Master at 80

Published January 3, 2022, 3:30 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Recent show at Galerie Joaquin celebrates environmental surrealist Raul H. Lebajo

Just recently concluded at the Galerie Joaquin was one of the most important exhibitions of 2021, “Raul H. Lebajo: The Master at 80,” representing a highly evolved stage of the techniques and style that the artist has developed and perfected for years. This momentous exhibition was meant to convey the spirit of earth’s beauty combined with Raul Lebajo’s unique perspective accomplished throughout more than five decades in the industry as he turned 80 last year.

RAUL LEBAJO. The photo was sourced from “Raul H. Lebajo: Enter His World” (2017) by Alice Guillermo.

Raul Lebajo expresses his imaginative dreams and visions free from conscious rational control, as influenced by surrealist Rene Magritte and post-impressionist Henri Matisse. But further acquaintance with the inspirations and influences behind the artworks reveals an artist who has profound passion, intellectual rigor, and solid technique resulting in a genuinely masterful body of work for over 50 years.

Acclaimed Filipino art historian Alice Guillermo describes Lebajo’s works as “…a subtle commentary of man and his environment that is surprisingly achieved through the incongruous juxtaposition of natural forms and familiar objects.”

Raul Lebajo’s careful approach to laying down multiple colors, balanced with his rigorous compositional approach, creates a multi-dimensional feeling. The depth and detail of the artist’s works manifest a familiar feeling found in nature, yet beyond the confines of familiarity lies a rich interplay of fantasy, emotion, and spirituality that transforms the art, creating a unique complexity that can only be described as environmental surrealism. The evocativeness of the pieces is achieved through a vital palette of colors, formal ingenuity, and imagination that elevates light and color to a striking and prominent role.

Considered the pioneer of environmental surrealism in the Philippines, Lebajo was often mentioned in the same light in the 1970s as National Artists Vicente Manansala, Victorio Edades, and Cesar Legaspi.

Raul Lebajo is considered the pioneer of environmental surrealism in the Philippines. He was often mentioned in the same light in the 1970s as National Artists Vicente Manansala, Victorio Edades, and Cesar Legaspi. Esteemed art critics Leo Benesa and Alice Guillermo have written extensively about his practice. Lebajo also has an important entry in Purita Kalaw-Ledesma’s definitive book “Pioneers of Philippine Art” and has graced the cover of Asian Art News.

Raul Lebajo. Middlemist Red (2020) Acrylic on Canvas, 42” x 60”

Raul Lebajo continues to bewilder his audiences using ambiguous juxtapositions and distortions of objects and images. Motivated by deep philosophical ideas, he aims to discard the comfortable certainties of representational work and fully embracing his artistic autonomy. In an interview with Reuben Cañete in 2002, Lebajo said that “… art has no boundaries. Artists must be free to explore.” “Raul H. Lebajo: The Master at 80” is both a celebration and commemoration, as he continues to inspire, influence, and invigorate his audiences with his sincere reverence for art, nature, and human life.

Lebajo took up Art Studies at the University of the East in 1966-67. He graduated with a BFA from the Philippine Women’s University in 1969. Lebajo won first prize in the 1969 Shell National Student Art Competition. He has held shows around the world, including Le Plaza Hotel in Switzerland, Chicago Cultural Center, World Art Exhibit in France, National Gallery of Kuala Lumpur, and Art Center of Silpakorn University in Thailand.

Raul Lebajo. Bedside Verdure (2020) Acrylic on Canvas, 60” x 42”

With his works featured in important collections abroad, including the Chicago Cultural Center in the US, Le Plaza Hotel in Switzerland, and the Asian Art Archive in Hong Kong, Lebajo is one of the most recognized artists outside the country. Along with Galo Ocampo and HR Ocampo, he can be credited for popularizing a distinctly Philippine brand of surrealism. While his contemporaries were using traditional genre subjects or social themes, he was creating images that are dreamlike and hallucinogenic. This paved the way for a new generation of surrealists and expressionists, such as Olmedo. Long before anyone was concerned with the welfare of the environment, Lebajo was consistently using themes of nature and the preservation of the environment in his paintings.