Spain — in the eyes of a Filipino

Blue flowers (A Flurry of Butterfly Wings).

A big chunk of National Artist for Visual Arts Federico Alcuaz’s career was spent in Spain, painting masterpieces that are both eye-catching and enigmatic.

These works of different subjects and themes, created in a distinctive style, are now part of art patron Eddie Chua and wife Norma’s collection now housed at their CrownPlas Museum in La Loma, Quezon City.

The couple were the biggest collector of the works of Alcuaz who they knew in the 1990s and grew close with.

Last year, in support of the quincentenary celebration of the relationship between the Philippines and Spain, the museum mounted an exhibition in its four-story building completed in 2013. It was scheduled to open on 17 March but was hurriedly postponed indefinitely following the government-imposed Luzon lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that started two days before.

That exhibit, entitled Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, Navigating the Spanish Soul, came with an impressive 77-page exhibition catalog written by Bryan Paraiso and edited by Eric Zerrudo, with photos taken by Lester Babiera and Jonathan Gamalinda.

The book, designed by Gamalinda, features works from the exhibit all done in Spain during Alcuaz’s stint as a student at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando from 1955 to the 1980s.

Paraiso writes that Alcuaz’s “peregrinations in Europe were neither aimless nor marked by moods of ambivalence or transience, but with a restless purposefulness to determine the extent of his artistry amid a backdrop of foreign cities he lived and painted in.”

Paraiso describes Alcuaz as an avant-garde artist who was not deterred by experimentations.

Educated at the University of the Philippines, Alcuaz, as noted by Paraiso, “rapidly mastered the elemental techniques and materials of his craft, which proved valuable as he decided to strike out on his own and develop a singular voice and vocabulary at par with the exuberance of experimental artistic trends in Europe and the United States.”


Alcuaz works are often dark and full of emotions, but the artist let viewers see and feel the tempest, the beauty of how he viewed his environment.

His “paintings reveal a deep affinity for the spiritual by tapping into the subliminal and metaphorical, distancing himself from conventional techniques and, in the process, reinventing subject matter, to fit what he determined as a wholly personal representation and repressive language,” notes Paraiso.

He explains that Alcuaz’s works, “like an enigma, may or may not disclose an identifiable subject yet likewise does not preclude myriad interpretations to its character of meanings.”

Filipino artistry

Zerrudo notes that Alcuaz “embraced the culture of places” he visited as seen from his innumerable works in Spain and elsewhere.

“From his palette, his Filipino artistry ruptured to reflect the colors, patterns, landscape and views of his Spanish sojourn,” writes Zerrudo.

Alcuaz mounted at least 40 exhibitions throughout his career. His works are now part of institutions around the world such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid, Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, Philips Cultural Museum in the Netherlands, the Museum of Modern Art in Poland, and Gulbenkian Foundation Museum of London.

Portrait of Eddie Chua.

He also won local and international awards, notably the Prix Montcada y Reixach in 1957 in Spain, Prix Francisco Goya also in Spain in 1958; France’s Decoration of Arts, Letters and Sciences and the Order of the French Genius in 1964; and the Philippine Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1965.

In 2009, he was named National Artist.

The exhibit, which will hopefully through, also features self-portraits and impressions of women, buildings, landscapes as well as flora and fauna executed in transmuted depictions only Alcuaz could execute.

Most of these works were untitled but were given names for the sake of easy identification.

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