Monday, April 9, 2012

*290. ELIAS LAXA: Guagua’s Master Painter of Philippine Vignettes

THE ART OF LAXA. Elia Laxa, Guagua's foremost painter of Philippine vignettes was well-known for his seascapes inspired by idyllic scenes from his beloved river town. Ca. 1960s.

The Philippine art scene is made richer and livelier with the creative contributions of Kapampangan artists through the years. Macabebe leads the way by producing a National Artist in 1981, Vicente Silva Manansala, whose cubist art and social realism themes inspired by memories of his early Pampanga memories, captivated the country’s imagination. Benedicto Cabrera, from Sasmuan, would find fame as the Bencab who painted Filipiniana and colonial-themed paintings. Bacolor has Vicente Alvarez Dizon who bested Salvador Dali in a 1939 art competition, while Mexico has Jose Bumanlag David.

The river town of Guagua is not without its own homegrown artists who, though not as publicized and as well-known as their counterparts, command quite attention and respect from patrons in the art circle. The most successful perhaps is the artist Elias Laxa, whose seaside and landscapes have come to be recognized as valuable vignettes of Philippine scenes.

Laxa was born in 1904 in the fishing barrio called Banka in Guagua, Pampanga. A the age of 16, he left for Manila, but it was only at the relatively advance age of 25 that he enrolled at the U.P. College of Fine Arts. There, he studied under Fernando Amorsolo and graduated in 1933. Like what they say about starving artists, Laxa took on odd jobs, including sign painting for Escolta shops. He plunged into serious painting only after the War, supporting himself by giving private art lessons. An early supporter was a kabalen—Emilio Aguilar “Abe” Cruz, the artist-writer from Magalang.

His signature works are his color-splashed seascapes, inspired by his humble background, being the son of a fisherman. In fact, he also became a fisherman in his youth. These circumstances helped develop his love for the sea, which showed so well in his paintings. But he could also paint other subjects—calesas on narrow alleys, market women, old colonial churches, --done in colorful, swift-strokes. The art critic Alfredo R. Roces wrote of his works, “His art is every bit like a fragment of a street with cracked sidewalks, tilted signs and moving calesas, or it is a piece of the sea, with a beach and a vast expanse of sea and sky. He seems bent, in canvas after canvas, in capturing a fleeting moment when light has made edges soft and feathery, just a few minutes before the pinkish-grey sky breaks into actual dawn..Laxa seems bent on pursuing these mysteries of nature relentlessly”.

Laxa started reaping awards starting in 1949 with an honorable mention from the Art Association of the Philippines competition. He duplicated that feat the next year at the same contest.

In 1952, Laxa held his first one man show at the gallery of noted painter, Miguel Galvez. He held solo exhibits at the Philamlife lobby and at Gallery One in San Juan. It was through his art that he managed to support his large family that consisted of 9 children, who earned degrees in engineering, architecture and education. Just like his low-keyed persona, Laxa lived modestly, residing in a “home along the riles”—a house beside the railroad tracks on Antipolo St., in Manila.

His dream to travel and exhibit abroad came true when he was given the opportunity to fly to Hawaii in 1964 and show off his representation artworks, not to mention his technical proficiency, his artistic sensibilities and his warm, imaginative personality. It was in Hawaii that he found a measure of artistic success. Art connoisseurs started to take note of his soulful works, particularly his seascapes that were to be his forte. He would travel back and forth from Hawaii to the Philippines, to paint, to exhibit and to rediscover his Guagua roots that so exuberantly inspired his works.

He and his family would relocate to Hawaii, the island state that would embrace him and his art. Underrated no more, Laxa would spend the rest of his days here, until his passing in 1990, surrounded by his extended family, children and grandchildren, some of whom would also become artists like him, thus perpetuating the Laxa artistic tradition.

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