the famous painter of the philippines
Street artists in Paris and Italy earn a decent living catering to tourists by painting their portraits on the spot, or accepting commissioned works that sometimes include copying the works of more established artists.
In the Philippines, one self-taught artist has elevated his art by going beyond the norm to develop his distinct style in painting: Francisco “Paco” Gorospe Sy.
Born Francisco Gorospe Sy on July 10, 1939 in Binondo, Manila, “Paco”, the name by which he was called and later signed his paintings, was the first artist in the family according to his brother Abat.
Their father, Seng Sy, was a Chinese trader in Binondo while their mother, Aurelia Gorospe, hailed from La Union. Other siblings included Clarito, Juanito (who died of illness when he was 5) and Betty.
By the end of Spanish rule in 1898, Binondo was the most important suburb in terms of commerce and trade. With the abolition of the Galleon Trade and the opening of the Manila Port to world trade, it was in Binondo where foreigners opened up consulates and operated commercial establishments, tobacco factories, warehouses, the Chinese silk market, and almost all sorts of trades; where Chinese merchants and coolies, Chinese mestizos, indios, and others domiciled; and where indios flocked to seek employment.
It was in this environment where Paco spent his childhood and youth.
He finished high school in 1956 and started writing but unfortunately became frustrated. He was looking for something more exciting.
From 1956 to 1959, he travelled to the Visayas and Mindanao, becoming a transient in Jolo where he lived with the Muslims, and Cagayan de Oro.
While in Cagayan De Oro, Paco painted billboards for movie houses. It is interesting to note that although most movie houses use tarpaulins and posters due to technology to advertise their featured films, one of the malls in the city still utilizes hand-painted movie billboards today.
He got married in December 31, 1959 to Mila Emata with whom he had four children, two boys and two girls (Melanie, Gerry, Louie and Lailani) and returned to Manila from Cagayan De Oro where he stayed for two years.
The Manila Times newspaper documents: “Eventually, he decided to return to the city to enroll at the University of Sto. Tomas School of Fine Arts as a Fine Arts student. But when he got back, he found, he was dissatisfied with the curriculum.”
“Paco settled in Mabini and decided to try to go it alone,” reports the Manila Times newspaper.
He started his own gallery in Mabini, where friendship with progressive artists Roger San Miguel and Francisco Ello produced interactive works in the modernist genre. Their nightly sessions became discussions and impromptu workshops in painting techniques and style. They became known as the Mabini Triumverate.
He first started with crayons and watercolours before shifting to oil paintings.
At one point, Paco hired the services of a guitar player who sang him songs in the vernacular to help him recall the culture he experienced during his stay in the Visayas and Mindanao while painting.
Other Mabini artists with whom Paco identified with were Serafin Serna, Salvador Cabrera, Angelito Antonio, Cesar Buenaventura and Rick Gonzales.
Around this time, Paco was studying the works of Frank Klein and Andrew Wyet at the USIS Library but it was the cubist Picasso who had a major impact on his painting style.
Pablo Picasso (October 25, 1881– April 8, 1973) is one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century. He was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer. He is widely known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore. Among his most famous works are the proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and Guernica (1937), a portrayal of the German bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso’s work is often categorized into periods. While the names of many of his later periods are debated, the most commonly accepted periods in his work are the Blue Period (1901–1904), the Rose Period (1905–1907), the African-influenced Period (1908–1909), Analytic Cubism (1909–1912), and Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919).
Discarding Renaissance perspective, Picasso disregarded outlines and shapes and instead circulated the viewpoint, painting from several perspectives thus seemingly exploding an object into hundreds of pieces through cubes, violent slivers, jagged planes, and sharp blade-shapes.
Manuel A. Duldulao wrote in a Century of Realism in Philippine Art:
“Picasso, in fact, was the greatest borrower in the history of art. He owed Braque for his collage, Cezanne for his structure, borrowed from the Old Masters for themes, and incessantly raided other styles, from Pompeian murals to 17th century Dutch engravings, to mogul miniatures and African masks and carvings.”
From 1962-1965, Paco frequented the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG) as his works were patronized by founder Lyd Arguilla. When Lyd Arguilla died, she had 45 of Paco´s paintings in her private collection.
“The art scene during the days of the Philippine Art Gallery is without a doubt far cozier in many respects than the present one,” states Manuel D. Duldulao in `The Art Collector Guidebook´. “But lest nostalgia blind us to its harsh reality, let us remember that nobody was buying then, and if pictures were bought at all, they went for prices that now seem ridiculous – around 150 pesos for a major Manansala still life.”
In the article `Paco Gorospe: A fiery Passion for Art´ published on March 13, 1983 in the Manila Times, “Paco´s paintings range from 200 pesos to a little more than 3,500 pesos depending on the size.”
Twenty years later, foreign and local tourists are still able to buy authentic Mabini artists’ works in Mabini at bargain prices.
It was his exposure at the PAG that led to his first big break at the 1962 Seattle World State Fair where his works were exhibited at the Philippine booth. The 1962 Seattle’s World Fair, also called Century 21, gained world recognition for showcasing the future of technology and how it would impact humanity. When the fair closed after six months of operations, more than 10 million people were able to ride the Monorail (pre-cursor to the LRT and bullet train), the elevator which went to the top of the Space Needle (a flying saucer shaped restaurant 400 feet up in the sky) and the Bubbleator (a large glass globe that could accommodate up to a 100 people at the same time).
The Philippine booth was in one of the five themed areas, The World of Commerce and Industry, where twenty foreign countries from around the globe participated. Quotation of the Official Seattle Guide Book: “The exhibit beyond the entry of the two-level pavilion has been divided into four major parts: The Life and is an exhibition of selected pieces of Philippine art.” This was the area where Paco Gorospe paintings were presented as well. Paco Gorospes works were cubism in style, but still his own creation.
To quote from the Catalogue of Seattle World´s Fair “Masterpieces of Art at the Fine Arts Pavilion from, April 21 to September 4, 1962.” According to Georges Braque, French Cubist, art is not imitative: “Progress in art does not consist in extending one´s limitation, but in knowing them better.”
Two years later, Paco was again invited to exhibit in the Philippine Pavilion this time of the New York World Fair. The third major world’s fair which was held in New York City was symbolized by a 12-story high, stainless steel model of the earth called the Unisphere and ran for six months from April 22 until October 18, 1964. More than 51 million people attended the fair.
The Offical Guide to the New York World´s Fair 1964/1965 notes that “Folklore, history and life in the islands today are featured in attractions that range from elaborate panels of carved wood to programs of traditional Filipino dancers.” Aside from the paintings of Paco Gorospe and other Filipino artists, “Twelve large, intricately carved panels, designed by the well-known Philippine artist Carlos V. Francisco depict the story of the islands.”
The catalogue of the “Art in New York State – New York World´s Fair 1964”, concentrated on the Places and People of the area. Chairman Seymour H. Knox of the New York State Council on the Arts stated “that the measure of a society cannot be accurately taken unless it includes some demonstration of its cultural resources, the vitality of its arts, and the expression of its humanities.” This describes art in the Philippines after the 1955 issue with the conservatives and modernists.
The following year, Esso Mobile Magazine made his oil painting The Flower Vendor its cover. Esso is an international trade name for ExxonMobil oil and fuel. Founded in 1912 in Texas, USA, the name is derived from the phonetic pronunciation of the initials of the pre-1911 Standard Oil Company which expanded worldwide in the 50s-70s.
Paco Gorospe's painting was featured in Vol. X No. 3 in January 1965 on the front page, the description from the magazine as follows: “Francisco (Paco) Gorospe, who painted the cover picture entitled FLOWER VENDOR, is 26 and hails from Cavite. Like most beginners, he learned to paint by watching and doing, influenced now and then by older artists. There is one gift Paco has, however, which is entirely his own and which he could exploit to bigger achievement: his color ‘sense and style’ that is highly personal and instinctive. It is perhaps the best quality in his painting.”
From the period 1965-1967, he had successful exhibitions in Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Hong Kong and Japan.
A fire gutted his Mabini gallery in 1968 and so he transferred residence to Laguna where he set up a new studio.
In 1970, he re-opened his gallery in Mabini.
During the inauguration of the Karilagan Finishing School’s art gallery in 1971, Paco became its first featured artist with then Vice President Fernando Lopez as guest of honor. The school was the latest venture of socialites Lina and Conchitina Sevilla who were known figures in the fashion world.
According to a news report of said event, “Members of the diplomatic corps and of Manila’s society circles attended, and in two hours, many of the highly individual Gorospe paintings, abstract and semi-abstract, were marked ‘sold’.”
During a 1974 interview by Gilbert Luis R. Centina III, Paco became the flag-bearer for the Ermita (Mabini) school of art.
“Paco’s only regret is the way some artists of that other school arrogate upon themselves the title of ‘authentic painters.’ Not only that, ‘they despise us from the Ermita school because, they say, we commercialize our paintings.”
“Paco can only smile at this hypocrisy. ‘They are the elite of the country and they can afford to travel abroad.’ What is usually the case is that ‘they copy the paintings of foreign artists.’ When they come back to the Philippines they get away with this piracy and conduct their own one-man exhibit which only happens once or twice a year. And here, ‘they command a price for their paintings at the staggering figure of five.’”
“’What is lamentable here,’ Paco complains, is that ‘these are the very people chosen to represent our country in art competitions.’ The artists of the Ermita school are left to the background because the other group have influence and ‘they invite their writer-friends to give them more publicity.’ Now, Paco would like to ask, ‘Who is really commercializing art?’”
In 1983, the same year that he was interviewed for the Metro Manila Times by correspondents Emi Reintar and Dave Hodges, his gallery burned down a second time due to an early morning fire in Ermita.
“It is through a long transition period which involves experimentation and observation that an artist finally develops his own style,” he stated in the interview.
“In the whole of Asia, the Philippines has the most beautiful paintings, sold at the most reasonable prices. A painter can live well enough and support his family through his paintings,” he said.
In the same interview, Paco lamented the prevalence of opportunists who try to make money out of copying others’ works. He believed buyers aggravate the situation when they patronize the fake works because they are cheap.
In 1986, he became friends with Ernst Fantoli, a German national who worked as a chef on board a ship stationed in Manila from 1986 to 1990. Paco started using crayons and watercolours again, while experimenting with mixed media (wood, metals and others).
For two consecutive years (1989 and 1990), Fantoli was instrumental in two Paco Gorospe exhibits in Germany: in Baden-Baden and at the Schwarzwaldstube, a restaurant in Ottenhoefen, in the Black Forest, where a total of around 100 Paco paintings were displayed that time.
Mr. Fantoli describes Paco as a quiet, good natured, mild mannered man who was able to paint two paintings a day at the time they met, if he was in the mood.
In 1990, he was commissioned by Philippine Airlines, Inc. (PAL), the first and oldest commercial airline in Asia founded in 1941 and the flag carrier of the Philippines, to paint the cover for the playing cards set they gave to PAL passengers as a way to promote Philippine arts & culture. Sabungeros was his take on cockfighting, a local pastime in the Philippines.
From the decription distributed with the sets of playing cards: “Sabungeros by Paco Gorospe: ´Sabung´ or cockfighting is regarded as the Filipino´s own sport of kings. The sight of men with roosters cradled in their arms is like a male version of that other popular Philippine subject, the ‘Mother and Child`.”
“Paco Gorospe, a Filipino artist consistently loyal to a native iconography, pays homage to the Sabungeros (Cockfighters). His painting depicts a tableau of brown-skinned men, with their wide-brimmed sombreros, stroking their roosters. A strong masculine presence pervades the scene. Aggressive strokes of black delineate the figures in semi-darkness. The cockpit becomes an arena of the Filipino spirit – lively and ever filled with excitement – but presented as in a still life.”
Art for You, a gallery based in Copenhagen, Denmark promoted Paco Gorospe on its roster of artists in 1991. The tie-up was Paco’s “window to Europe.”
One of Paco’s last exhibits was held at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati on April 30 to May 6, 1994. Organized by the Alumni Association of the AIM, the venue was the Joseph R. McMicking Campus along Pase de Roxas with Sylvia Farolan, wife of Philippine Star President Gen. Ramon J. Farolan, as guest of honor.
From 1995-1996, he was commissioned to produce large paintings for the Voest-Alpine MCE Annual Report, an Austrian publication.
In the report’s liner notes, all industrial landscapes were credited to Paco:
“They demonstrate the environmental awareness of our company, where each individual person matters more than the mechanical world that he produces. It’s just a matter of people who make things happen.”
A total of 12 large Paco Gorospe paintings were featured throughout the entire report.
In an e-mail interview with Gerlinde Böhm of Bilfinger Berger Industrial Services Group, she wrote‚ “we are happy to inform you that seven paintings from Paco Gorospe are still in our possession. What happened to the rest of the paintings is difficult to say, since the former VOEST-ALPINE MCE Group of companies went through at least three changes in ownership and some of the companies featured in our annual report 1996 (e.g. TMS, Hydro now Andritz Hydro, etc.) no longer belong to our Group.“
“Regarding your question on how Paco Gorospe’s work came to be featured in our 1996 report, we can only rely on the statement given by one of our long-time project managers who was engaged in some of the VOEST-ALPINE MCE projects in the Philippines. According to his information, during the 1990s members of the Executive Board travelled to the Philippines at least once a year to meet up with our Philippine partners and check on the project progress. It is our assumption that during one of their visits they were introduced to the art of Paco Gorospe and commissioned him with the paintings. In those days it was always our goal to combine art and industry in our annual reports.“
Sabong, an oil on canvas painting which Paco painted in 1995, was published as the cover of the first SBC Warburg Gaming Industry Review in 1996 by the Swiss Bank Corporation after it established its Regional Office in Manila in 1995.
During his long period of productive work, Paco not only learned from other artists but he also shared his learnings with younger artists. www.sulit.com.ph notes that “Antonio Bais Calma was exposed to the art scene and would pick up from early mentors Paco Gorospe and Roger San Miguel”.
As stated in the Manila Times in 1983, Paco Gorospe is among the contemporary painters who joined hands to uplift the state of art in the country.
Developing his own style
Paco Gorospe was influenced by many other artists, the environment, people and nature, which are recognizable in his works. Like many artists, Paco went through different phases and his work could either be categorized into periods according to the Western way of “ísm” or according to the subjects he painted.
During the beginning of his career his paintings could be described as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism (1957-1972) overlapping with a short period of Primitivism (1970-1973) and later on merging with the period of Expressionism (1972-1978), always with a touch of native influence.
This period was immediately followed with the well known period of Cubism (1975-1990). Finally a transition to Abstract Expressionism and Futurism (1985-2002) can be observed.
A more detailed description of Paco´s painting according to the Western periodic classification could be as follows:
Impressionism/Post-Impressionism: Use of natural, dark, brown colour, influence from Southern Philippines, conservative style of painting
Primitivism: Grey, brown, black, no bright colour, Mabini Artist, different sizes, influenced by modern Philippine artists
Expressionism: Explosion of colour, details in paintings, transition period from Impressionism via Primitivism to Expressionism, influenced by European visual artists like Kirschner
Cubism: Longest part in his works, influenced by European visual artists like Picasso, dominating the legacy of Paco in the artworld
Abstract Expressionism/Futurism/ Modernism: Disappearance of corner, actually three topics: earn a living – persons, abstract works with huge amount of colour, mixed media, experimenting with new material
“At every turn, we are surrounded by images on billboards, paintings, sculptures, drawings, illustrations, prints, cartoons, posters, murals, photographs, film …”, writes Alice G. Guillermo in the introduction to ´Image to Meaning´.
“They are conveyed through various media – oil, acrylic, watercolor, sculptural materials, film, mixed media, and others, all of which have their own techniques, processes and technical approaches to image-making.”
Paco Gorospe developed from Impressionism via Expressonism through Cubism towards “Modernism” - contemporary Art during a very short period of time.
“The term Expressionism, which can be translated as ‘expressive art,’ refers primarily to the character of a painting or sculpture” from the book ‘Painting from A to Z’.
In the book ‘Modern Art’, Michael Kerrigan writes that Modernism is a general term used to cover a multiplicity of movements seen in retrospect as working towards comparable ends.
Influenced by modernists - although Mabini’s first batch was composed of conservatives – Paco not only went through all of the above mentioned phases, he expressed and developed his own style of art.
Aside from works in acrylic and watercolor, he produced several mixed media works as well.
He was experimenting with new materials such as metal and wood.
He used the paintbrush as well as spray painting, and, in his last years concentrated on very modern and avante garde depictions of his subjects. It is hard to categorize his latest works as Surrealism, though.
In the book Surrealism published in 2005 by Nick Wells, Donna Roberts wrote in the Foreword: “Surrealism followed a number of avant-garde movements of the eary twentieth century, such as Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, and its immediate precursor, Dadaism.”
The very modern and colourful expressions in his paintings may be seen in Futurism or at the onset of Surrealism. In the end, the viewer will have to decide for himself which period it reflects.
Paco succumbed to complications caused by diabetes on September 22, 2002 at the age of 63.
From his home in Laguna, he was rushed to the Asian Hospital in Muntinlupa where he died.
His remains are buried in their family plot at the Court of Eternal Love, Manila Memorial Park beside his mother, his brother Clarito, and an aunt.