Tuesday, December 11, 2012

*318. JOSE BUMANLAG DAVID: Painting Immortality

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE. Early work of Jose Bumanlag David, painted in his 20s, as it appeared as a reproduction color print on Graphic Magazine in 1934. David was well-known for portraits of ethnic types, the fad of the times. but eventually became even more popular when he painted portraits of ordinary people at his shop near Clark Air Base

Through the years, Pampanga’s art scene have been enlivened by a few master artists whose signature styles and subjects have earned them acclaim and following. National Artist Vicente Manansala is known for his nudes done both in the realist tradition and in modern cubist forms. Bencab’s trademark pieces are artworks showing Filipino characters and their colonizers drawn from history. Elias Laxa is famed for his seascapes while contemporary artist Claude Tayag draws his subjects from our colorful folk arts and festivals.

In the field of portraiture—where technical accuracy, mastery of light, tone and mood are required of the artist, one Kapampangan painter stands out—Jose Bumanlag David. Though he painted a variety of subjects throughout his long, prolific career, it is in portraiture that he found recognition, thanks largely to his American clientele.

 My first brush with this accomplished visual artist was in the mid 90s, when I went to a art gallery in Balibago near the Abacan Bridge to have some prints framed. There, amidst the clutter of acrylic paintings and kitschy copies of European masterpieces, I found a small vintage ethnic painting so popular in that era, signed in graceful cursive script by one “Jose B. David, 1955”. It is a portrait of a young lakan, perhaps still in his teens, attired in tribal clothes, complete with a potong, necklaces and earrings.

 The portrait captured the likeness of a proud, handsome royal right down to his earthen complexion and his stare that pierces through you despite a half-smile. The gallery owner was just too happy to part with the old painting for Php 200, and my only regret was not asking if this portrait had a matching “lakambini”, as it was the custom of artists in those days to paint “his and hers”paintings.

Thus began my search to know more about this gifted painter—Jose Bumanlag David. The future visual artist was born in Mexico, Pampanga on 26 July 1909. His early schooling began at the Mexico Elementary School and San Fernando Intermediate School. He then enrolled in Pampanga’s premiere high school—the Pampanga High School from where he graduated in 1929. In college, he chose to take up Fine Arts—a course that was not exactly desirable in those days; painting was not considered a profession and painres were treated with disdain (“wala kang mapapala sa hampaslupang ├Żan!”).

 Nevertheless, David went on to enter the U.P. School of Fine Arts where he quickly made a name for himself as a promising art student by winning medals in various inter-school art contests. He graduated in 1934 and started painting popular subjects like common folks in rural settings, historical tableaus and ethnic scenes. His paintings caught the eyeof leading dailies, and his artworks were featured regularly on the glossy, color sections of the Philippine Free Press. In 1939, Jose David and Wenceslao Garcia held a joint exhibition at the U.P. Library Gallery which drew much praise from the public.

Soon, his works were being collected by noted art connoisseurs like Jorge Vargas. At the 1941 National Art Competition held by the University of Santo Tomas, David won 2nd Honorable mention for his ”Presentation of the Santo Nino to the Queen of Cebu”(Religious Category) and 3rd Honorable Mention for his “Man of the Soil”(Filipiniana Category). His output was so prodigious that pre-World War II, his works could be found in the classrooms of many Manila schools and at the offices of the Department of Education, health and Public Welfare. After the War, he re-established his profession by relocating in Angeles, where he conducted art classes at the Clark Air Base.

It was to be a long and fruitful stay—thirty years in fact, from 1947 to 1977. He took a break to finish a management course in 1964 at the Air Force Institute at Gunter Air Base University, Alabama. Afterwhich, he established his studio near the base and, beginning in 1971 till 1982, he gave private art classes to bored American wives of U.S. military personnel and their other family members. One of his last one-man show was held in 1990 at Galerie Andrea in 1990. Many of his portraits of American military officers used to hang in various Clark Air Base buildings and those of Filipino heroes at the Scottish Rite Temple.

After his death, his studio closed but many galleries around the city continued to carry some of his prized artworks that were popular as tourist souvenirs. Today, his paintings rarely surface in the local market. A few pieces could still be seen at the U.P. Filipiniana Museum, part of the vast Jose B. Vargas art collection donated to the state university. Jose Bumanlag David, the master portraitist who so deftly immortalized on canvass the likenesses of thousands of faces—young, old, man, woman, Filipino, American—has also earned immortality himself as Pampanga’s most accomplished portraitist.


Anonymous said...

I am an American woman, one of the afore mentioned 'bored American house wives' who painted with Jose B. David in 1973 at Clark Air Force Base. Mr. David was a delightful teacher, very skilled, and helpful in a polite and directive manner. He accepted me for private instruction in his studio. When my family were due to leave the Philippines, he presented me with a lovely watercolor painting of a stone church with a bridge, calassa and a Mimosa tree in bloom. The painting is now being reframed to hang in my studio. I went on to get a BFA in Art Education; now retired and teaching privately.

Alex D.R. Castro said...

Hold on to his artwork. They continue to escalate in value, but of course there is no price to the sentimental memories attached to it--a memento from a great master.

Anonymous said...

Mr. David was commissioned to paint my grandmother. To this day, it's one of the finest most visceral works I own. I have no memory of it as I was just a mere child at the time, but I have looked at that painting with great admiration over the years. I am so happy and grateful to see that he is finally getting the attention he deserves by so many who appreciate his history and contribution to art.

Unknown said...

My dad was stationed at Clark AFB from 1959-1962. During that time my mother took painting lessons at Clark AFB. Although I don't know with whom she studied with, I am assuming that it was Jose B. David, because the article said he had a long tenure at Clark.

It was in 1962 that my mother commissioned Mr. David to paint two oil portraits. One of my maternal grandfather and one of my maternal grandmother. The signature on the paintings are very distinctive.

I'm not sure of the value since the portraits were of family members. However, I would be curious to know for insurance purposes. I have gathered from reading this article that he painted many landscapes of the Balibago, Pampanga area. I have fond memories of the Phillippines, having spent my early years there.

Alex D.R. Castro said...

As a general rule, portraits--unless they are those of known or important persons--generally command less than artistic works as thematic/topical paintings (landscapes, still-life etc.). In your case, the material value would range from anywhere between 200-300$ per painting, if dated from the 60s. There are other factors that govern prices of course--rarity, size, condition, desirability in the market. In the end, the sentimental value to you is higher.

M. Huettl said...

WE have in our safe keeping two portraits dated 1975 and 1976. An elderly woman and an elderly man.
Both are oil on burlap. I would love to know who the subjects are but can only speculate. Wonderful paintings, in good condition and truly appreciated by us. Jose was definitely gifted.

Annette Blocker said...

While my father was stationed at Clark Air force base, from 1959-1961, my mother studied with Jose B. David! I remember sitting on the floor, as a four year old, watching my mother paint umbrella cockatoos, while Jose instructed her. He was very patient to let me be there, but in return I watched quietly.
Later, after my brother was born there, and before we left the Philippines, Me and my sister that was only two years old, actually sat for him to paint our portraits. My mother still has that painting and cherishes it!!!
But here is the amazing thing...my mother went on to become a very well known, award winning painter and Myself and my youngest sister (not the one in the portrait with me) both received our Masters degrees in Fine Art!!!
I feel that Jose B. David had a huge influence on my mother's art, my artistic career and indirectly, on my youngest sister, as he taught my mother about painting and that legacy was passed on to us. Of course, he directly influenced me! And I now own two Umbrella cockatoos...and I also paint images of cockatoos...just like my mother did in those early years with Jose!!!
What provenance!!! Thank you for your article!!!

Anonymous said...

Jose was a great person and friend who was willing to share with you you all his artistic skills.
I met him in 1958 when in the US Army while stationed at Clark AFB. Although I was only there for several months, all my free time was spent painting portraits on the base craft building with Jose. He had a great influence on my Art an is one of my favorite people. He also helped me design my signature for my paintings.