PAINTINGS ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE
He joined the UP School of Fine Arts in 1947 as faculty even as he was finishing his Bachelor of FA in U.P. 1948. He became Secretary and later Assistant Dean of the UP SFA, later College. He retired at mandatory age in 1978, after nearly 32 years of service in the State University.
About the Artist: CMaBernardo was born on December 22, 1913 in Obando, Bulacan. He early on was orphaned of his father Pedro Ma. Bernardo who had married an equally lone child, Cecilia Anastacio. His wife is Nieves H. de Guzman (b. May 10, 1911 d. May 6, 2004) with children Diego Angelo, Rodino Leopoldo and Constancio Leo (Jr.). He finished his 2-year course of Diploma in Painting in an exasperating 7 years due to family financial difficulty. He joined the UP School of Fine Arts in 1947 as faculty even as he was finishing his Bachelor of FA in U.P. 1948. Then he was recommended by Fernando Amorsolo for a U.P. Fellowship and a Fulbright Travel Grant to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut (1948-1952) earning in one year the Yale 3-year Course Certificate in Painting in 1949; then finished in 2.5 years the 4-year BFA 1951 as primi honoris; and in 1.5 years the 2-year Master of FA 1952 as secundi honoris. From there he went on for nearly half a year of European study tour of museums and art centers. He became Secretary and later Assistant Dean of the UP SFA, later College. He retired at mandatory age in 1978, after nearly 32 years of service in the State University. But he never retired from his art. He died on August 8, 2003, still intent on a project.
Father of Philippine Op Art: Anent the Artist’s last living exhibits, Andrew Magsambol writes of “The Father of RP Op Art” in Business World (Oct. 19, 1989, 20). And then Preciosa Subilo writes of “Father of Op art plays with colors and feelings” in Business World (Nov. 20, 1990, 20).
The earliest art critic to attribute Op to CMaBernardo’s art is Eric Torres in his article “Painter Bernardo His Op Art – Then and Now” in Manila Times, (Feb. 12, 1966, 11). And then The First National Art Festival brochure (Mar. 29 to Apr. 2, 1966 in Baguio) has this… “Op art in the Philippines is as old as 1952” (alluding to “Perpetual Motion”, done actually in 1950 as written on its verso as “1950/1980”). No byline appears on the brochure. But the one for the 103-piece 1969 Retrospective in Baguio (coming right after the Fourth National Arts Festival that summer) written by art critic and poet Ricaredo Demetillo has no mention of Op (that is to say, if it were the Artist’s self-attribution his friend Dick would have echoed that).
In 1972, art critic Ray Albano has this to say on the matter: “Viewed from the body of abstract works he has done in the early 50’s and those done recently, it is doubtless clear that Bernardo’s intention in his paintings is consistent and logical. He has developed an eye that looks at the ‘optical phenomena’ of things, and constructs them, by their qualities, to interesting visual effects.” [- “Abstract Paintings Re-Introduced” The Manila Chronicle (Jan. 23, 1972), 12]. Albano had visited the studio.
The 1978 IMF brochure “Insights into Philippine Contemporary Art: A Collection of 53 paintings and sculpture. International Monetary Fund Art Exhibit ...” has this passage by Alice Guillermo… “Representing the hard-edge style of op is an unusual piece by Constancio Bernardo….” (p. 7).
The Artist in his studio in 1983
[As published in Barbara Mae Dacanay’s “Constancio Bernardo: Evergreen in Isolation”, Celebrity (June-July 1983) 54-57 with unlabeled images of “Perpetual Motion” or P.M. to his right (cropped) and P.M. No. 5 to his left.
About Op Art: In the West, this movement started with artist Victor Vasarely (d. 1997), considered as the Grandfather of Op Art with early works “Etudes Bauhaus” (1929), “The Chess Board” (1935) and “Zebra” (1937). A post-war revival came, e.g. “Meandres Belle-Arts” (1951). About 1960’s, this movement reached the Philippine art scene but its local practitioners at that time had no lasting tag (whether self-declared or critics-imposed). Globally, this movement had been a short-lived one ending at the end of decade 1970’s (even though it persisted for some time in limited circles).
Op Color Interaction (aka Red-Blue Interaction) AC-0960, 1971 Acrylic on Plywood, 94 x 63 cm
Notes on the red-blue: Above is reproduced in Manuel Duldulao’s Contemporary Philippine Art, Q.C.: Vera-Reyes 1972 (p. 174) as Plate 176 and titled there as “Op Color Interaction”. (On the same page is P.M.).
A transparency slide of this piece (blurred with age) has an early label of “Structural Abstraction No. 14”; its original title says it belonged to a series with at least 14 pieces. (It is the only survivor of that series).
Solos at Luz Gallery [LG]: This 1971 piece must have been exhibited in any of his One-Man shows at the said same venue - practically The Gallery of that time- during the first half of the 1970’s (unfortunately no catalogue is available for any); namely: in 1971 (“Constancio Bernardo” Sept. 27- Oct 12); in 1972 (“One-man Show” Aug. 11-29); in 1973 two Solos in the same venue (“Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings” Apr. 23 - May 12 and “Exhibition of Paintings” Sept. 27 - Oct. 16); in 1974 (“Exhibition of Paintings” with only the opening date Feb. 23 known) and in late 1975 (ND available except a clue from LG Aug. 25, 1975 letter: “May I remind you of your show late this year?”).
“Op Color Interaction” No. 1 and No. 2 appear in the LG Withdrawal Report of Feb. 2, 1974 with one of them having been sold (no trace of it now). Most probably this was in regard to the second LG Solo for that year of 1973. Indeed, before that, in 1972 it had been photographed for the said book, “Courtesy of The [sic] Luz Gallery”.
But in 1975, in response to a solicitation by an outfit called Dictionary of International Biography, CMaBernardo listed an “Op Ensemble No. 1” (1971) as one of his six Major Works (lifetime as of that year). He, however, changed his mind about submitting his biography (the fee, the fee) as written for him by his son (yours truly). There is no image and trace of this if a different piece. It is likely to be one and the same, with different titles attached to a common Op.
Illustrative of a class: We see the evolution of the descriptive names for this illustrative piece of his Op Art; namely: at its inception in 1971 as a structural abstract; then at the LG Solos in 1972-1973 as an op color interaction (re-titled with the same tag); then in the 1975 biographical outline named as an op ensemble; and finally as a red-blue interaction in 1977-1978. [Note that the piece was done eight years before he would directly order on Nov. 13, 1979 a copy of Albers’ Interaction of Colors (London and New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1963) as shown by the invoice of Feb. 4 , 1980 (paid Apr. 30, 1980 for $13 at a 10% discount plus sales tax of .94 cents)].
The said piece belongs to a class of Op art but only as a post-creation tag (in hindsight as it were). Outside of the tag, it exemplifies CMaBernardo’s own structural abstraction that had merged the influences from the Constellation series (in black-and-white) and Homage to the Square series (variable colors within constant form), both of which Josef Albers had treated separately and never merged. While so, it might be noted that Albers was at an experimental stage with both series contemporaneously with CMaBernardo’s presence (1948-1952) when Albers was a consultant at first and later a faculty at the Yale University SFA. CMaBernardo developed his very own genre.
What gives? Aside from a perception of depth which necessarily expands the perceived surfaces (attainable as well in other kinds of painting), the main reason some of geometric paintings have been considered Op – especially during Op’s heydays- is the ability for his lines and colors to pulsate, given the proper lighting and a longer time to eye a piece than the normal museum goers’ duration of a few seconds. To partake of the optical phenomenon, “One must make time to stand before the painting…” is how art critic Javelosa puts it. Better still, one has to take a seat to contemplate on it visually.
In the Ayala Museum Retrospective of 2013-2014 (celebrating his centennial), people with time who did so in regard to the above four paintings without being alerted of their effects on the retina, after a while expressed wonderment at this. (In the studio the Artist had set each at different places, merely for lack of display spaces. That set-up had brought a lesser op-effect). That Series is in his self-listing of Major Series lifetime as of 1980, this done in connection with the requirements of the competition for the Mobil Awards for Philippine Arts that year (the write-ups prepared for him by his son).
This “Op-ness” started with said major work “Perpetual Motion” (now with the Museo Bernardo Foundation). It might also in a way be classified as kinetic visual art (“Kine”?). The 1950 version was done in oil. There was no commercially available acrylic then but just as soon, acrylic was applied/overlaid around 1965 (but which year is no longer noted at its verso as there was no change in the configuration itself).
“Optical art, which draws intellectual response from viewers, is a type of abstract art that characteristically features carefully defined geometric patterns. A typical op painting has a flatly painted pattern that may seem to pulse or to produce optical illusion. It is likely to be in bright, high-keyed colors that assault the retina, though it may be limited to black and white.” [Magsambol 1989, 20]
However P.M. was re-worked in 1980. A good trained eye could see faint traces of this without having been told of such a re-working (e.g. like of Kenneth Esguerra, internal curator at the Ayala Museum, who had studied art conservation abroad). An old photograph of the painting in 1952 compared with the one below shows clearly a slight adjustment in perspective yet retaining the “structure”.
Another good example but perhaps skipped his mind in the self-listing of 1980 is the said “Meditation” which has been shown in the mentioned CCP group exhibition of 1977, in the Retrospective MOPA in 1978 and in the said Retrospective at the Ayala Museum in 2013-14.
Of different order, but tagged as Op Art as well is another of the six Major Works, the already mentioned “Red-Green Ambivalence” (1973) being listed as his lone entry and one of those reproduced in the covers of the brochure for IMF Show in 1978 (New York City and Washington DC). Its other names are “Green-Red Ambivalence” as listed in the MOPA Retrospective 1978 catalogue and “Ambivalence No. 1” as listed in the “Philippine Abstract Art” CCP Show of 1978 and as appearing in his self-listing of 1975.
A separate MOPA price list (extant at the CCP Library) shows this to be the dearest far above among the 25 single pieces (excluding two singles Not for Sale). It is now with the Yolanda Johnson Collection. The latter was the curator of that Retrospective.
Similarly of different order but playing with the red-green-blue interaction is “Anticipation” (below image sent by email from Hawaii). As named so, it was shown at the LG Solos of 1971 and of 1974. In the 1971 CCP show entitled “Ensemble I Abstract Paintings by Constancio Bernardo” (Nov. 17-Dec. 5), there is listed in its catalogue (no sizes provided) grouped by months: “Anticipation in December”, “Yonder in December” and “Festive Mood in December”. One has to guess then what piece the art critic Ray Albano refers to as “Expectation in December” [see "Abstract Painting Re-Introduced" Manila Chronicle, Jan. 23, 1972, 12]. There is a plain “December” shown at the first of the two LG Solos of 1973 sold to the Collection of “I. Marcos” (per LGR of Sept. 9, 1974, but no size noted). Whatever, this can not be the said Anticipation (alias Expectation) soon to be with the Violeta Soriano Collection by the last quarter of 1974.
It is a merry name-maze nurtured by the lack of photographs (and sizes) of many of his artworks no longer around [some self-destroyed] but seen in various records. In the case of the green-red /red-green interaction earlier, during the Catalogue Raisonne 1999-2001 its whereabouts was not known; and so only the existing slide transparency (below) served for its image there, no matter if not loyal to the colors. Luckily it was identified by its owner when the 15-volume set was displayed during the Artists’ wake.
Of the six self-listed of his Major Works as of 1975, five are acrylic, four of which are Op Art as tagged, the fourth being “Ambivalence No. 2” (now with the Museo Bernardo Foundation); it was shown recently at the CCP 2014-2015 Retrospective. The two others are both unclassified for now as there are no available images of them. The one of them is “Oriental Mode No. 1” (done in “1969” by his self-listing of 1975) sold to an unknown collector (with a Great credit line) but listed as “Mode Oriental” noted as done in “1970” by the LG Report [LGR] of Dec. 2, 1970; this at that time priced at 3,500 and which same title appears again nearly a decade later (!) as a Jan. 28, 1980 Luz check payment for “Mode Oriental (Gross 3,500); less 30% commission with net 2,450”.
“Mode Oriental” (1969/1970 in acrylic) is different from “Mood Oriental” (1956 in oil) shown at the Phil. Art Gallery Solo of the same year and different from “Oriental No. 1” (1968 in collage acrylic) described by the Artist as “Landscape Abstract No. 8” as listed in the catalogue for the said Retrospective 1969 in Baguio. Oriental Mode as a series has six pieces, all shown at the LG Solo in 1971 and listed in the LGR of Apr. 3, 1971 but therein noted that No. 1,3,5 are acrylic; No. 4 and 6 are oil; and No. 2 is oil-acrylic. This No. 2 is cited by Leonidas V. Benesa “An artist at the crossroads” Manila Chronicle (May 23, 1971). All have no trace except its No. 4 which was sold to the Collection of “I. Marcos” (per LGR of July 3, 1971). The name-maze applies too to these Oriental-titled paintings, none has an available image - unfortunately for the cataloguer.
The other of them is “Kine Synthesis” in acrylic (put as done in “1969” in the self-listing of 1975), now in the collection of Carlos Locsin of Victorias (City) in Negros Occidental. But it is listed as “Kinesynthesis” (1965) in the LGR of Apr. 16, 1971 and spelled as such by Torres who in the said 1966 article pins it down as quite different from the “early op pieces” [that had been shown him at the Artist’s studio]. He notes that it took 9 years to finish: “1956-1965 is the dateline at the bottom”. It was shown in the 1970 Group Show at Ateneo Art Gallery (ND) and in the earlier LG Group Show of 1969 (opened Dec. 3-Jan. 4, 1970); in both “Kine” is a separate word (Greek for move).
CMaBernardo is not known to have used the Op tag as a kind of “branding” to his art (he rarely used “Op” within the title; i.e., twice in a series and twice in a re-naming). His artworks are not confined by Op Art or defined solely by any other interpretative category. He had not engaged in satisfying any fashion of the times or in feeding the market (as in Buddy Fanega in Globe Apr. 27, 1990, 16, “without a thought for possible, or lack of, mass appeal of their paintings”). Indeed he shunned socializing.
Quiet: One of his former students and now a well-known artist says of this last point: “There are many, many great artists whose works are not recognized because they’re not publicity-hungry. One of them is Constancio Bernardo who quietly works in his studio” [Carating being quoted in Ching Alano’s “Home is Where Lito Carating’s Art is" Philippine Star. July 29, 2000, ML-9 to ML-16]. Unwittingly he would repeat this very same observation in an interview intended for the Audio Visual Presentation attendant to the CCP 2014-2015 post-humus Retrospective. Another former fine arts student and now an art critic says it all by her said article’s very title “...Evergreen in Isolation”.
Art critic Benesa classifies him among the “quiet moderns” (Patrick Flores citing from Cid Reyes’ interview of Pura Kalaw-Ledesma in the new book Art After War, 2015, 91). That is to say, they are those who “contributed in their own quiet ways to the modern art movement” (Ibid.) The other two of Benesa classifications about “the new art scene” (in the context of reviewing the development of Philippine Modern Art) are those considered as the “neo-realists” preceding and as the “ultras” proceeding.