ONE SATURDAY afternoon in 1968, artists Alfred Roces, H.R. Ocampo, Tony Quintos, and Enrique Velasco ate at the now defunct Taza de Oro restaurant in Malate, Manila. Saturday afternoons were spent bonding over roast beef sandwiches, visiting artists’ studio, seeing exhibitions together, discussing where to buy art supplies, and doing nude sketches together. From such simple beginnings developed what journalist Alya Honasan called “the premier art group of the Philippines.”

From the original four lunch mates, The Saturday Group has had 258 members and counting through the years, eight of whom were National Artists for the Visual Arts.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, The Saturday Group is holding an exhibit titled The Saturday Group GOLD at the Main Gallery of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). It highlights works by the group’s members from 1960s to the present including interaction paintings and the group’s signature nudes.

Through the years, the artists of The Saturday Group went through many evolutions of styles. The primary members of the group began with traditional painting styles like that of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, then later adopted the modern styles of National Artists Cesar Legaspi and Vicente Manansala which exhibit curator Ricky Francisco said were considered “debatable” styles at that time.

The exhibit also includes nude sketches and paintings. Nudes were a signature of the group as they also pioneered the first public nude art exhibition during their founding year. Abstracts from the 1980s and the whimsical paintings and installations of the present introduce the changes in everything from color palette usage to chosen subjects over time.

“You can characterize Philippine art with its evolution… The changes [in styles] today are no longer linear,” Mr. Francisco told BusinessWorld after the exhibit walkthrough, noting that styles evolve depending on the time and the previous definition of art.

“The artists are free to shift in their [painting] styles, but they still keep their previous style since the group practices it. Artists affect the work of other artists. When they do shows [together], their works need coherence,” he said.

Two or more artists working on one canvas is the simplest way to define the “interaction painting” pioneered by The Saturday Group. Artist Robert Deniega told BusinessWorld that the interactive artwork needs no planning, no theme, and no designated canvas division. The artist’s input adjusts to what was previously painted on the canvas. Mr. Deniega likened it to “a choir singing harmoniously” while he was painting the background of a work in progress — a canvas with two girls overlapped in a background filled with elements of nature. “Walang bidahan (no one-upmanship)” as the work has to be coordinated and parts may be enhanced.

The Saturday Group currently has 31 active career artist members, and members continue to hold individual exhibits abroad. The group has also extended to doing philantrophic endeavors, as well as partnering with schools and hosting workshops to create enthusiasm for budding artists.

In 2017, The Saturday Group opened its very first gallery at the Shangri-La Mall in Mandaluyong City. This year, the group plans to hold summer art workshops for children in the gallery.

The Saturday Group GOLD runs until May 6 at the CCP Main Gallery. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman