Ricarte Puruganan – Pushing and riding the waves of Philippine art

I love seascapes – from The Great Wave off Kanagawa, to Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, to Stormy Seascape. Such affinity drew me to Toilers of the Sea by Ricarte Puruganan as I randomly flipped through my copy of 100 Years of Philippine Painting.

The overall Impressionistic quality of the painting and incorporation of Filipino fishermen as local subject piqued my interest. I later learned in my research that this is the style Puruganan is known for: “[an emergence] from marrying Western art with the rich native culture” (qtd. in Dormiendo, “Ricarte Purugganan [sic]: A life dedicated to art”).

Toilers of Sea is not even his best work. From 1930s to 1940s he has produced award-winning paintings that reflected the social and political landscape at that time and reimagined the country’s past and present. Unfortunately most of his early works are not available online, but two of which I found – Bullfight and Untitled – manifest his Western style and illustrate the Filipino folk as subject matter.

As one of the Thirteen Moderns, his avant-garde approach is inherent and expected. Prior to this, he was once a conservative after being trained by Fernando Amorsolo among others in a Graeco-Roman style in UP School of Fine Arts (Defeo, “Ricarte M. Puruganan (1912-1998)”). During the time when conservatives and modernists are battling in the Philippine art scene in the 40s, he was considered as one of the “conservative stalwarts” in a 1949 competition from Art Association of the Philippines. In the same year, albeit for another competition from Manila Club Exhibition, he switched to the other side and produced Neighbors which was “probably the most powerful expressionistic work of his entire career.” (Peralta 11-12)

It was also in the 40s when he produced two of his most controversial works, Mass Burial of Heroes at Capas and Railroad Scene, which initially were among the finalists in the Second National Art Contest (1944) but were then disqualified because of its Japanese antagonization. Even before the American and Japanese occupation, Lucila Atacador Salazar said that “Puruganan had virtually singly stirred wave with his brush in the placid sea of art the prewar days.” (qtd. in Dormiendo, “Ricarte Purugganan [sic]: A life dedicated to art”)

This strong sense of nationalism is also echoed by the artist himself where he said that “art has relevance to patriotism and love of country.” (qtd. in Dormiendo, “Ricarte Purugganan [sic]: A life dedicated to art”) He also expounded his idealisms about the importance of Filipino indigenous art in his two publications, Folk Art: The Thread to National Identity and The Non-Christian Folk Art of the Philippines.

Not only did he use his talents to enter in competitions or exhibit his works, but also ventured into architecture and landscaping when he returned to his hometown in Dingras, Ilocos Norte after an internal issue with the new administration of UST School of Fine Arts. He became involved in constructing national parks, plazas, and buildings, including the provincial capitol.

In his later years, he returned to Manila and continued to produce art until his death in 1998. The Filipino essence is still at the forefront, but his style has evolved into pointillism, as seen in Bislak and Lotus. Truly, Purugante has both pushed and rode the wave of Philippine art.

This was written for Contemporary Art (Art Stud 143) course in UP Diliman, 2nd Semester AY 20-21.

Works Cited

  Defeo, Ruben D.F. “Ricarte M. Puruganan (1912-1998).” Today, 27 Jan. 1998, p. 20. TUKLAS, ds.mainlib.upd.edu.ph/Record/IPN-00000056850.

  Dormiendo, Gino. “Ricarte Purugganan [sic]: A life dedicated to art.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22 Nov. 2004, p. F2. TUKLAS, ds.mainlib.upd.edu.ph/Record/IPN-00000116512.

  Ferguson, Charles B. Stormy Seascape. c. 1960. Google Arts & Culture, artsandculture.google.com/asset/stormy-seascape-charles-b-ferguson/kQF4tRchm9MgmQ. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.

  Hokusai, Katshushika. The Great Wave off Kanagawa. c. 1830-1831. Google Arts & Culture, artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-great-wave-off-kanagawa-katsushika-hokusai/MgHm0BHMRIT73g. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.

  Metropolitan Museum of Manila. Ricarte Puruganan Bullfight Oil on canvas 1941 Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Collection. Facebook, 13 Apr. 2018, 6:03 p.m., www.facebook.com/metmanila/photos/a.224202301084091.1073741827.223708937800094/948024755368505. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.

  Peralta, Jesus T. “The Fifties: Sowing the Seeds.” ArtWorks: the First Fifty Years (1948-1998), edited by Florina H. Capistrano-Baker. Tien Wah Press, 2004, pp. 11-12.

  Puruganan, Ricarte. Bislak. 1996. Leon Gallery, www.leonexchange.com/en/lot/lot-details/25680/ricarte-puruganan-1912-1998-bislak. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.

Puruganan, Ricarte. Lotus. 1999. Cultural Cache: Selected Works from the Visual Arts Collection of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, annotated by Cid Reyes, Color 1 Digital Inc., 2018, p. 174.

Puruganan, Ricarte. Toilers of the Sea. 1940. 1000 Years of Philippine Painting, introduction by Emmanuel Torres, Westland Graphics, 1984, p. 45.

  Puruganan, Ricarte. “Untitled.” GMA News Online, Rose-An Jessica Dioquino, 19 Oct. 2012, www.gmanetwork.com/news/lifestyle/artandculture/278922/botong-and-puruganan-rediscovering-the-two-moderns. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.

  van Gogh, Vincent. Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. 1888. Google Arts & Culture, artsandculture.google.com/asset/seascape-near-les-saintes-maries-de-la-mer-vincent-van-gogh/PwEMTV_jnF628A. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.