By Nancy T. Lu
If an artist’s living and working space says something about him as an individual, then the interior of Raul Isidro’s three-story property in Paranaque gives away how organized he is. The walls at every turn are literally crowded with his colorful works of art. The paintings capturing his changing styles in making art statements are carefully arranged, in fact, maximizing in an interesting way the use of limited space and giving the impression of a private gallery and showroom ready to warmly welcome friends, art lovers and buyers.
Eight years ago, this very structure was a drab garment factory. For three months after acquiring it, Isidro personally oversaw the house renovation. Each day, he would sketch on the wall what he would like the hired workers to do to completely transform the place. He made sure that there was considerable storage room for his creative output before their gradual turnover to buying collectors. He even gave instruction to have a part of the roof done differently to allow the sunlight in. Changes were introduced section by section to suit the new owner’s personality and, of course, needs.
And now Isidro’s property has become a house of memories of an extraordinary art career. On display are his masterpieces from his different periods of art experimentation, highlighting his shifting reliance on different media of expression.
Early on, he chose the path of abstract expressionism and very rarely returned to figurative art. For a while he seemed very fascinated with the circular and oval form. But he also brought in diverse geometric shapes and patterns to make his inspired statements on art.
His play with colors dominated exhibits, too. Solid hues and shades introduced in his collections of abstract landscapes were a rich visual feast. In more recent times, his incorporating of the glitter of gold yielded dazzling art. His use of gold leaf began when he was living in the United States.
The still very active artist has come a long way since his student days when he sold his first small watercolor for a mere five pesos and also since his first one-man show featuring paintings inspired by man’s first landing on the moon in 1969. That year, American astronaut Neil Armstrong made that one big step for mankind. Isidro, too, marked his milestone as artist in 1969, announcing his readiness to hold his own at a one-man show at the La Solidaridad Gallery in Manila. After more than 50 solo exhibitions, he is now seriously considering an expansion of the second floor of his property near Taguig to satisfy his craving for a bigger working space. He intends to hold many more exhibits.
The 70-year-old Raul Isidro, a native of Calbayog, Samar, looks back today to a 48-year career filled with acclaimed creativity in painting, printmaking and even in sculpture, something attested to by his collection of awards over the years. He even earned special recognition as Ten Outstanding Young Men or TOYM awardee for the plastic arts in 1979. The artist, ever shining in his profession of choice, became a recipient of the “Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan” Araw ng Maynila Award in 1998. UST, his alma mater, gave him the Outstanding Thomasian Award for Fine Arts in 2006 and the Outstanding Samareno Award in 2011.
Isidro majored in advertising arts at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) College of Fine Arts for practical reason. Artists in those days were doomed to starve. Such was the common belief. Parents, therefore, were unlikely to approve a daughter’s entertainment of a painter suitor, recalled Isidro. His teachers included Victorio Edades and Galo Ocampo.
After graduating from UST in 1965, Isidro wanted very much not just to paint but also to join the prestigious Shell National Student Art Competition. As he needed to be a painting student to qualify, he returned to UST for painting lessons. Isidro was turned away though.
The young Raul Isidro ended up in the fine arts department at the Philippine Women’s University. As a PWU student, he finally competed and won. His “Way In” garnered second prize when he submitted it to the Shell National Student Art Competition back in 1967. In addition, he received a certificate of merit for his “Genesis of Man.”
A random look at Isidro’s albums of old newspaper clippings leads to the discovery that the erstwhile student of PWU won first honorable mention (100 pesos and a certificate) at the 1967 on-the-spot painting contest sponsored by the U.P. President’s Commission on Culture and the School of Fine Arts. His “Lunar Orbit” from his first-ever one-man show was similarly a first honorable mention winner at the Art Association of the Philippines annual competition in 1969. He kept up his winning streak, settling for no less than the first prize at the Printmakers Association of the Philippines annual exhibition and competition in 1972.
In his younger days, Isidro also made a name as a very promising sculptor. At the on-the-spot painting and woodcarving contest at the Third National Art Festival in Baguio in 1968, he placed second in the woodcarving category. Diego Silang was the subject of the woodcarving competition.
The First National Sculpture Exhibition and Competition under the sponsorship of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) in 1968 saw Isidro’s “Apocalypse” declared a major winner in the outdoor sculpture category. Isidro, rather popular among fellow artists, eventually went on to be elected to serve as AAP president.
For his major exhibition to mark his first year as a septuagenarian, he promised to bring out some of his prize-winning works from the period when he was just starting out as an artist, meaning the late 1960s.
To pack up in preparation for a move to the United States years ago, he entrusted his prodigious artistic output to friends here and there for safekeeping. Some eventually got sold. But following his return to Manila after 10 years of living and pursuing his artistic calling mainly in California, Isidro failed to recover completely his works of art, including some winning entries not just in painting but also in sculpture.
A succession of two fires in 1977 – first at Isidro’s ancestral home in Calbayog and the second one at PWU - left him shattered. Many of his paintings from his first one-man show in 1969 were put away by him for storage in the spacious family house in the province of Samar. When fire gutted the place, his sibling tried to save the house, not realizing that proceeds from the sale of the invaluable collection of paintings, if saved, would suffice to cover the cost of rebuilding the razed structure. Isidro was also devastated to find his many paintings which were left in the PWU campus burned during another fire not long after. A painting which won second place in a contest was destroyed and lost forever during that heartbreaking year.
Perhaps after misfortune struck not once but twice that year, he realized that material wealth and labors of love like paintings with high market value can turn into ashes and vanish leaving no trace without warning. But very significant in Isidro’s life are his sincere efforts towards leaving a meaningful and lasting legacy through his constant offer of help to aspiring young artists in many ways, including conducting art workshops to teach and encourage them.
Many artists who call Isidro mentor have fond recollections of his generosity in passing on his art knowledge and in sharing his experimental art experiences. His readiness to teach his art techniques indicates that he is a man confident in his success in the art world.
As president of the Philippine Association of Printmakers, Isidro initiated the project called “Bakat ng Limbag Sining” from August to December 2001. The traveling printmaking workshop and exhibition of fine prints by prominent Filipino printmakers moved around the country for several months. Isidro was there as teacher of printmaking most of the time. Covered were Baguio, Angeles City, Manila, Calbayog, Tagbilaran, Kalibo, Bacolod, Iloilo, Cebu, Davao and Butuan.
Over the years, Isidro kept himself very busy and focused, holding since the mid-1970s exhibitions mainly of his abstract art. He unveiled his “Landscapes” and “Impressions” collections at the Yellow Door Gallery at the Power Plant Mall in 2007 and 2009 respectively. In 2012, the Crucible Gallery at the Mega Mall in Mandaluyong City was the venue of his one-man print show titled “Senakulo sa Crucible.”
Isidro is preparing for his big retrospective show at the Ayala Museum in Makati from December 2 this year to January 11.early next year. About 100 paintings will hang in the museum’s main gallery. In addition, there will be some smaller works.
Art collectors and aficionados will have a rare opportunity to walk down Memory Lane with Isidro, whose passion for art and whose creative energy have not diminished with the passing of the years. A part of his house of memories in Paranaque – specifically his selected paintings – will be transferred to the Ayala Museum for a few weeks to tell his ongoing success story. The shapes, the lines and the colors of Isidro’s artistic vision and imagination will return to the limelight to mirror fascinating glimpses in a modern art kaleidoscope.