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Recreating the artist’s studio: A room full of Malang

By Susan A. De Guzman Published Jun 10, 2021 4:09 pm

Any moment, you expect the artist to walk in and go about his daily work in his studio.

The drawing board has been slanted to his preferred angle. All his implements are neatly laid out on a side table—assorted paintbrushes, an improvised palette made up of mug-shaped shot glasses still encrusted with colors.

There is even a transistor radio for listening to music or the occasional news report while painting. On the wall, there is a color chart that he himself made serving as a guide for combinations to use. And on the easel stands a finished piece, as if it’s just waiting to dry.

The renovated Malang Room now features a recreation of the artist’s studio, giving visitors a sense of how he once worked on his paintings.

In the renovated Malang Room, this recreated workspace of the late master—primarily known for his trademark women vendors—is a new feature but is also its most poignant. It is a scene seemingly frozen in time, and for those who loved and knew Malang, the memories come alive at the mere sight of the brushes and the faint whiff of paint.

For Soler, the youngest of Malang’s four children, being able to reopen the reconfigured Malang Room in time for the artist’s fourth death anniversary today, June 10, and just a little over a week before Father’s Day (June 20) is special.

It is, after all, a thoughtful tribute to a beloved father whose innate artistry and relentless work ethic resulted in a prolific output over several decades.

Implements Malang once used—assorted paintbrushes, an improvised palette made up of mug-shaped shot glasses still encrusted with color, and a transistor radio that once played music as the artist painted.

But this undertaking, which took several months, was admittedly uncanny at times as Soler would sense—being among his father’s things—that he was just around. “Nakaka-miss kasi talaga si Tatay,” he says, recalling the banter, the chats, and many moments shared especially when Malang would pause from his work.

In 2010, when Malang was already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, Soler felt the need to celebrate the elder artist’s life and work in a tangible way—while the latter could still see it.
Malang loved painting women vendors. 

In making over the Malang Room, Soler felt it was important to highlight not just the artist’s works but also a feel of the surroundings where these were created. Putting together a smaller version of his father’s studio was easily done as Malang left behind so many of his used paintbrushes and art tools. Even the backing papers that would catch excess brushstrokes as the artist worked on his paintings had been left intact.

Paintings from various phases in Malang’s career fill up the walls.

Soler marvels, “Hindi siya nagtatapon ng gamit kahit upod na ‘Yung mga brush na upod na, siguro preference naman niya na gamitin ang dry brush.” (He didn’t throw stuff away even if they were already worn. The worn brushes, probably it’s because of his preference to use dry brush.)

Nine uniformly framed drawings are part of a grid of 25 works of varying sizes and styles paying tribute to women, one of Malang’s favorite themes.

In 2010, when Malang was already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, Soler felt the need to celebrate the elder artist’s life and work in a tangible way—while the latter could still see it.

Soler remembers finding photographs, trophies, old sketches, clippings and memorabilia just stored away in cabinets and boxes. With the support of his siblings, Steve, Simon and Sarah, and wife Mona Santos, he identified a space in the family-owned Marisan Building in Quezon City (where Soler’s West Gallery is also located) where he could organize and present the unearthed materials.

Framed samples of Malang’s popular 1960s comic strip, Kosme the Cop (Retired). In front are fiberglass reinforced resin figures based on the strip’s lead characters, Kosme and his nagger wife, made by Secret Fresh Gallery in 2018.

Thus, the original Malang Room was born. Soler refrained from calling it a museum, saying it is too small to be one, and since it was aimed primarily just for family and friends. Artists who exhibited at the West Gallery would also be invited to see it, with many expressing surprise at the range of Malang’s works spanning from his early cartooning years to his transition into a full-time painter making urbanscapes and his barong-barong series, floral abstractions and his colorful women vendors.

Soler says visitors enjoyed what they saw in the old Malang Room, so they later opened it for public viewing on a by-appointment basis. Over the past year, with various levels of quarantine being imposed, it became a lean season for Marisan’s in-house staff that included carpenters and electricians. Soler decided they could work instead on the Malang Room which he thought was due for an overhaul.

Awards and citations won through decades of an artistic career are shown on the walls and in display cases.

The renovation has expanded to cover the entire fifth level, with a floor area of approximately 400 sqm. There are now more spaces to hang paintings and exhibition posters, accommodate display cases showing books, medals and sketches, as well as nooks where visitors can relax or maybe even have an art session.

Soler’s wife Mona, meantime, who became a plantita over the pandemic months, suggested fixing the balcony area as well. So there is now a pocket garden outdoors with a seating area where guests may also enjoy a view of the surrounding areas.

Posters of some of Malang’s exhibitions are displayed in one area.

In keeping with Malang’s advocacy to make art accessible to as many people as possible, the Malang Room offers free admission. Those interested should just call ahead of time to schedule their visit. When pandemic restrictions are eased, Soler adds, the plan is to invite art schools to send students in small groups.

Soler says there are still many possibilities for the Malang Room, so it will continue to be a work in progress. As he sifts through more accumulated materials, changes may keep being made in the displayed items. He also wants to put in more informative labels, and to eventually produce a brochure on Malang and his art to give away to visitors. “This is our way of honoring our Tatay’s colorful life.”

Guests may sit for a while in the pocket garden found in the balcony adjacent to the Malang Room.

(The renovated Malang Room is now open to the public, by appointment, located at Level 5, Marisan Building, 48 West Avenue, Quezon City. Gallery hours are Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For inquiries, call West Gallery at 3411-0336.)