Last Updated: April 6th, 2019
Dedicating his long career for advancing modernism in the Philippine art scene, Victorio Edades challenged the long-held notion of what can be considered as mediums and subjects of “art.” He led, and successfully spread the idea of modernism in the country alongside the “thirteen moderns” that included the likes of Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Galo B. Ocampo, and Anita Magsaysay.
Born on December 23, 1895, in Dagupan, Pangasinan, Victorio Edades was the youngest of the ten children of Hilario and Cecilia Edades. He first studied in barrio schools–which is common in rural areas in the Philippines–and later became a sort of “apprentice teacher” in his art class because of his natural talent in painting.
After completing high school, Edades, together with his friends, set sail to the United States to pursue their education. On his way to settling in Seattle, he made a detour in Alaska where he worked in salmon canneries. He then enrolled at the University of Washington where he obtained his degree in Architecture, and later, Master of Fine Arts in Painting.
He married Jean Garrott, an American, who later worked as a professor for English and drama at the University of the Philippines.
The artistic direction that Edades yearned for came to him when he attended the traveling exhibit of the Armory Show in 1922 which was led by Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, Duchamp, the Surrealists, and the Dadaists. And in the late 20s, he worked on a couple of paintings: “The Sketch,” (also known as “The Artist and His Model”) and “The Builders”–the former earned him the second prize at the Annual Exhibition of North American Artists.
When Edades finally returned to the Philippines in 1928, he made it his mission to introduce new techniques and change the course of the local arts scene. During this time, the likes of Fernando Amorsolo, and renowned sculptor Guillermo Tolentino dominated the Philippine art scene. And with most artists simply following their lead–then resulted to a lack of creative innovation.
He later held his first solo exhibit at the Philippine Columbia Club in Ermita, Manila to showcase what modern art was all about. Historians describe how his exhibit was met with “shock” and “disdain” and not even one painting was sold.
Not to be disheartened, he shifted strategies and thought how teaching would be the perfect avenue to campaign for advanced art. In 1930, he helped organize the Department of Architecture of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila and became its acting head. By 1935, he was appointed as Director of the UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts–which he organized under the Architecture Department.
His first notable work since his return was the mural in the lobby of the once-glorious Capitol Theater in Escolta. To complete the project, he worked with Galo Ocampo and Carlos “Botong” Francisco, and together, they formed the first triumvirate in the modernist movement.
Challenging the Conservatives
In the 30s, a press battle ensued between the modernists and conservatives. Edades, in his interview for the Monday Mail, pointed out how the conservatives focused on the bright aspects of life and excluding the dark side of reality as a valid artistic subject.
Edades, who led the group of modernists, argued how the subject of art should include the ugliness of life as much as its beauty. What he and his fellow artists sought to introduce were some of the major trends in the US and Europe which introduced a full range of feelings and passion and the modern artistic styles including cubism, abstraction, and figurative expression.
Challenging the stunted state of the local arts scene proved successful. And by the 50s and 60s, social realism in art gained momentum with artists using different mediums such as painting, printmaking, and photography, to express social statements effectively.
Renowned–and widely recognized–for their contribution in the evolution of the Philippine arts scene, the thirteen pre-War “moderns” includes Victorio Edades, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Hernando R. Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, Vicente Manansala, Galo B. Ocampo, Anita Magsaysay, Demetrio Diego, Ricarte Purugganan, Jose S. Pardo, Bonifacio Cristobal, Diosdado Lorenzo, and Arsenio Capili.
His contribution to the development of the field of visual arts in the country was cemented when he was recognized as a National Artist for Visual Arts in 1976.
His other awards include the:
- Pro Patria Award during the Rizal Centennial Celebration, 1961
- Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan, City of Manila, 1964
Edades retired in Davao City where he also taught at the Philippine Women’s College.
He died on March 7, 1985, aged 89.
The Manila Project
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- Culture and Customs of Asia, Paul Rodell
- National Commission for Culture and the Arts