National artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco was one of the greatest Filipino visual artists and muralists, best known for his vibrant, sprawling murals specially commissioned by the Malacañang Palace, Manila City Hall, Philippine General Hospital and Fort Santiago.
His masterpieces include the Malacañang mural “Fiesta”, “Code of Kalantiao (private collection), “Blood Compact” (Yuchengco Museum / RCBC Building), “First Mass at Limasawa” (National Museum), “The Martyrdom of Rizal” (Fort Santiago), “Bayanihan sa Bukid,” “Stations of the Cross” (Far Eastern University), “The Invasion of Limahong,” “Serenade,” and “Muslim Betrothal.”
Botong was also a multidisciplinary artist, working in the movies as a scriptwriter and production designer.
But more than anything, Botong was an artist who addressed the issue of national identity. Yet, despite his great impact on Philippine art, his works have grown obscure to the younger generations of Filipinos.
A GREAT SENSE OF EPIC
To rekindle interest in Botong Francisco, Vibal Foundation, Inc. (VFI) introduces a new addition to its Art Series of imprints: The Life and Art of Carlos V. Francisco.
The book is edited by art historian Patrick Flores, who holds a deep respect for the genius of Botong.
“Botong had a great sense of epic,” Flores states. “He was able to play up the turning points in history, such as struggles against the colonial forces and moving towards modern time, as he told a sprawling story of Philippine culture.”
Flores also points out that Botong was able to create a popular visual language.
“Botong’s murals, in key locations such as government buildings and other institutions, address a public audience, frequently portraying scenes of struggle and persecution, while the subjects and characters were always dignified,” he reveals.
The most important thing to consider, Flores notes, is that Botong didn’t aspire to be a big, important person.
“He loved his work and didn’t put on airs, which is a relevant thing to consider in this world of too much competition in the art world, or the ambition to become a national artist.”
The Life and Art of Carlos V. Francisco is set to be launched at the National Museum on Aug. 19, alongside another VFI Art Series title, Francisco V. Coching, which chronicles the milieu of the popular komiks illustrator, also edited by Flores, and accompanied by the full-color republication of Coching’s masterpiece work “El Indio.”
An exhibit, entitled “Telling Modern Time,” accompanies the launch and showcases a focused view of Botong and Coching’s works in the popular context.
The Botong and Coching books follow VFI’s first Art Series release in 2008, Fabian de la Rosa and His Times.
VFI is the non-profit arm of Vibal Publishing House Inc., a company best known for textbooks for students in the elementary and high school levels. VFI specializes in knowledge – the preservation and distribution of as much of it as possible, hence its various print and website projects.