Monday, November 9, 2009

*170. His High School Yearbook: VICENTE ALVAREZ DIZON

PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST AS A HIGH SCHOOLER. Vicente Alvarez Dizon, th future art professor and world-class painter, as he appeared on his 1924 National University Yearbook, aged 19 years old.

On the last day of the annual antique and collectibles fair of Greenhills, I had expected to find only “crumbs” left by collectors and dealers, with the best pieces already picked and sold. Indeed, that was what I felt when I got into the section of the mall where the dealers had their stalls. I initially saw only old bottles, records, vintage newspapers, old coins and paper bills—which were not exactly my interest. In one stall that specialized in old books and paper items, I picked up a thin 1924 National University yearbook with a new red binding. The cover identified the previous owner as Dr. Gaudencio de los Reyes. I scanned a few pages and I thought I might find use for this yearbook one day; besides, at one hundred pesos, it was a steal. I paid for the yearbook-- my one and only purchase—and took a taxi home.

1924 NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK. Designed and illustrated by Vicente Alvarez Dizon, Class of 1924.

Inside the cab, I flipped through the pages again, this time, more carefully—and there, on page 35, I found the picture of 19 year old Vicente Alvarez Dizon (b. 5 April 1905), a noted Kapampangan painter, the artist that history almost forgot. Born in Malate of Kapampangan parents, this 1928 U.P. fine arts graduate went on to become a professor of drawing and art appreciation (a course he pioneered) at the National Teachers’ College, a position he held till 1941. He later earned a study grant at the Yale University.

A year after his college graduation, he married Maria Ines Lutgarda Henson of Angeles, whom he met while she was studying at St. Scholastica in Manila. The couple had 7 children, and two of them—Daniel and Josefina—went on to follow their father’s footsteps by becoming respected artists in their own right.

As an artist, Vicente maintained an art studio in Manila and in his Angeles residence where his customers, many American soldiers from Clark Field, would ask him to draw portraits and cards to be sent to their loved ones back in the U.S. mainland. His biggest claim to fame however winning an important art contest held at the Gallery of Science and Art at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco, California. He placed first in the International Competition on Contemporary Art participated in by painters from 79 countries with his opus, “After A Day’s Toil”. What made his triumph more significant was that he bested the entries of surrealist Salvador Dali and impressionist Maurice Utrillo. Dali’s piece entitled “Enigmatic Elements in Landscape” was relegated to second place.

Vicente’s winning painting showed a Filipino family homeward bound from the fields, including a woman, two men and a boy, a dog and chickens passing by a lake fringed with lush tropical foliage and with mountains rising from the distance. The painting was exhibited worldwide and went on display at the IBM Gallery of Fine Arts.

However, his most dramatic works were done during the Japanese Occupation, secretly recording the difficult life under a repressive regime. He painted such emotional-filled works like “Strafed Civilians”, “Evacuees on the Move” and “The Fall of Intramuros”, painted in 1945, that depicted the destruction of this hallowed part of Manila. Because of his talent, he was invited to work as an artist and historical assistant at Clark Field in August 1945. The war years took a toll on his health and Vicente died on 19 October 1947. He was just 42.

The precious find that I now hold in my hands speak volumes of the young Vicente’s artistic skills as well as his life, interests and character as a teen-ager. He singlehandedly designed, laid out and illustrated the pages which he neatly signed with “V.A.Dizon ‘24”. The book listed his place of residence as “Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija”, as his father, Jose Dizon, was assigned there at that time as an agricultural inspector. His whole entry in the 1924 yearbook reads:

“A promising gentleman of Cabanatuan, the favorite ‘hijo’ of Mrs. Ylagan. The ‘Liwayway’ and the class artist, once the Vice President of the Alpha-Beta Club and the piccoloist of the National Jazz Band. Tall, handsome, graceful ‘feller’ is he of fresh nineteen. He is studious, clever, proud but not a parasite. He reads like a lightning flash and talks like a thunderbolt. He is silent but beware of his silence for he is a breaker of feminine hearts”.

Who would think that in 15 years’ time, this Kapampangan teen-ager would grow to become a world-class artist with his stunning victory in San Francisco? Yet, he was largely unsung, having died young, his repute forgotten through the years. It was only in February 2001 that his legacy was honored by the Committee on Culture with a retrospective exhibit of his works at the UP Library Art Gallery. Of him, kabalen and National Artist Galo Ocampo has this to say: “Mr. Dizon’s place in contemporary Philippine art is already known. He belongs to a field distinctly his own. He is the Filipino Kenyon Cox, preaching the gospel of art among the masses..”

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