The invisible master now visible at Ayala Museum

Posted at 01/20/2014 1:11 AM | Updated as of 01/20/2014 1:11 AM

Get to know the masterful art of Constancio Bernardo as Ayala Museum showcases the works of the man known as the invisible father of abstract art.

I visited the exhibit and met with art historian Carina Evangelista during Ayala Museum's "Conversations with Art" program. Join me and learn more about one of the most under-rated master artists from the Philippines.

Constancio Bernardo Self Portrait

Constancio Bernardo

Bernardo was born on December 22, 1913. He was one of the earliest and most consistent exponents of abstract art in the country.

According to Evangelista, Bernardo started his art career as a student of Fernando Amorsolo in UP and then became the first Pinoy Fulbright scholar, which brought him to Yale.

"National Artist Fernando Amorsolo said he would be the protege that would surpass him. He was really impressed by Bernardo that he recommended him to be a Fulbright scholar to study at Yale in the USA," said Evangelista.

Yolanda Johnson of the Constancio Ma. Bernardo Foundation, Carina Evangelista, JP Tanchanco

The Exhibit

The exhibit is a retrospective showcase of the work of Constancio Bernardo (1913-2003).

I also had a chat with Ayala Foundation Director Mariles Gustilo. She was very happy that Ayala Museum is showcasing the master skills of Bernardo, who is not known to many.

"Conversations with Art is an education program to highlight the museum's exhibit. We put the well-deserved spotlight on our Constancio Bernardo exhibit. We hope more art fans will discover Bernardo thru our exhibit," said Gustilo.

"Fishermen out to the Sea" 1944 Oil on Canvas

Evangelista helped brush up my art history on Bernardino's career highlights. His art spans across his days as a UP student with Amorsolo, to his stint at Yale as a scholar with abstractionist mentor Josef Albers, to the Japanese occupation in the Philippines and many more.

"In 1956, Ricardo Demetillo identified Bernardo as 'an important new member of the avant-garde whose works [were] revolutionizing Philippine artistic sensibility,' placing him at par with the likes of H.R. Ocampo, Vicente Manansala, Arturo Luz, and Fernando Zobel," explained Evangelista.

"Portrait of Geisha" 1939-1940 Oil in Lawanit Board

"In 1966, Eric Torres referred to Bernardo as 'the invisible man of Philippine painting' for his 'near-monastic' retreat from the limelight. In 1978, Leonidas Benesa cited Bernardo as 'the most underrated of the exponents of modern art in the Philippines' and as 'second to none in this country in the field of abstraction'," she added.

Fruits Still Life Series 1946-1947

Being an art fan myself , I was also not aware of Bernardo's works. Indeed, it's like I had revisited a critical gap in the history of Philippine abstract act.

I had my favorites among a total of around 100 works the exhibition has. One piece that I personally would love to have in my collection was "Wildflower Series 1980".

"Wildflower Series" 1980 Acrilic on Wood

This simple yet eye-catching abstract masterpiece of acrylic on wood expressed the raw emotion of sensuality and harmony. I also loved how it communicates influences from the abstraction of renowned American master Josef Albers, who was Bernardo's mentor at Yale.

"Bernardian Synthesis No. 1

According to Evangelista, the Yale thesis work "Perpetual Motion" was Bernardo's homage to his mentor Albers at Yale. "Josef Albers told Bernardo when he saw his thesis work at Yale, 'You are not my student, you are my peer'."

"Figure Drawings Yale University" 1949 charcoal and chalk on paper

This is the first opportunity to view the full range of Bernardo’s career that spans more than 60 years. It also marks the artist’s centennial celebration at Ayala Museum.

Visit Ayala Museum and celebrate the artist’s life and work. This long overdue exhibit will help make Bernardo more prominent in the larger context of Pinoy art history.

Constancio Bernardo retrospective will be on view at Ayala Museum until 28 February 2014. For further details, visit www.ayalamuseum.org.


John Paul C.Tanchanco is a travel, food, party, film and music aficionado. He is also an economist, businessman, MYX/Awit award-winning media producer and Kala guitarist.

"Tha Good Life" is a special feature for ABS-CBNnews.com about pop culture, travel, music, entertainment, business, food, clubbing, shopping and events.

For questions, features and comments, e-mail him at [email protected] or [email protected]