A Brush with Advertising: Meet the Ad Men turned National Artists
Written by: Cid Reyes
Date: October 28, 2015
Included in the list of prominent figures in advertising who have now made a name in Philippine Art is Edwin Wilwayco.
Four Filipino advertising practitioners, namely Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972), Hernando R. Ocampo (1911-1978), Cesar Legaspi (1917-1994), and J. Elizalde Navarro (1924-1999) were proclaimed by the state as National Artists. While the four were recognized not for their advertising work, but for their artistic masterpieces, it illustrates that many of our distinguished artists have emerged from the advertising field.
MANILA – The first declared National Artist was Fernando Amorsolo, whose passing in 1972 inspired the First Lady Imelda Marcos to bequeath the title posthumously to Amorsolo, already considered “The Grand Old Man of Philippine Art.” Unbeknownst to many, it was Amorsolo, while still a Fine Arts student moonlighting as a commercial illustrator, who had designed the iconic logo for Ginebra San Miguel. It showed the sword-wielding archangel Michael trampling underfoot the devil Lucifer—thus the product was also known as “Marca Demonio.” The label is an example of an excellent logo design that captured, literally, the spirit of the product.
Pleased with the work of the young Amorsolo, Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala, whose family was part owner of the distillery, offered the young Amorsolo the opportunity to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in San Fernando, Madrid. Amorsolo proceeded to Madrid where he was exposed to the works of the Spanish master Joaquin Sorolla, which was to be a great influence on his sun-and-shadow style of painting.
None of these artists, of course, could make a living out of their artworks then, which are now being snapped up by collectors, despite their prices escalating in the millions. No surprise then that they all had to do commercial and advertising art. But talent is truly a gift that early manifests itself. In the case, for instance of Cesar Legaspi, superb draftsmanship characterized his advertising work, done in the late 1930s, prior to the outbreak of the war. Samples of his advertising works are extant. In one interview, Legaspi narrated:
“My job was staff artist of Elizalde’s advertising department under Pete Teodoro. Elizalde & Company carried diverse products: from wine to rope, from life insurance to a steamship company. I was the only artist there, so I had to do all the illustrations for all these various products.”
In time, Pete Teodoro would put up his own advertising agency which he would name Philprom (for Philippine Promotions), thereby making it the first Filipino ad agency, at a time when the field was dominated by multinationals such as J. Walter Thompson, McCann Erickson, and Ace Compton (now Saatchi & Saatchi). Working together with Legaspi at Philprom was Hernando R. Ocampo. With his experience as a soap opera writer and director, Ocampo headed the agency’s production department. By 1968, Hernando Ocampo and Cesar Legaspi would leave advertising work and fully devote their time to painting. It was a risk and a gamble for them, but so passionate were they for painting that there was no stopping them.
Many years later, I would work at Ace Compton with another future National Artist by the name of J. Elizalde Navarro, who was, as we used to say then, “Balik-Ace.” He was given the title of Executive Art Director. Navarro had previously worked at Ace in the late fifties and had moved to Philippine Advertising Counselors (PAC). As a painter, Navarro’s works were then not given their due recognition. Inevitably, his advertising work influenced his art. The 60's were the heyday of Pop Art, when images from mass media, movies, advertising, and comic books dominated the scene. After Navarro’s death in 1999, he was posthumously declared a National Artist.
From PAC came a trio of art directors, from succeeding generations, who have made their names in the world of Philippine art: Romulo Olazo, Edwin Wilwayco, and Rico Lascano. Olazo’s name has become synonymous with the word “diaphanous” which was his long-running, lifetime series of works. Anyone who has been attending the auctions are well aware that Olazo’s works now fetch in the millions, so sought-after are they by avid collectors. (As I keep advising my overpaid advertising cronies: invest your disposable cash in art. You won’t regret it.)
Making waves in the Asian art circuit are the abstract works of Edwin Wilwayco whose large works are visibly present in the grand lobbies of local hotels. Now working full-time on his art, Wilwayco divides his time between his Providence, Rhode Island studio in the U.S., and his Parañaque home, where currently a spacious three-storey studio is rising.
Undoubtedly, there are several more advertising people doing serious painting than can be accommodated in this brief overview: Romy Singson, Lydia Velasco, and Raul Jorolan. So: is the phrase “starving artist” still current in this day and age?
To be sure, every generation will have its share of starving artists. Some of them may, in fact, be working in your agency now. As the lessons of history have shown us: treat them kindly. They may well be our future National Artists.
This article was first published in the July-August 2015 issue of adobo magazine.