This new exhibit explores the darker side of Juvenal Sansó’s life and art

Fundacion Sansó presents the 'Sansó: Prized and Personal featuring the Marlon & Marissa Sanchez Collection'

When art enthusiasts think of a Juvenal Sansó masterpiece, what comes to mind are beautiful florals, serene landscapes, and look-at-me patterns and prints that are so wonderful they have been translated into fashion. What many don’t know much about is that, much like other distinct artists, Juvenal Sansó also went through a dark period in his life. 

That is what Fundacion Sansó’s latest exhibit is all about. Dubbed “Sansó: Prized and Personal featuring the Marlon & Marissa Sanchez Collection,” the sophomore exhibit of the series features no pretty flowers but moody bouquets, portraits of the denizens of Paris, and Brittany landscapes that have an ominous cast over them. 

Fundacion Sansó's Ricky Francisco with the collectors Marissa and Marlon Sanchez

The collection focuses on Sansó’s expressionist Dark Series or Black Period, including his Grotesqueries, his Black Series portraits created in the 1950s and 1960s in Paris, and Brittany series paintings. 

Marlon and Marissa started out as art dealers but eventually collected Sansó paintings instead of selling them. What transpired was love and deep respect for the artist and his work, and their collection gives Filipinos a detailed look at one of Sansó’s seminal art phases. 

'The Trapper,' 'Wrapped in Fur,' and 'The Beret'

According to Marissa, “When you see his Dark Series, you’re struck by a deep emotion. You could see how his trauma is translated as art.” 

“You see his heart,” Marlon adds. ”He is not one-dimensional, unlike many successful artists.”

This Black Period was Sansó’s way of dealing with his wartime trauma. After migrating to Manila from Reus, Spain in 1934, his family lived a relatively comfortable life until World War II broke out. The teenage Sansó was mistaken by Japanese soldiers as an American and was badly beaten. Soon after, he was critically injured during the carpet-bombing of Manila. He survived his severe injuries and became a conductor for the bus his father operated in the post-war city. 

'The Waiting Rocks'

These two episodes scarred him emotionally. As an art student at the University of the Philippines and later while sitting in on classes at the University of Santo Tomas, the artist decided to eschew the happy, bucolic Filipino scenes that were popular themes. His painting “The Incubus,” which won him the grand prize at the Art Association of the Philippines, showed early traces of this dark period. It is described by Fundacion Sansó director Ricky Francisco in the book “After the Deluge Comes the Dawn” as “nearly too grotesque to be human, reflected the trauma from his horrific and dehumanizing experiences of the war, and it was a clear departure from what was socially acceptable as fine art back then.” 

His unhappiness continued in 1951 when he moved to Europe for his art education.  That was the time, Sansó fully embraced the Black Period, as per art scholar Rod. Paras-Perez. Instead of drawing elegant Parisiennes, he focuses on the underbelly of the city—the smirking habitues of its cafés, comical Can-Can dancers, and other characters bordering on the monstrous.

'The Glasses'

One of the artworks displayed in the exhibit is the “Thick Glasses,” Marlon’s favorite Sansó work. The piece was only featured in black-and-white print in the catalog “Sansó: Nature and the Artist in 1,000 Works”, published in 1976. Now, it comes in full color for the first time.

Another piece guests must not miss is the “Shining Waters,” a 1977 Brittany landscape. Comparing the present work to its 1988 photo, one could clearly see Sansó’s later amendments, which include painting over the central rock protrusion, moving the moon to the right, adding a sailboat, and brightening it overall.  

“When you bring a light near a Dark Series work, you’ll be surprised by all the details,” Marissa says. “You start with what is obvious. And then as your eyes get accustomed to it, you see hues of red, blue, or black…and you see more details as you look further.” 

Marlon adds that once museum-goers and art enthusiasts are exposed to these particular works, they would love it. “I think a lot of people are just not aware of the Black Series…we have friends who see these works, and when we tell them they’re by Sansó, they always exclaim, ‘Wow! These are great!’” 

“Sansó: Prized and Personal Featuring the Marlon and Marissa Sanchez Collection” runs until Aug. 2 at Fundacion Sansó, 32 V. Cruz St., Brgy. Sta. Lucia, San Juan City.

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