Works of National Artists in public spaces

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A Napoleon Abueva masterpiece outside the Commission on Audit in Quezon City. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In public parks, churches, schools, and some government and corporate buildings around the metro, we see murals, paintings, and sculptures that sometimes seem to serve as decorative pieces but are actually commissioned works that commemorate important historical events, celebrate the achievements of a noted Filipino, or expound on a Filipino value.

These public artworks are the collaborative efforts of the art patrons and the artists representing the mission, vision or services offered by the institution, an act of their social responsibility.

In fact, during the Marcos administration, former first lady Imelda Marcos commissioned murals, collected paintings and sculptures that can still be seen in hospitals, government buildings, and public parks. These works of art represent the thrust of the state in promoting Philippine arts and culture while keeping up with global art changes of the time.

Some of these artists are honored with the National Artists Award or the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ng Sining.

The works of our National Artists are on display for everyone to see everyday. They remind us of our rich culture and history, and stand as testaments of the evolution of Philippine art.

AII EC 2.jpg “Lapu-lapu” by Fernando Amorsolo is located at the lobby of the Manila Hotel. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Fernando Amorsolo, The First National Artist

It is not often you will see a painting of Fernando Amorsolo in public, with the exception of museums. His romantic realist style of illuminated barrio folk inspired many painters to follow in his footsteps. Amorsolo strengthen his influence, as he would helm the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Fine Arts, after his mentor Fabian de la Rosa retired.

Among his notable public works is his “Lapu-lapu” that can be found at the lobby of the Manila Hotel. Here, he shows the chieftain of Mactan, standing defiantly and watching as the ships of Magellan approach his shores, while the people go about their business for the day.

The other few works of Amorsolo in public view are the many portraits that he was commissioned to do, among these are:

  • The portraits of Pres. Elpidio Quirino, Don Alejandro Roces, and Judge Guillermo B. Guevara, at the Gonzales Hall of the University of the Philippines’ Main Library, in Diliman, Quezon City.
  • Another set of portraits are of Dolores Morato Honrado Vera and Sen. Jose Olfinas Vera at the Sampaguita Gardens (the former Sampaguita Films studio), also in Quezon City.

Amorsolo also did some historical painting, such as the “The History of Philippine Music” at the GSIS Complex, in Pasay City.

AII EC 3.jpg “The Stigmatization of St. Francis” by Fernando Amorsolo at the Santuario de San Antonio Parish in Makati. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

An impressive collection of Amorsolo historical paintings can be found at the UP Gonzales Hall, the “Ang Wakas ni Magallanes,” “Assassination of Governor Bustamante,” and “Bataan.” The last piece is his most dramatic work, which he originally painted in 1942, without the image of the fallen soldier, in fear of punishment from the Japanese. He later completed the work in 1945, making it a powerful statement to the suffering the Filipinos underwent in World War II.

Fernando Amorsolo also broke from his traditional romantic realism paintings to create replicas of Giotto di Bondone’s two frescos on the “Life of Saint Francis,” which are found at the Basilica of Saint Francis, in Assisi, Italy. Amorsolo painted the two murals at the side of the Santuario de San Antonio Parish in Makati, featuring “The Stigmatization of St. Francis” and “St. Francis Preaching to the Birds.”

1939 Guillermo Tolentino - Oblation, Pahinungod, UP Quezon Hall.jpg The Oblation by Guillermo Tolentino in front of the administration building of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Guillermo Tolentino, The Master of Classical Sculpture

Guillermo Tolentino was the first National Artist for Sculpture, with some of his greatest monuments becoming part of the Philippine cultural landscape, such as the Bonifacio Monument at the rotunda in Caloocan, and Oblation in front of the administration building of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City.

Tolentino also taught at the UP School of Fine Arts, where he would eventually become its director. There he taught the next generation of sculptors, two of whom also became National Artists for Sculpture.

Guillermo Tolentino - Balagtas, UP Gonzales Hall.jpg Francisco Balagtas by Guillermo Tolentino at UP Gonzalez Hall. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Tolentino was commissioned by many government agencies to create busts and full figures of Filipino heroes. Among these are:

  • The full-bodied Andres Bonifacio in front of Manila Post Office.
  • The life-sized Dr. Jose Rizal in the Plaridel Masonic Temple in Manila.
  • The full body monument to Pres. Ramon Magsaysay at Ramon Magsaysay Center in Pasay City.
  • The two statues of Pres. Manuel Quezon and Pres. Sergio Osmeña at the Old Legislative Building in Manila.
  • The full body monument to Pres. Manuel Roxas along Roxas Boulevard.
  • The bust of León María Guerrero at the Manila Mehan Garden.
  • The bust of Dr. Jose Rizal at the Palma Hall.
  • The bust of Francisco Balagtas at the Gonzales Hall of UP Diliman.

One surprising commemorative public sculpture created by Guillermo Tolentino was never commissioned and paid for by the artist himself. This was his dedication to one of his closest associates, Fernando Amorsolo, which he created right after hearing of the death of his friend. The statue stands at the grave of Amorsolo at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina City.

Carlos Francisco - 5 Dominic establishes Order of Preachers.jpg "The life of Sto. Domingo de Guzman" by Botong Francisco at Sto. Domingo Church, Quezon City. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Botong Francisco, A Storyteller in Murals

Carlos “Botong” Francisco’s style is undeniably unique, as well as his impeccable skill in telling complex stories in multiple panels that blend into each other. Botong’s characters are dignified and beautiful, and his colors cover the whole palette, which brings a visual feast to any person looking at his work.

With such a talent for the visual narrative, Botong has been commissioned to create many historically themed murals, such as the three-piece “History of Medicine” at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila and the two-piece “Via Crusis” for the chapel at the Far Eastern University in Manila.

Encompassing all four walls of the Mayor’s Office in Manila City Hall, Botong’s magnum opus is a flowing recollection of the story of the Filipino people’s strong independent spirit. The mural is rendered in Francisco’s typical colorful overlapping multi-panelled compositions, with idealistically portrayed heroes as beautiful, powerful, and dynamic demigods. The series starts with the “Arrival of the Spaniards in 1521,” and continues to seamlessly flow to the next story from “Battle of Mactan,” to the “Rebuilding of Manila after World War II.”

1977 Napoleon Abueva - Commission On Audit 01.jpg COA Monument by Napoleon Abueva at the Commission on Audit, Quezon City. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Napoleon Abueva, The Father of Philippine Modern Sculpture

Napoleon Abueva is the sculptor’s sculptor. He has mastered many techniques and styles, such as wood and stone carving, clay modeling and metal casting, and assemblage, among others. He has also mastered the classical and modernist styles of sculptures; one can see the whole range of techniques and styles when visiting his many public pieces all over the country.

The whole campus of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City is a virtual gallery of his works, where he served as the dean of the College of Fine Arts. Among his notable UP pieces are the paper plane shaped “Gateway” waiting shed and monumental adobe “Tribute to Higher Education,” which flank both sides of the University Avenue.

Abueva trained under the classical style of Guillermo Tolentino. Some his own classical pieces include:

  • The casts of Tolentino’s Oblation at UP Iloilo and UP Los Baños.
  • The life-sized standing monument of Mayor Ponciano A. Bernardo in Cubao.
  • The bust of Gen. Arturo T. Enrile at the AFP Multi-Purpose Theater in Camp Aguinaldo.
  • The bust of Fr. John Patrick Delaney at the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice.
  • The monument of “Three Women Sewing the First Filipino Flag” at the UP Diliman Lagoon.
  • The tribute to his Alma Mater at the UP Ang Bahay ng Alumni.
  • The life-sized seated sculptures of Apolinario Mabini and Teodoro M. Kalaw in front of the National Library in Manila.

1990s Napoleon Abueva - Carriedo Fountain Replica, MWSS Administration Building.jpg Carriedo Fountain replica by Napoleon Abueva at MWSS Administration building. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Abueva would also show off his wood carving skills with the “14 Stations of the Cross” at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, the “Cross of Saint Andrew” at the Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Makati, an altarpiece called “Dambana ng Pasko” at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay, the “Victorious Christ” at the Our Lady of the Pentecost Parish in Quezon City, the two sided “Risen/Dead Christ” at the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in UP, and the MassComm Pillar in the Plaridel Hall in UP Diliman.

Abueva would also pick through scrap yards for his public assemblages, such as the “Millennium Ring” at the GSIS Building in Pasay, the atom-shaped “Born Free” at the Information and Communications Technology Office of the Department of Science and Technology in Quezon City, the towering “Tribute to the Filipino Entrepreneur” at the UP ISSI Center, and the telescope shaped “Spirit of Business” at the UP Diliman Virata School of Business.

2003 Napoleon Abueva - Victorious Crucifix, Our Lady of the Pentecost Parish, Varisty Hills 2.jpg “Victorious Christ” by Napoleon Abueva at the Our Lady of the Pentecost Parish in Quezon City. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Even in his latter years, Napoleon Abueva would continue to push the boundaries of sculpture. He was soon experimenting in architectural sculpture, such as his four-storey “Templo” and “Swinging House” at his studio compound in Quezon City. However, his truly public architectural sculpture is the open aired Interfaith Chapel, at the Southwestern University (SWU) in Cebu City.

A very religious man, Abueva has done many pieces for different churches and religious institutions all over the country, but the SWU Chapel is his first public attempt in creating the whole structure. The building is conceived to represent the tomb of the risen Christ, and when a wheel is turned at the back of the altar, the circular brass door will roll over and reveal the interior of the chapel.

1975 Vicente Manansala - Inang Bayan, Philippine Heart Center.jpg “Inang Bayan” by Vicente Manansala at Philippine Heart Center. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Vicente Manansala, The Surreal Cubist of the Philippines

Vicente Manansala is considered one of the pioneers of modernism in the Philippines, and his “transparent cubism” style broke off from its European influence to feature Filipiñana themes and rainbowed palettes.

Manansala’s lively compossions brought on many commissions for government and private institutions, such as the mural series at the Philam Life in Manila and the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, which are all now housed at the National Museum.

He would sometimes temper his cubist style to paint historical paintings, or create complete surreal works, such as the mural “Arts and Sciences” at the Palma Hall lobby in UP Diliman.

12 Jesus dies on the Cross.jpg "Stations of the Cross" by Vicente Manansala at the UP Parish of the Holy Sacrifice. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Manansala did not shy away from experimenting on other media, such as his metal sculptures of the Nicanor Reyes Memorial Square and the mosaic of Our Lady of Fatima at the chapel of the Far Eastern University in Manila, or the patterned Arts and Sciences floor design also at the Palma Hall.

The Philippine Heart Center (PHC) has an impressive collection of artworks found throughout the compound, however the most known and controversial is the mural located at the PHC lobby in Quezon City. Commissioned by the former first lady Imelda Marcos, Vicente Manansala portrayed her as the spirit of the Motherland or “Inang Bayan.”

1980s Arturo Luz - Anito, Batasang Pambansa Complex, West Hall.jpg "Anito" by Arturo Luz at the Batasang Pambansa Complex. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Arturo Luz, The Crossover Between Sculpture and Painting

Arturo Luz is better known for his paintings of simplified linear figures and totally abstract forms. These are best exemplified by his mural entitled “Black and White” at the Philippine International Convention Center, in Pasay City. However, Luz would continue his abstract experimentations in various sculptural pieces, such as the untitled piece at the stairway of the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay, and the roadsideInterlocking Forms” and “Homage to Noguchi” at the Ayala Center in Makati City. Another notable experiment of Luz is his floor piece entitled “River of Life” at the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in UP Diliman, where black and white zigzag forms emanate from the center altar and flow out to aisle and onto the walkways.

2005 Arturo Luz - Homage to Noguchi 1.jpg “Homage to Noguchi” by Arturo Luz at the Ayala Center in Makati City. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Two of the monumental outdoor sculptures of Arturo Luz are entitled “Anito.” The first one is done in poured concrete at the Philippine International Convention Center, and the other is made of welded metal sheet at the Philippine Congress at the Batasan Pambansa Complex.

Both works take form of shapes stacked on top of each other, much like the Native American totem poles. Yet these abstract forms alo represent the anito (ancient gods), as personified by the Bulul. The location of both monuments seem to remind the people in the buildings that the gods are watching them.

1976 Jose Joya - Pagdiriwang, Philippine International Convention Center.jpg “Pagdiriwang” by Jose Joya at the Philippine International Convention Center. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Jose Joya, An Interplay of Color and Form

Jose Joya’s style can be described as abstract expressionism, but his works break away from the morose emotions of his American counterparts, and they show a lively interplay of forms that seem to tell a story.

Joya’s “Pagdiriwang” (celebration), at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), captures exactly that sentiment. His playful nature continues in his experimentation on other media such as his sculpture “Suso,” a double meaning word that can be translated as snail or breast, depending to the pronunciation.

Jose Joya’s colorful abstract expressionist mural, the “Battle of Panay,” celebrates the tale of the 10 Bornean chieftains who arrived in the island of Panay and traded with the native Aeta people for ownership of the coastal lowlands. This celebration of trade and commerce matches the vision of the Virata School of Business in UP Diliman, where the painting is on display in its lobby.

22 1984 Abdulmari Asia Imao - Untitled, Allah Configuration 1.jpg “Allah Configuration” by Abdulmari Imao at the University of the Philippines. Photo by JOHN PAUL OLIVARES

Abdulmari Imao, The First Moro National Artist

Abdulmari Imao is a sculptor of both classical and modernist traditions, who studied under Guillermo Tolentino and Napoleon Abueva. Imao made his mark by incorporating themes and form from his Moro heritage into modernist paintings and sculptures.

Imao would commonly use the image of the sarimanok or use the Moro floral motifs called okir/ukkil in his works. His bronze “Allah Configuration” at the University of the Philippines perfectly shows that modern Moro aesthetic.

Imao’s more classical works are the statue of Antonio Pigafetta in Cebu City, Pres. Elpidio Quirino along Roxas Boulevard, and the relief of Sultan Kudarat at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay.


There are so many more artworks to be discovered and to learn from if we pay attention to what is around us. One example is the many paintings of two more national artists Ang Kiukok and Hernando R. Ocampo, which can be found at the Philippine International Convention Center, Philippine Heart Center, Commission on Audit, and Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System compounds.

In other buildings and parks, you can find sculptures by Eduardo Castrillo, Anastacio Caedo, Kublai Millan, Ramon Abellana, Jonas Roces, Joe Mendoza, Julie Lluch, and much more. Any one of these artists may be nominated as the next National Artist, and their works will continue to inspire the next generations.