The saliency of Vicente Silva Manansala’s works rest in his incessant quest for beauty and the tempering of this beauty with the artist’s distinct sensibilities of perception and colour. Beaming with an ebullient spirit and robust dynamism, Tiange represents Manansala’s ingenuity and formal dexterity that distinguished him as a leader of the modern era in Filipino art. A paragon of Manansala’s revered ‘transparent cubism’ works, Tiange captures the artist at the height of his creative output —- taking inspiration from everyday life and channeling it in his idiosyncratic technique. Commissioned by close friends of the artist, Tiange encompasses some of the artist’s most iconic motifs and has remained in a distinguished private collection since its realization. This magnificent work bears the marks of the artist’s intense process and his bravura for analytical subtleties distilled from nature.
With a bold yet tender visual vocabulary, Manansala here showcases not only the allure of planar abstraction but also the sumptuously laden mood of a quintessential scene in the Philippines. Throughout his career, Manansala was committed to reinventing the tone of Filipino art, while staying true to the country’s profoundly rich heritage. Among the Thirteen Moderns, Manansala declared his belief in absolute beauty early on, perceiving reality as the starting point of abstraction. It was a stance that often heightened his many debates with his peers like Victorio Edades, Carlos ‘Botong’ Francisco, H.R. Ocampo and Cesar Legaspi. This circle of artists developed fresh idioms and individual avant-garde modes, sharing a common mission that reacted to the predominant pastoral styles and schools of classicism.
Manansala in particular found a deep affinity with Cubism. While his training at the University of Philippines’ School of Fine Arts anchored his practice in draftsmanship, it was the summer spent immersed in the Canadian Rockies at the Ecole des Beaux-arts de Banff that was the pivot of the artist’s career. During a conversation outside of class, Manansala’s teacher, Joseph Plaskett, showed him a portrait, fragmented into strips that were re-arranged to create an active planar surface. Plaskett explained: “Cubism came about because, in the process of analyzing form, something that lay in the form, a plane could be lifted out to float on its own.” This simple explanation precipitated Manansala’s intense fascination with Cubism and its multifarious possibilities—the window to a new way of seeing. The artist continued his training in the USA and France, and worked in the Paris atelier of Fernand Leger before returning to the Philippines to teach at the University of Santo Tomas in 1958.
Charged with palpable liveliness, Tiange stands at the pinnacle of Manansala’s years of exploration, assuredly demonstrating the artist’s mature style. It depicts a boisterous market scene, populated by ordinary folks staggered intimately in the daily bustle, statuesque in their movements and poise. A mother carries an infant boy in her arms as several women gather around her, one even balances a basket of fish and vegetables on her head as she walks through the crowd. The only fully frontal figure is a man holding a white rooster. He wears a yellow hat, rests a cigarette in his mouth and maintains an elusive countenance. Across the dense composition, Manansala immaculately presents each area of the canvas with a purposeful formidability, designating every element with a specific hue and placed at a crisp angle.
While the term ‘transparent cubism’ is indelibly linked to Manansala’s oeuvre, it does not fully capture the complexities of his practice as displayed enigmatically in Tiange. Fragmented shapes and dissected planes relate Manansala’s painting to the attack on the conventions of three-dimensional perspective associated with Analytic Cubism. Studying his subjects over time, Manansala broke up natural forms, distorting them to produce angles and movement in a delicate balance of overlapping planes. However, unlike Pablo Picasso and George Braque, Manansala’s subjects retain their overall coherence though they are animated with sharpened sensations. His fragments are not arbitrary but reconstructed in harmonious gradations of colours that created the illusion of transparency. In the robust shapes of the figures and the swelling “baroque” curves of the background architecture, Tiange’s figures recall the Philippine Baroque tradition, while their warm shifting tones evoke the emanating rhythms of Sonia Delauney’s Orphism paintings. It is the refreshing coalescence of these diverse applications that Tiange derives its ultimate poignancy.
The artist’s unique ability to build volume, structure and texture via translucent planes created a fresh approach to neo-realist and Cubist investigations. Manansala’s methodical black and white studies of works like Tiange, as well as a confidence in watercolour principles, attest to the attention paid to the changing state of light and shadow. His acute sensitivity to colour gradients articulates the lucidity of Tiange’s vibrant environment. In a play of negative and positive space, Manansala constructs a backscreen of shifting archways and columns lit by the morning sun. Steeped in deep, gem-like tinges, Manansala’s women evoke crystalline qualities as the layered folds of the casual attire appear sheer and diaphanous, but are concise in their modeling.
Tiange is far from just a performance of form, it eloquently describes the dignified, festive lifestyle of Filipino culture by re-establishing movement in space. The depicted themes bind closely with Manansala’s personal anecdotes—the rooster, mother and child, the centrality of food in communal life—speaking bounds about the artist’s love for the Philippines.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Tiange is the white rooster, held as a prize possession to parade around the market. A symbol of fortitude and honesty, the rooster is a recurring motif in Southeast Asian art. Their fiery temperament and lively movements are often captured in depictions of the cockfight—or Sabong, a popular pastime in the Philippines. Sabungeros or cockerels filled the world of Manansala. The artist himself had seven gamecocks. Out of his personal enjoyment, he reared and studied them even into old age—allowing their vivacious nature to manifest brilliantly in works like Kahig and Tiange. In the present painting, Manansala depicts this beloved animal in its gentility, resting in his owner’s embrace. The remarkable dexterity of Manansala’s translucent cubism is especially visible in the rooster’s delineated feathers, revealing hints of underlying blues and oranges. Perched proudly on the man’s hands, he looks dashingly at the group of women, exuding an air of tenacity and poise. Likewise his owner possesses the gravitas of a man entering the fight. His steely, downcast gaze and tense physique, exaggerated by Manansala’s angular portrayal, lend Tiange an aura of anticipation. Yet the way the man carries his rooster mirrors the affectionate hug between the mother and child at the center of the scene. As an archetype of Manansala’s oeuvre, the maternal image has Catholic resonances and also highlights the artist’s ability to capture nuances of any relationship.
Itself an orchestra of relationships—between people, man and nature, planes and colours—Tiange finds its place alongside some of Manansala’s most stunning mature works. Simultaneously deconstructing and constructing the natural beauty of his Filipino subjects, Manansala embraces two often competing dualities in much of twentieth-century art. For what is remarkable about Manansala, and is perfectly embodied in the present work, is how his anatomized prisms of colour both amplify and represent the bounty of human experience. The auspicious themes in Tiange serve to encapsulate both Manansala’s rich background and ascendancy to a truly unique visual language that expresses beauty timelessly.
1Rodolfo Paras-Perez, Manansala, PLC Publications, Manila, Philippines, 1980, p. 13.
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