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Olazo Large-Scale: homecoming and homage

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Diaphanous b-cxxxv-painting
DIAPHANOUS B-CCXXXV by Romulo Olazo, 80 x 240 inches -- NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZMAN

TWO YEARS after his death, painter and printmaker Romulo Olazo returns to his first home, the Cultural Center of the Philippines — his first solo exhibition was held there in 1974 — for the exhibit called Olazo Large-Scale, curated by his son, Jonathan.

On view until Sept. 8 at the Bulwagang Juan Luna (Main Theater), the exhibit does not present the Olazo’s art chronologically, but rather features works that best describe him. While he had done figures and dabbled in nudes, he is best known for his abstract series, both in black and white and with splashes of colors. It is his artworks’ scale, literally and figuratively, that is the focus of the Large-Scale exhibition.

The 35 pieces in the exhibition range in size from 4 x 5 ft. to 8 x 20 ft. in size. In the span of his more than four-decade career, he created 267 paintings that fall under the descriptive “large-scale,” with 93 of them done in the last five years of his life.

Despite what might be considered an embarrassment of riches for the curator, sourcing the pieces for the exhibit was difficult. Mr. Olazo’s wife, Patricia, 77, said during the launch on July 18 that some of her husband’s works are installed in high, almost inaccessible, places while the other large-scale artworks are in private collections. She pointed out that the paintings from the collections of Malacañan Palace, the National Kidney Transplant Institute, and the San Miguel Corp. office, among others, could not be uninstalled and borrowed precisely because of their massive size.

Still, the artist’s son was able to borrow works by his father from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Metropolitan Museum of the Philippines, Paseo Gallery, PLDT, and private collectors, among others.

Asked about his father’s fascination with large-scale paintings, Jonathan Olazo could only speculate: “I know my father and he’d usually say, point blank, ‘eh gusto ko eh (because that is what I like).’” To put things in context, the younger Olazo pointed out that it might be because his father started as an outdoor signboard artist after finishing his studies at the University of Sto. Tomas. “He has always been fascinated with space,” he said.

Mrs. Olazo explained that her husband came from a small and humble family, which probably led to his fascination with larger-than-life artworks.

His massive works come mostly under his Diaphanous and Permutation series.

The Permutation series feature black and white abstract works that show lines that either overlap or connect to form new forms.

Diaphanous — which means delicate and translucent — is a series of colored paintings and prints that Mr. Olazo started when he held his first solo exhibit in 1974. He went on to create a growing collection of fluid abstractions in vibrant colors.

Mentored by National Artist Vicente Manansala, Mr. Olazo was influenced by the great artists who came before him, but, to set himself apart, his son said his works have more dimension and show fluidity.

Before Mr. Olazo’s death in 2015, he had planned to create three large-scale Diaphanous paintings for his three children, Noelle, Jill, and Jonathan. Unfortunately, he was only able to finish two. One is now in a private collection, while the other work will be given to Jill, the youngest sibling. Her condominium is being retrofitted to be able to accommodate the 80 x 240 inch Diaphonous B-CCXXV.

Scale is literally and figuratively the focus of Mr. Olazo’s exhibit: amid a culture that celebrates smallness — which writer Nick Joaquin calls the “heritage of smallness” because of our innate meekness in taking bold risks — Mr. Olazo did not falter at the big task on hand.

Olazo Large-Scale is both a homecoming and a homage to the man of abstract works. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

Co-organized by Paseo Gallery, Olazo Large-Scale may be viewed daily from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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