BY: CARLOMAR ARCANGEL DAOANA
The first major exhibition organized after his death on 18 August 2015, Olazo: Large Scale re-affirms Olazo’s place as a maker—and marker—of grand productions, re-introduces his work—now his legacy—to the contemporary audience, and reconnects the artist’s roots to the country’s foremost cultural institution. During the early planning for the exhibition, one of the proposed titles was Homecoming. After all, his first ever one-man show, The Silkscreen Process and Its Possibilities, held at the CCP Small Gallery in 1974, was highlighted by a 24-foot serigraph. In 1981, Olazo revisited the medium, this time producing a work twice as long: a 50-foot serigraph monoprint that spanned the Museum Hallway.
The more undeniable link, however, was the almost similarly titled show, Large Scale Paintings. Held this time at the more cavernous Main Gallery of the CCP in 1982, it showcased thirteen black-and-white Diaphanous works. It is in the same venue in which Olazo: Large Scale returns to. By this time, Olazo had already established expansiveness as a definitiveand definingfeature of his artistic conception and execution. Prior to this monumental outing, Olazo had also unfurled two huge canvases of 84 by 96 inches for the exhibit Philippine Abstract Art in 1978, which was also at the CCP. The following year, in the show Recent Painting-Diaphanous held at Luz Gallery (which gave Olazo his first commercial gallery representation as early as 1974), he also included large-scale works—a daring attempt, considering that the paintings didn’t pay heed to the measurements of a typical domestic setting envisioned to accommodate them.
Right from the start, this native of Balayan, Batangas born on 21 July 1934, was already an artist of the grand gesture. In fact, his wife Patricia, who had painstakingly documented and systemized more than 25,000 of his works, had a separate category for Olazo’s ambitious projects: “Big Works.” Other categories, which necessarily overlapped, were “Permutation,” “Diaphanous,” “Still Life,” “Untitled-Various,” “Nudes,” “Mother and Child,” “Landscape” and “Prints.” While other painters would venture into the territory of the willfully gargantuan in order to flex muscle and mind as a respite from the comfort zone of the easel painting, it was a sustained, lifelong pursuit, a virtuoso performance for Olazo. It’s serendipitous that the last exhibition he saw completed featured a single work, the “Diaphanous B-CCXXXV,” shown at the ArtistSpace of Ayala Museum in November of 2014. Measuring at 80 x 240 inches, this work can now be examined in the airier hall of the CCP, situated within the context of his other large-format works from the different points of his artistic career.
According to Patricia, it was the working space that would be the primary challenge for Olazo in painting his large-scale works. He would paint in the driveway, on a table, or with the canvas pinned to a wall. Another issue would be the cost of materials. Naturally, the bigger the canvas, the more paint was spent, the more complicated and expensive brushes were used.
Some of the early large-scale works were uncommissioned and unsold, owing to the fact they never left the family. Stowed away in a Pasay warehouse, the works suffered from water damage, insect infestation, the wear and tear of time which, altogether, have added their own marks of ruin. Previously shown in Romulo Olazo Black and White Redux at the Art Center of SM Megamall after the Lopez Memorial Museum fumigated them, they are here again, solemn reminders that paintings are objects providing material evidence to the genesis of exhibition, adding a dimension to our fundamental understanding of Olazo’s large works, and calling attention to the importance of vigilant upkeep and conservation.
But soon, the towering lobbies and halls of government and corporate institutions required paintings--large ones--to temper, accentuate, or adorn their respective interiors. “Olazo was among the first artists to fill that need,” affirms artist and writer Cid Reyes. “The commissioned works now disported mural dimensions. Those were paintings not cowed and shadowed by architecture. Olazo’s commissioned works, for instance, installed at the lobbies of the Pacific Star Building in Makati City, are stunning in the breadth of their physicality and the sweep of their expressive power.”
Olazo’s pre-occupation with scale may also be connected to his work in advertising, which has no problem broadcasting messages using the biggest, widest medium possible. “One of his memorable projects was to execute an enlarged corporate logo on the façade of a 10-storey building,” Jonathan, the son of Olazo, writes. “The idea of enlarging a picture or an image and carrying the project out appealed to the inventive sensibilities of my father. It led him to create ingenious methods to handle successfully the visual and the execution challenges that confronted him in such projects.”
Characteristically reticent except to his family and friends, Olazo did venture his thoughts on the matter of producing large-scale works: “Why large scale? Because in the process of enlargement, the forms tend to be monumental and sculptural while retaining their gauze-like transparent qualities. Not only was I concerned with the rightness of scale, but the actual process itself demanded great physical energy as the whole body moves and the arm paints an area as large and as far as it can reach.”
Essentially, Olazo is saying two things: he wants to, first, foreground the tension between expansiveness and delicacy in a single work; and, second, underscore the hectic physicality of creating such work. When Jonathan asked his father directly, “Why paint big?” Olazo simply replied, “Gusto ko lang gawin.” (“I just wanted to do it.”) “Nakikita ko lang na dapat malaki ang Diaphanous.” (“I sense that the Diaphanous needed to be big.”) It was apparent to Olazo, both in the practical and intuitive sense, that the Diaphanous necessitated scale.
Abstraction, Olazo believed, could match up to any work, even if the work in question is the Spoliarium. To create an abstract version of the Juan Luna masterpiece was one of the projects that had consumed him in the latter period of his life. “It moved him how the field of the entire picture will encompass the viewer; how the edge would hold every peripheral angle, and how every surface area demanded to be looked at,” recalls Jonathan. While unrealized, this idea simply proved that, for Olazo, his forms in space could aspire to the condition of the canonical, in which scale undoubtedly played a part.
Olazo: Large Scale is the resounding conclusion to the opus of a singular artist who never once flinched at the face of immensity. He wasn’t stricken with “the native aversion to the large venture, the big risk, the bold extensive enterprise,” as how National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin calls our “heritage of smallness.” In painting after painting, Olazo exerted the full range of his abilities to come up with some of the most elegant, sublime, heart-stopping forms in the vocabulary of abstraction. Scale is proposed as the defining factor of this exhibition, yes, but it might as well be heroism, the kind that burnishes resolve, propels sinew and soul, and crystallizes the marvel of human creation.