As a boy growing up in Paete, Laguna, Manuel Baldemor imbibed the scenery of his surroundings. He took a particular liking for the carabao – the Filipino farmer’s faithful partner in life.
“My father was a farmer and I was born and raised in Paete, which are farm lands between Laguna de Bay and the Sierra Madre Mountains; so, literally, it was provincial life,” Baldemor told The Manila Times at his ManilArt 2019 booth at the SMX Convention Center Aura, Bonifacio Global City in Taguig on the final day of the exhibit on October 13.
He revealed that he is still under training at 72, even if he is such a multi-celebrated painter, sculptor, writer, book illustrator and printmaker – having his works reproduced by Unicef as greeting cards and distributed worldwide and having his big mural painting; adorning the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria and also the UN headquarters in New York.
“I thought before that art is only painting or sculpture, but I realized it encompasses everything. My ambition was just to be a komiks illustrator, before becoming painter,” he said. He was an editorial cartoonist for the old “subversive” Graphic Magazine.
His grandmother who sent him to school wanted him to become a teacher as teachers were respected and looked up to with the title, Mr. Baldemor. He reasoned out that he wanted to be a billboard painter, philosophizing that people would also look up to him [or his work] as there were no galleries yet during that time. “Titingalain ka rin naman pag billboard painter ka,” was what he told his lola.
Since his passion was for the arts, he pursued his studies in Fine Arts and Design at the University of Santo Tomas.
But despite the knowledge that he gained, he still did not comprehend what fine arts was as he started in folk arts – painting paper mache, creating dolls, dalagang bukid and replicas of the carabao.
“Hanggang ngayon nararamdaman ko pa rin yung balugbog ng kalabaw. Wherever I go, yung pagka-Pinoy ko, pagka-probinsiyano ko [it tells me] may babalikan akong bayan.”
And it’s through his folk arts that destined him to visit various places as artist-in-residence in Singapore, Japan, Israel, Portugal, Chile, Estonia, France and Switzerland. In fact, he said, he met The Manila Times Chairman Dr. Dante Ang together with the son and namesake, President and CEO Dante Francis “Klink” Ang 2nd in Ottawa, Canada.
He also said that as Unicef artist for 18 years, the royalties he received helped build a school in Guinobatan, Albay and for that he is grateful for the opportunity and privilege that his art works had done in building his stature as artist and his way of giving back to his heritage.
For him too, being called a master is not a big deal as it’s just a word, he said. His signature is his color, even the bright-colored houses in Baguio City would immediately strike a chord when those familiar of his works see it, and call those “a la Baldemor.”
As to the notion that Juan Luna’s blood runs in the veins of many Filipinos, the humble world-renowned artist said that Filipinos naturally have good stories to tell because the country is full of goodness.
“Not only in painting do we express ourselves well. It’s also in sound, movement like dance, even when we talk to each other. Mas open tayong mga Pilipino.Within the first five minutes of Filipinos talking to each for the very first time, alam mo na ang bio-data ko at ganun din sa kausap ko. That’s what we are, our family ties keep us familiar [with one another,” he laughed.
His son Monnar, who worked as an art director, has his own modernist style yet still makes the carabao as prominent subject, to which the master affirms that there is no end really in studying and learning about arts and culture.
“One thing I’ve learned [in my travels] is that art has no border. You throw me anywhere and I can communicate not only through art but also knowing about current events, maybe also because of how I was raised and grew up in the surroundings I was in.”
And what pieces of advice can he give to the aspiring artists or the younger generation?
“It is not only for artists but for everyone — it is to learn [something] everyday, especially from your mistakes, and those experiences help you become a better person and improve your craft. We are all just passing through in this life. I may not be able to follow the Ten Commandments, but my philosophy is huwag ka lang mang-iisa (don’t cheat or dupe anyone). That would be enough,” he stressed.
Baldemor is in China right now along with four other Filipino painters for the exchange program organized by the Metropolitan Museum and the Bank of China. He already worked with the Chinese artists in their collaboration for Jewelmer. All he was bringing were his brushes and none of his finished works, he informed
In December, he will have another solo exhibit in New York titled “Luzviminda,” showcasing the culture of the three island groups of the Philippines. Last June he mounted his exhibit in Dubai and Abu Dhabi with Islamic Philippines as the theme.
“It’s important to also know the trends so you don’t get stuck to your knowledge. As I said, no one is a master, it is important to learn and share something everyday,” he said.
Baldemor first made a mark in the art scene when his mural work “Paete I” won the grand prize in the Art Association of the Philippines Art Competition and Exhibition in 1972. The following year, his mural work “Paete II” won the same prize. That same year, he represented the Philippines in the 14th International Art Exhibition in Paris, France.
Besides oil, acrylic and watercolor, woodcarving and wood sculpture, Baldemor also does ceramics and fine prints.
In 1992, he was one of 13 artists honored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines for his contributions to the country’s heritage. He also holds the distinction as the most traveled Filipino artist doing exhibits and shows or attending symposim and forums on visual arts in more than 50 countries.
With all these, he said, “alam kong may babalikan akong bayan.”