Below are excerpts from a 2013 article published in BusinessWorld‘s High Life magazine, which featured sculptural works at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The sculptures included those made by National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon V. Abueva.
BusinessWorld high life, May 2013
By Ma. Victoria T. Herrera
Art critic Alice Guillermo cites Napoleon Abueva as the one “who tilted the balance from the conservative classicism of Maestro Guillermo Tolentino… to modernism in the decade of the Fifties marked by artistic ferment.”
Abueva’s versatility is evident in his handling of medium and expressions.
In his more than six decades of art practice, he has explored a wide range of materials in metal, stone, and wood. But he admits to be happiest working on the rich grain and natural textures of Philippine hardwoods through the process of direct carving. Abueva’s forms are simplified and stylized representations of nature such as the carabao, the fish, rural folk, the family, and the female body. He considers his purely abstract works as a means of problem solving, capturing the essence of structure. In 1964, Abueva, together with Jose Joya, represented the Philippines when the country first participated in the prestigious Venice Biennale. His entry was similar to the Allegorical Harpoon (1964), which takes off from an improvised fishing implement with a strong directional thrust. He incorporated the element of movement, as the two horizontal sections are designed to rotate manually, as if aiming for the kill.
Abueva’s interest in the functional side of sculpture is quite Modern in perspective. He notes: “I work on functional objects on the basis of sculptural problems, rather than utilitarian objectives, as diversion from pure sculpture.” He has designed various functional works including playground elements, doors, chairs, and benches. One of his early designs may be found within and outside the CCP Main Theater Building. Abueva conceived of the “scoop out bench” as a feature for Leandro Locsin’s concrete structure, which he later translated into wooden benches.
Abueva’s Modernism remains strongly grounded in Philippine culture such as in his sculpture titled Hilojan (1981). The title refers to the stone and wood press used to mash buntal fibers extracted from the young unopened leaves of the buri or talipot palm tree. Designed to facilitate a constant rolling movement, Hilojan follows the same principles but employs weight from hardwoods-molave and narra-together with round stones anchored at the bottom. The artist originally conceived of the work as composed of various wooden components meant to fit together like a puzzle. In 1996, Abueva reinforced them with metal screws and bolts to ensure the safety of visitors.