"For whenever I looked at an empty canvas, I saw only my Filipino women."
ANITA MAGSAYSAY-HO CITED IN Purita Kalaw-Ledesma, 'Introduction', Anita Magsaysay-Ho: A Retrospective, MAGSAYSAY INC, MANILA, 1988, P. 164.
Banana Sellers is a rare example of the artist's works from the early fifties. Magsaysay-Ho began experimenting with the theme of peasant women during her days at Cranbrook Academy of Art at the University of Michigan. Her early oil paintings show a synthesis of the dynamic pictorial compositions she developed in Cranbrook and the painterly gesture that she learnt at the Art Students' League under the American artist, Kenneth Hayes Miller. Miller, whose students included Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper, became famous in the 1930s with his depictions of pre-Depression era women in the act of shopping. His expression of an urban reality were filled with pathos and humour, and in their pictorial arrangements – groups of women jostling, interacting – they seem also to have much in common with the works that his student Magsaysay-Ho produced from the 1950s.
The canvas is dominated by the figures of two women at a market; one woman holds a basket laden with vegetables, while the other, presumably the vendor, is counting money before a stand overflowing with bananas. They, along with another woman in the background, are set before an abstract background highlighted with the outlines of bananas hanging above the market stalls. The painting is executed with an exceptionally free and expressive brush, unprecedented in Magsaysay-Ho's depiction of rural women up to that time, and marks an exciting transition in her work. Unlike the later works, which seem to emphasise the geometric shapes of various pictorial elements, this example seems to be more concerned with colour and light. Physical description is kept to a minimum, allowing the body language to articulate the realism of the moment – the joy, sympathy and emotional bond shared by the sorority of women at work.
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