Now 84, Malang not only has amassed an incredibly diverse body of work, some of which are included in West Gallery’s exhibit in his honor this month, he has also inspired generations of artists to follow in his lead. While works from his personal collection, some dating back to the 1960s, occupy the main gallery, sons Steve Santos and Soler, and Soler’s wife, Mona Santos, fill the other three galleries with their newest collections. Just last December, two of Soler and Mona’s children, Luis and Carina, mounted their first solo exhibitions.
But it all began with Malang. His desire to keep painting for decades is the reason we are now looking back fondly at the depth of the talent of this man. Featured in this exhibit are his works on paper, including early pencil sketches while others were done in gouache and oil. Each work demonstrates the artist’s keen observation of everyday life around him, emphasizing not the poverty but the resilience of each barong-barong dweller in vivid color and solid lines. His optimism radiates in his pieces, and eventually moves viewers to watch in wonder.
Malang’s foray into the visual arts nearly five decades ago was not planned. He dropped out of the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts after half a semester to start working as an illustrator and layout designer for The Sunday Chronicle. There, he learned the ropes from National Artist H.R. Ocampo, who was then his boss at the paper. As destiny would have it, Malang’s teachers would not come from art schools but from the people he met outside the confines of the classroom. Even when he was already established as an artist decades later, he would continually seek the advice of colleagues, keeping an open mind toward techniques and approaches he has not yet explored.
Malang continued to paint for as long as he could, keeping his faith on his Creator, who provided him the gift to illustrate and show viewers new ways of seeing their surroundings. Barong-Barong takes us back to the different artistic phases and learning curves Malang went through over the course of his lengthy and productive career.