It’s been 50 years since the Saturday Group was founded and nurtured by some of the country’s most esteemed visual artists, nine of whom became National Artists. And after 2,500 Saturdays since that July afternoon in 1968, the group celebrates this milestone with a special exhibition dubbed “Saturday Group Gold: Celebrating 50 Years in Art.”
The exhibition recently opened at the Bulwagang Juan Luna, the main gallery of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) with a nude sketching session led by Alfredo “Ding” Roces, one of its four founding members, and interaction painting of current members—two art traditions the group introduced in the country in 1968 and 1971, respectively.
Curated by Ricky Francisco and organized and supported by the CCP and the Filipino Heritage Festival, the exhibition features 112 solo and interaction (made by two or more artists) pieces done by at least 100 of Saturday Group’s past and present members.
More than 250 artists and art lovers, including National Artists for Literature F. Sionil Jose and Cirilo F. Bautista, became part of the group during the past five decades.
While the group now has its own gallery at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall in Mandaluyong City, the significance of this milestone was not lost on its 31 current members who agreed that the venue for this remarkable show should be nothing less than the CCP.
Rica Estrada, OIC of CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division, made available 40 pieces from the CCP collection, including solo works of eight members who are National Artists—founding leaders Hernando R. Ocampo and Cesar F. Legaspi, Vicente S. Manansala, Arturo R. Luz, Ang Kiukok, Jose T. Joya, Benedicto R. Cabrera, and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz.
The work of its ninth National Artist member, Francisco “Botong” Francisco, came from a private collection.
Francisco said the selected paintings have rarely been seen by the public.
“These artists met every Saturday afternoon at Tazade Oro for a few rounds of beer, indulge in shoptalk, and draw pictures,” said Francisco. “It became a regular thing so they decided to give it a name, the Saturday Group. The artists broke new ground in the Philippine art scene with its regular Saturday activities such as the nude painting sessions and creating interaction art.”
In keeping with tradition, the opening of “Saturday Group Gold” was held on the first Saturday of March and the members opted to treat the event as just like any of their Saturdays together.
It began in the early afternoon with a nude sketching session inside the main gallery led by its main proponent, the Australia-based founding member Alfredo Roces. Nine artists participated: Hermes Alegre, Dante Castillo, Allan Cosio, Ivi Cosio, Gig de Pio, Carlos Gabuco, Roel Obemio, and Franklin Caña Valencia.
Saturday Group president Omi Reyes said the opening is more of a big reunion of members whose sense of camaraderie was sealed by making art together.
“We aren’t just an organization, we are a family. This is our chance to reunite old and new members, just like a family reunion,” he said.
The old did mix with the new when Roces, who informally started the group with H.R. Ocampo over lunch of roast beef sandwich, reminisced on the group’s early days.
He recalled, “We did not have a formal structure. We had no officers. Everyone was equal. Everyone was welcome, non-artists included. After all, lawyer Tony Quintos and businessman Enrique Velasquez, both original founders, were not artists. Gallery owners, writers, art patrons, students, ‘osiosos,’ plus an old lady peddling art supplies were all part of the group. The rule was, if you showed up twice at the Taza de Oro gathering, you were considered a member.”
Roces congratulated the group “for carrying the torch that extra mile forward” and thanked the CCP “on behalf of the original members for giving the Saturday Group a place in the nation’s art biography.”
Viewing the CCP exhibit, he was left awed by the “bountifully overwhelming” activity of contemporary art in the country.
“Reuniting with the works of old friends and seeing new expressions of the contemporary Saturday Group, I am touched by nostalgia and joy,” he said. “Once again, I glimpse the familiar artworks and styles of old companions, some now in that glorious studio in the sky and I greet them as of old—Nanding Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, Joe Joya, Onib Olmedo, Galo Ocampo, and so many others.”
The informal group was eventually formalized when it was officially registered at the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2017.
Reyes said the Saturday Group continues to do its part in helping uplift society through its scholarship programs, social projects with entities like Gawad Kalinga, and fundraising projects that benefit various institutions such as the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital and the Cid Reyes Foundation.
The group’s present members include past presidents Buds Convocar, Anna de Leon, and Migs Villanueva, Roel Obemio, Salvador Ching, Aner Sebastian, Francis Nacion, Jaime Gubaton, Gerrico Blanco, Carlo Ongchangco, Eman Santos, Anthony Palo, Danny Pangan, Robert Deniega, Ronnie Bercero, Joy Rojas, Lydia Velasco, Franklin Caña, Hermes Alegre, Ding Hidalgo, Rudy Roma Lunod, Inna Naanep Vitasa, Tessie Picaña, Rose Gisbert, Nida Cranbourne, Sheila Tiangco, Joseph Villamar, Ysa Gernale, Daisy Carlos, and Helena Alegre.
“Saturday Group Gold: Celebrating 50 Years in Art,” which runs until May 6 is open for viewing from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call the CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division at 02 832 1125 local 1504 or 1505or via [email protected] for further information.