one of the most prestigious is being part of the Contemporary Art Fair at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris where his work “Homage to Arturo Luz” is being showcased. Galicano might be the first Filipino to exhibit at the Louvre.

He has received many local awards, including The Philippines Foundation Inc.’s 12th Perlas Awards on the Valuable Filipino in 1999 and 25th Perlas Awards – Artistic Painting in 2012; Artist of the Year by the GSIS in 2010; the Rotary International’s Golden Wheel Awards – Arts and Culture; and recognitions by the local governments of Cebu Province, Manila, and Ormoc City, to name a few.

Among his many international awards include several from the Portrait Society of America, including the Award of Merit in 2004 and as Grand Prize Winner in the 2004 International Portrait Competition. He was bestowed the Highest Title of Ordinary Academician Award by the Accademia Internazionale-Greci Marino in Italy. He has also received the International Artist Award from the Milan International Prize Caravaggio in 2018, from the Florence International Prize Botticelli in 2019, and from the Barcelona International Prize (Diego) Velazquez in 2019.

With so much masterpieces done and accolades received, I asked what is his favorite painting. He borrows Picasso’s answer to the same question, “The next one.” Because when he is able to pick one as his favorite, then that means he has become stagnant.

For Galicano, art is his mission as a Filipino. Art is his life; it never stops. He thanks God for giving him such talent. And as long as God allows him, he will continue painting as long as he lives, as long as he can.

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