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From spontaneous realism to Amorsolo adaptations

By ALFRED A. YUSON, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 09, 2023 5:00 am

Self-taught as a pastel artist, Celeste Lecaroz believes in manifesting the power of colorful art to create communities and depict cultural and societal realities. As a former news anchor and researcher, she actively promoted creative arts through hands-on involvement in various professional associations.

Her educational background includes primary schooling in what used to be Maryknoll College, an AB Special Science degree from Ateneo, and some M.A. units in Education (Reading Major) at UP Diliman.

Celeste Lecaroz beside a homage to Amorsolo

She had her first solo exhibit, Color Me Hero, at Miriam College in 2016, then joined a group exhibit at UST Museum later that year. In 2017, she turned over two acrylic paintings of the Jones Bridge to the Virginia County Museum as gifts of the Philippine government in commemoration of the Philippine Autonomy Act centennial. 

In 2018, she organized Vicente Romero Redondo’s visit to Manila as part of the 3rd National Pastel Convention of the Philippine Pastel Artists, Inc. Later that year, she had a one-woman show, Spontanrealismus Lecaroz, at Gateway Gallery. She hasn’t looked back since, mounting solo exhibits in 2019—Center and Periphery at the NCCA in Intramuros and Honoring Filipino Tycoons and Entrepreneurs at The Peninsula Manila.

She has also actively joined group shows, including those with The Saturday Group at EDSA Shangri-La Mall in March and at Art Lounge Manila, Podium, in July this year, after she was invited to join the prestigious group last year. Current group exhibits she’s in are with the USTMAAAA for Gilas, Puso, Buhay at the Philippine Center Building in San Francisco till November, and the Kislap-Diwa Interaction and Exhibition of 12 Artists and 12 Poets at the National Museum of Anthropology till February 2024.

In the relatively few years she has painted professionally, she says she developed two distinct styles: spontaneous realism and classical. The former she picked up from an Austrian artist, Voka, whose video she saw on the internet in 2015.

Celeste articulates clearly the phases of her rapid development as a visual artist:

“Drawing with paint is in essence what spontaneous realism is. I did develop my own approach, however, since I noticed a particular quality of certain colors when juxtaposed with others. Chromostereopsis is when the colors manifest depth, which is a function of their strength compared with the one it sits next to.

After completing the body of work, I understood how much a master of light Amorsolo was, and it was mostly that aspect of his works that I translated to my canvas.

“The latter style, classical, is home, a default mode, comfort zone for my brain. The stories that I want to convey when I’m using this style are about peace, tranquility, nostalgia, and history.”

Her first classical-style body of work was her sisterhood series in pastel in 2019, with her show in Gallery Y selling out. 

“Pangarap,” soft pastel on panel

“It depicted the special bond shared by women of any age, from across distances, and despite cultural barriers. Today’s wide range of pastel colors makes it easy for one to avoid mixing paints, something I still wasn’t keen on getting skilled at.

“The women in my sisterhood series are timeless though clad in turn-of-the-century wardrobe. The wardrobe, though many find beautiful, aims to show viewers how we can sometimes be trapped in our thinking that values are time-bound.”

Lecaroz’ latest solo exhibit was Redux: A Homage to Maestro Fernando Amorsolo, at Galerie Anna in SM Megamall last May. It was one she had always dreamt of painting in spontaneous realism style. She proposed the concept to Nandy Lazo, the son of Sylvia Amorsolo Lazo. He replied that it was perfect timing, as they had also thought of looking for an artist who could depict his lolo’s body of work into something contemporary.

“Mga Panahon ng Biyaya,” acrylic on canvas

“We signed a licensing agreement and I went ahead choosing the paintings from the Foundation’s published coffee-table books. The exercise was a humbling one. It was a challenge to paint the iconic compositions on huge canvases. After completing the body of work, I understood how much a master of light Amorsolo was, and it was mostly that aspect of his works that I translated to my canvas.

“I may not have paint streaks running down the surface since I’m using paper, but even with this dry medium, I lean more toward broad and loose strokes using my pastel sticks. This gives the non finito feel of rendering, keeping it edgy, some forms emerging, there not there, done in total abandon. Because this is what I want to capture, an energy that always wanted to be painted, to make its mark for viewers to see. Something that says I’m still here, it’s great to be alive!”

A mother of three sons. Celeste keeps herself occupied with many other activities, among these swimming and bird photography. She also serves as president of San Anselmo Publications, Inc., with her husband, writer-lawyer Marvin Aceron as executive publisher. She has done the cover art for several books published by their imprint, including Confessions of an Ex-Jesuit by Dr. Ibarra Gonzalez; Servant Leader Leni Robredo by Prof. Ed Garcia, edited by Danton Remoto; Companions! XJ Narratives edited by Gémino H. Abad, Ruben L.F. Habito, and Ed Garcia; and the December 2022 issue of the Santelmo quarterly journal of art and literature.

“Next year I’ll be dabbling in oil, a medium that for me is both subtle and complex. I believe that with its complexity would come images that are unsettling and provoking. As an artist I believe it is also my role to make viewers uneasy, to push boundaries, even alarm. I can’t wait until it’s time to show them.”