By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — This summer, you have to get a chance to see the works of 104-year-old Philippine artist Manuel Rodriguez Sr. at the Philippine Center on 5th Avenue. “Mugna* – The Rodriguez Legacy” exhibits the collection of works of Mang Maning, touted as the father of Philippine contemporary Printmaking.
Born in Cebu City in 1915, he currently lives in Hernando County in Florida. He came to the US in 1976 when the Philippines was under martial law. Whether he created traditional or experimental painting, Rodriguez’s works is guided by a deep spiritual awareness and belief in the unity of people.
His Mugna exhibit opened on August 17 and will run until September 9, 2016. The Philippine Consulate honored Rodriguez as one of the modernist painters from the 1950s to 1970s in the Philippines.
Cebuano artist Celso Pepito shared his accolade to the grand artist. “More than his exceptional talent as an artist, what I deeply acknowledge in Mang Maning is his humility. As the father of Printmaking in the Philippines, he never spoke much of himself but shared his passion in creativity. His motive is always to inspire his fellow artists to explore, experiment and strive for excellence. It’s a bit sad that being an artist of great stature hasn’t made him one of our National Artists. I wish to congratulate Mang Maning for his continuing passion, good example and inspiration to Filipinos. Many thanks to the Philippine Center for giving him a homage show.”
In 2012, Pepito and his wife, artist Fe Madrid met with Mang Maning in the Bahamas. Pepito sketched the centenarian artist which to him was a chance of a lifetime.
Rodriguez Sr. is considered a parent in the graphic arts movement in the Philippines. He experimented on new tools and media and became known in his expressive distortion of forms and poetic symbols. Renowned artists Fernando and Pablo Amorsolo, Fabian de la Rosa, and Ramon Peralta mentored him while he finished his degree in Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines.
New York City artist June Pascal meanwhile remembers Mang Maning as an “awfully sweet man, gentle like the Buddha.” Pascal learned from him how to etch copper and print it for a couple of months of study in his studio on Broadway.
Rodriguez’s gift of visual creativity began to reveal at the young age of five where he would draw faces on a church wall with a piece of limestone. During moonless nights, Mang Maning entertained friends with his simulated movies using paper cut-outs on a white bed sheet as screen and illuminated by an oil lamp. (With photos by Celso Pepito and June Pascal)
*Mugna – Cebuano term for creation