The celebrated sculptor elicits sentiments through his monumental works
Definitely the most visible piece of art by renowned sculptor Eduardo Castrillo is the People Power Monument erected at the corner of EDSA and White Plains Avenue in Quezon City, where millions of motorists and commuters see it every day.
It was built to celebrate the triumph of the EDSA Revolution in 1986.
“The People Power represented how he felt and how the whole country felt at the time,” shares the late artist’s daughter Ovvia Castrillo.
“It was a time of change, everybody was very nationalistic. There was fire burning in all of us while he was building that. Being Filipino was a source of pride and his work captured the mood of the time,” she adds.
The mood of the artwork is celebratory. You can see that from the expressions of the statues. That is the transference of the artist’s own emotion, being passed on to the viewer. That is the artist conveying his message.
“He was a nationalist, period,” Ovvia describes. “He tried to be apolitical in his artistic point of view, but from his personal point of view, he had very strong feelings about the injustices of society,” she recalls. “His feelings of angst and idealism could be felt in his early works.”
Talk of freedom
Martial Law put Castrillo and his family in quite a quandary, says his son Nixxio. He had the feeling that he had to express himself and the atrocities and the injustices but then, some of his biggest patrons were then-President Marcos and the Marcos government.
“We were in kind of a strange position because dad was very vocal about his opinions on Martial Law. In 1972, he was invited to have a show in the US and was asked to stay and create there. In the milleu of Martial Law, he decided as a nationalist to stay in the country and make statements. As far as he was concerned, it was his duty.”
“When Ninoy was assassinated, my father felt it was not safe for us to be here. He was once arrested and brought to Camp Crame. Our studio in Makati was also bombed. That was why he decided to send us, our eldest brother Mierro, and our mom to the US, where we stayed for three years, from 1983 to 1986,” he shares.
“We were too young to remember the details, but basically we were affected because of his involvement. Let’s put it this way—his political opinions and how entangled he was with other facets of society during that time affected our lives during those crucial years.”
When the EDSA Revolution came about in 1986, he decided that it was time for his family to come home.
“He wanted us to be part of nation-building. There was a sense of nationalism, a sense of contribution, where we all needed to be a part of the country, and help rebuild the nation,” Ovvia expounds.
The People Power Monument started out as his idea, the siblings aver.
“He drew it, spoke to people about it, and they told other people about it, and it was approved. It was first envisioned to be in Malacañang Palace, then they decided to move it to EDSA,” the daughter recollects.
The Aquinos knew of their father beforehand, as Ninoy’s mother had commissioned him to do a memorial statue, the one that stands in Tarlac today. It was a hush-hush project, his children reveal, as someone approached him to stop the project, as it might incite people’s feelings at the time.
Another anecdote connected to Castrillo’s work was shared by Nixxio. “We were building this piece at the Yuchengco Museum,” he points to the mammoth installation outside called The Spirit of EDSA.
“One of our workers made a toy replica of a tank, and that was used as the model that is part of the installation outside. There was an uprising here in Makati, during the time of Erap, at the time that this was being built. The media started reporting that a tank has been sighted in Makati and I realized that it was our tank! They did not realize that it was just part of a sculpture. I had to call the driver and tell him to pick up all the people working on the project and take them to safety because a turmoil might happen!” he grins.
Art as social responsibility
Castrillo’s other highly visible public works are the Bonifacio Monument near Manila’s City Hall, The Spirit of Pinaglabanan in San Juan, and the Cry of Tondo in Plaza Moriones, Manila. All have themes relating to freedom and love of country.
Ovvian explains, “He had that mindset that whatever he did it wasn’t just for art, it wasn’t just for us, it was for the country, it was for God. We knew that as a fact, but it was reinforced when we saw this clip of an Associated Press video, that was taken around 1975, and it resonated with his philosophy before he passed away. What he said in that video was really his mantra for living.”
In the video, a much younger impression of the artist, one who wore the haircut and clothes of the era and drove a Camaro explained his raison d’etre:
“The two extremes of art are either moving or concrete. In my style, I want to consolidate and create art that is solid and yet alive and free flowing.” He tells the reporter, “Whenever I do big artworks in the Philippines, I put my artistry aside and feel more as a social being … a social being with the responsibility of educating or orienting a great number of people.”
The artist and nationalist in him wanted to challenge his countrymen to think big.
“He wanted Filipinos to think beyond their pocket realm. He would always talk to us about how Filipinos think small, in terms of barangay, in terms of his town, in terms of his province. He wanted all of us to proclaim ‘I am part of this world; it is my world as much as it is yours.’ He felt that way about the Philippines, that every Filipino should have this pride in himself and to just go for it,” Ovvia explains. “He wanted to do away with that culture of being self-limiting. He wanted Filipinos to do away with the heritage of smallness.”
Continuing the legacy
The artist passed away in May of this year due to cancer complications at the age of 73. His children reveal that there are unexecuted designs in their possession and they wish to see these built. “Sometimes he makes several options to present to clients for his proposals. We want to continue building his mission of bringing art to the people,” Ovvia explains.
“We have museums but these are very centralized,” the daughter and the son say. They want to bring more of their father’s designs to life, in public places, to be appreciated especially by children who will grow up to think that public art is normal. Their father strongly believed that it is important to increase a person’s quality of life, and this has something to do with the humanities.
“Good food, theater, music, painting, and other forms of art give an elevated sense of appreciation for life. He said that it is good to expose children to humanities and arts as they will have higher aspirations beyond the basics of life,” Ovvia shares.
This is the dream for the legacy studio that they are starting.
“We have been his lifelong apprentices, where we even literally lived in his studio at one point,” Nixxio adds. “His workers have specialized skills and we want for them to continue their livelihood, as we consider them part of our family. This is also our way of keeping our father’s legacy alive.”
One of the biggest dreams of the Castrillo children involves a four-meter high, 80-meter long relief mural that depicts the history of the Philippines. It is similar to Bonifacio’s monument, but even bigger in scale and even more intricate, with materials such as metal and mosaic tiles. The story of the installation concept, titled Ang Ginintuang Kasaysayan Ng Lahing Pilipino starts from prehistoric Philippines all the way to the current administration.
“This is his dream project. If this is built, I know he will be very happy,” Ovvia smiles.
Another current project is a partnership with the Yuchengco Museum and Samsung, where participants are encouraged to take photos of one of the artist’s public art monuments and upload it on Instagram for the Samsung Culture Connect: Castrillo @ 50 contest.
Entries, which can be submitted until August 31, should come with a caption that expresses their nationalism and explains what the monument means to them, tagging @CastrilloCultureConnect and using the hashtags #SamsungCultureConnect and #Castrillo50. Prizes include a Samsung Galaxy S7 edge and a Gear VR.
For more information on the contest, visit www.eduardocastrillo.com, and follow @CastrilloCultureConnect on Instagram.
COVER PHOTOS BY ABBY PALMONES AND CARMELA ENRIQUEZ