Filipino painter Nikulas Lebajo looks back at his 34-year journey in the arts

Published May 4, 2022, 8:16 AM

by John Legaspi

‘I will be forever grateful to my father for the creative genes’

Being a product of masters makes one live a life filled with pressure. But in Nicole Franco “Nikulas” Lebajo’s case, the son of artist Raul Lebajo whom critics considered as one of the pillars of contemporary Philippine environmental surrealism, following his father’s artistic footsteps doesn’t mean living under his shadow. In the process of honoring his dad’s legacy, he found his own voice and style. This time, as he looks back on his more than three decades of journey in the arts, the younger Lebajo is now looking to impart old styles to younger artists.

Nikulas Lebajo and his ‘Vegan Woman’ piece

His life as an artist officially started back in his college days, studying fine arts at the University of the Philippines. At 17, he already showcased his great potential by winning the grand prize at the Shell National Student’s Art Competition in 1989.

Throughout his college years and in the immediate years after graduation, he would continue to win awards in art competitions, most notably the Metrobank Art Competition and Philippine Art Awards. Exhibits at the prestigious The Luz Gallery were also a regular affair, back then being one of the youngest to have their works grace its halls.

Since then, Nikulas has exhibited and participated in several international art fairs such as China World Trade Center Exhibition Hall in Beijing; Hong Kong International Art Fair; Young Contemporary South East ASEAN Richard Ko Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Art Singapore, The Contemporary ASEAN Art Fair, Suntec Singapore; 17th ASEAN International Art Exhibition, Daejeon Municipal Museum of Art, Korea; Shanghai International Art Exhibition, China; and Nunu Fine Art, Taipei.

Recently, as the country has begun to open having tackled the current pandemic, Nikulas has exhibited in ManilART 2021 under Artes Orientes Gallery, another group exhibit in Galerie Stephanie that same year and is currently working on pieces commissioned by Solaire Resort and Casino, and other art projects.

Despite moving into more contemporary styles, namely portraiture and other representational (see also: less impressionistic) genres, Nikulas notes a renewed appreciation for his and his father’s signature style, noting a demand in not just commissions but also younger artists delving into works in the genre.

Now at 50, he is currently based in Laguna, spending his free time cycling around the fields, rivers, and valleys of South Luzon. In a way, Nikulas is continuing the spirit of his father’s work but with his distinct voice.

Nikulas, aside from living and working in very green space, is also a regular meditator, and his practice bleeds into his art-making, and this focus on mankind’s place in the circle of life is what connects his work to his father’s.

Another subject that Nikulas has painted over the years is still life, a common enough genre, so much so that it can be considered a challenge to take on this subject not as training but as a style. How do you find new threads in well-worn paths, after all?

“I’m more fascinated with repetition, composition, and perspective,” he says. “How far can I take this bottle or jar – modify it, diversify it, change it, without disguising its identity?”

‘Collector’s pieces’ by Nikulas Lebajo

At this point in his life, Lebajo shares that he wants to start giving back to the bigger art community, encouraging younger creators to towards a steady practice amidst finding their voice.

“I will be forever grateful to my father for the creative genes,” and the late National Artist Arturo Luz, who he cites as a supporter, he beams, wanting to pay it all forward as one form of gratitude.

Truly, art practice is not a race, but a marathon, and is best enjoyed with a team and ultimately a community of equally-dedicated practitioners, all cheering for the journeys of others, fellows, on the road.

To know more about Nikulas Lebajo, visit his Facebook page @NikulasLebajo, and follow his IG page @nikulaslebajo.

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