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NEPTALIE “RICO” AUNZO – A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS PEDRONG MASIPAG

In 2020, a watercolor painting of Neptalie “Rico” Aunzo was featured, together with the artworks of canonical names in Philippine art: works by National Artist Benedicto Cabrera (or BenCab), Betsy Westendorp, Justin Nuyda, Wig Tysmans, and Elmer Borlongan, in Siya Nga!—a notable book of reflections by Jesuit priest-astrophysicist, Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin—who was then president of Ateneo de Manila University. The volume was published by the De La Salle University Publishing House and the international edition of this book was released by Sussex Academic Press in 2021.

The Aunzo artwork in the book is a watercolor piece that is a Cubist-inspired work of Naïve art titled A Father’s Love. It’s a monochromatic representation of two not-too-small children though depicted in diminution and in dependence, held in the sheltering embrace of a father whose torso, arms, and hands are evidently exaggerated and assuredly protective.

And with A Father’s Love, the viewers of Aunzo’s art are ushered into the past, present, and future of the painter’s life-story. Aunzo would tell of how as a kid, he would be fascinated with drawing and was active in poster-making competitions while in high school. But soon after his secondary education, he knew that he could no longer afford to dwell on that “hobby” of creation no matter how deeply he felt then for this endeavor. His family needed him to be the breadwinner—that, he said, was loud and clear to him.

He continued: I grew up without a father. In fact, I’ve never met my father and never knew what he looks like. My mother said I inherited my interest in art making from my father, but that’s about the only thing of significance that I know about him. That’s why, since I gave up my work of many years in the telecom industry and decided to be a full time painter in 2018 when I was already 29, I couldn’t resist the compulsion to paint, again and again, images of my father. The bittersweet truth is—I first saw Father only when I started painting what I imagined him to be like. On paper and on canvas, I tried to figure out what it’s like to have a father, to be carried in his arms, and to grow up with him around. 

Aunzo said, At some point, I realised I had to move on. Now that I’m a father myself, my biggest wish is to be the best dad to my children. And my biggest dream—to paint the kind of world that I’d like my kids to live in.

For Aunzo, that world is essentially a Home. It’s a place, a family where “ordinary” Filipinos—as the artist sees himself and the vast multitude who share his fate and also his dream—can be rooted and can possess, as Gabriel García Márquez puts it, “a second opportunity on earth.” 

It’s a world filled with Pedrong Masipag (Peter the Diligent) and not Juan Tamad (John the Indolent), a character in Philippine folklore known for his laziness. It’s a world where the Pedrong Masipags from all walks of life (so to speak) are presented in Aunzo’s signature character style—angular or slightly distorted figures that appear idol-like, introspective, with long necks and portentous eyes that are shut. These characters, despite their Cubistically austere look, are however dressed uncannily in formal national dresses, the barong Tagalog. The characters are set, alongside their contextual planes, in strong and brash colors, applied with an apparent force of spontaneity. In Aunzo’s picture space—images, impressions, ideas, and emotions overlap in quite an evocative state of illogical proximity and magical naturalism. And in these dreamlike paintings, mystery and charm cradle a glow of buoyancy, and the mundane appear luminously “miraculous.” 

It’s indelible that Aunzo’s art has drawn sustenance from a humble world, where the “little” people—the likes of the balut vendor, the farmer, the fishermen—their fateful existence in a socially circumscribed space notwithstanding, are simply not afraid to take on big dreams, for the sake of Home—with a familial mindset and in familial setups beyond their own.

With a picture space that is interestingly marked by intersections of influences—from Cubism (in its interweaving of planes and lines), Fauvism (in its display of bright palette and fierce brushwork), Naïve Art (in its childlike easiness and a simplified perspective), Surrealism (in its occasioning of the uncanny), as well as from the artistic paths blazed by Filipino National Artists Vicente Manansala, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Ang Kiukok, and Benedicto Cabrera (BenCab), also by Mauro Malang Santos and Lydia Velasco—the self-taught artist Neptali Aunzo has in fact welded a personal style. It’s a style that has remained true to where his memories are rooted and where his dreams take flight. It’s a place where Pedrong Masipag creates and recreates a Home, just as he once did…and the first time he saw Father.

For a closer look at Aunzo’s life/art-narrative, readers are invited to check out the article, “Neptalie Aunzo Paints…and the First Time He Saw Father,” which has been published in the January 2022 issue of the prestigious Art Plus magazine.

(The Note on the Artist is written by David Jonathan Y. Bayot—an academic publisher, a literary critic, an art collector, and the Go Kim Pah Professorial Chair Holder of the Liberal Arts at De La Salle University where he is, currently, the Executive Publisher of its university press.)

For more details about Pedrong Masipag artworks, please like and follow his fan page: https://www.facebook.com/PedrongMasipag1989

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