The Manila Times has long believed that award-winning cartoonist, illustrator and painter Mauro Santos, simply known as “Malang,” is deserving of the National Artist Award. Unfortunately, the recognition eluded, and the acclaimed artist died on Saturday at age 89 following a lingering illness.
His son Soler Santos, also a noted visual artist, confirmed the news on social media and posted a photo of his father on Instagram captioned, “Tatay, 1996.” Condolences and tributes to the prolific artist have since poured in.
Abstract painter Rock Drilon expressed his sorrow on Facebook with the following post: “RIP Malang. He produced artworks as well as artists. Aside from his sons, there is one important artist who once told us, ‘If it were not for Malang I would not have been an artist.’” That artist was Roberto Chabet, “Father of Conceptual Art in the Philippines.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey-based Filipino painter Gregory Raymond Halili reminisced in his memories of the celebrated artist and wrote, “Rest in Peace, Mr. Malang (1928-2017). A great master, friend and ninong. Thank you so much for introducing me to the Philippine arts and artists. I’ll always remember our museum and gallery hops. You will be missed. Our deepest and sincerest condolences to the Santos family.”
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) also sent its sympathies to Malang’s family in Facebook.
“The NCCA Gallery would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the Malang/Santos Family. Rest in peace Mr. Mauro Malang Santos,” the post read.
The younger Santos meanwhile announced that memorial services for his father would be held at Arlington Memorial Chapels in Quezon City until June 13.
On January 26, 2009, The Manila Times published an editorial titled, “Something of an Injustice to Malang and the Public,” referring to the arbiters of the National Artist award who had ignored Malang for more than a decade.
The editorial, which had been picked up by several art publications, conveyed how Malang’s substantial body of work has been praised by critics and art experts here and abroad as great art. In doing so, Malang served the nation both as an excellent artist who has inspired and helped younger artists to develop their talent and as a propagator of art appreciation among the masses.
“One of the nationalistic deeds of Malang was organizing in 1966—together with other prominent painters—the ‘Art for the Masses’ project. Through this project, something that had never been done before in this country happened: Malang’s and his fellow artists’ paintings, in compressed form or in slices of details, became available to a wider audience as cheap silkscreen prints.”
Malang’s biography was also party narrated in the editorial, which chronicled how, as a 10-year-old boy, Malang he had taken informal, evening lessons from a neighbor-painter. In his teenaged years, in order to earn his weekly allowance, he painted genre scenes on fans made of coconut-palm fronds.
After high school Malang attended the UP College of Fine Arts but dropped out after three months.
Besides these, Malang had no other formal art training, but voraciously read art books and patiently plodded the museums of Japan, the United States and Europe to familiarize himself with the greatest artists of the world.
He then made a name as a benign satirist of middle-class manners (in “Kosme the Cop, Retired”) and a first-rate visual punster (“Chain-Gang Charlie”) in cartoons he produced for the defunct Manila Chronicle newspaper.
Thereafter, “Malang started to transcend the cartoonist’s world and entered a different plane of sensibility. His first paintings were vignettes of the folk-culture of Manila. He invested the workday world of the city poor with an unlikely gaiety and decorative charm that brought out that aspect of the Filipino character that often perplexes foreigners who expect poverty to be nothing but grim and poor people to be drowning in despair. Malang’s exuberant style and his characteristic dash of whimsy made even the squalid squatter slums seem festive.
“Though recognition came early, Malang refused to rush his progress toward serious art. He did not hold his first one-man show until 1962 until he was 34. Malang’s art progressively became less and less anecdotal and more and more abstract. To his warm and often intense palette, he added the rich colors of night. Somberness entered his range of vision. Even then, his works continue to be unmistakably that of Malang the Filipino—works that, even in twilight, holds the warmth of the tropic sun, the blue of the luminous horizon, the peaked roofs of colonial churches and the melancholy gracefulness of the Filipina woman.”
“Critics praise his work but Malang is a people’s idol as an artist. A listing of his many one-man exhibits, participation in group shows—here and abroad—number hundreds. So have his art appreciation projects, including his funding of Art Manila, a publication that regularly presented not just the latest work of arrived artists but also the works of young Filipinos,” The Manila Times wrote.
In the book “Malang at 80,” which was published in 2008, author J. T. Gatbonton said “Picasso’s production took on a manic obsessive quality, as though the creative art could forestall death.
“Hughes thinks Picasso painted to forestall death; Malang feels the 20th century master used up to the fullest his allotted time on earth. ‘Picasso painted until the end,’ Malang muses, ‘Then he just turned off the light.’ The painter at twilight is slowing down more serenely.
In conclusion, The Manila Times editorial declared: “It is something of an injustice–both to Malang and the public that loves him—not to give him the said award.”