Abe Orobia The Painter & Educator - NXUP
Painter and Educator
(A special report from the Philippines)
Reported by: Raymond Gilbert “R.G.” Gallardo
Produced by: Myrtle Ruaza
Fine art painters…nothing more intimidates me as a correspondent than writing about them. I don’t know if I could give justice to their masterful works with just a few paragraphs. What’s particularly challenging about this report is the artist in this story.
Let me give you a brief background: I was meeting Rogelio Orabia, also known as Maestro Orobia, a nationally renowned painter in the Philippines, on a personal visit. Maestro Orobia is among one of the most well-respected artists in the country but instead of talking about himself, he could not stop talking about his son, Eleazar Abraham Luna Orobia or Abe Orobia. For our American readers, let me just point out the surname Luna and in particular the artist, Juan Luna. He is the famed 19th-century Filipino painter. Abe is Juan Luna’s great grandson and his father, Rogelio is so proud of him…naturally, I got curious. His father arranged a visit for me and my producer to one of Abe’s lectures in the prestigious School of Design and Arts at the College of St. Benilde.
For some reason, we expected a middle-aged, scholarly professor. We were astonished to see a young and stylish lecturer who’s able to chat and exchange jokes with his students; maybe our idea of renowned painters and professors were wizened men with funny hats. Abe is definitely a well-liked professor, and I thought that it’s because he is just one of those cool art teachers; but once he started with his demonstration, it became apparent that he is quite popular not only because of his personality but also his mastery of his skill. Abe is a gifted artist. Another thing that stood out is his ability to teach. “Sometimes we (professors) let them (students) make a ‘ruckus’ and speak their minds,” he said, like a parent making excuses for the behaviors of his rambunctious and opinionated kids.
After a brief demonstration with whiteboard sketching, he proceeded with his pastel drawing without smudging — his signature technique; it could be particularly tricky to end up with a satisfactory work if you gave up the added benefit of dreamy, ethereal, and subtle outlines that “smudging” offers in pastel drawings.
At the age of ten, Abe Orobia was awarded at the Malacañang Presidential Palace with the Young Achievers Awardee for Arts and Culture; it should not have been a surprised to me that a painter with that calibre lectures at the esteemed Ayala Museum, at the heart of downtown Ayala Center in Makati City—the Philippines’ Manhattan in New York City. I was definitely impressed, not every painter could get a gig inside the famed museum. Abe Orobia showed his usual dexterity in sketching with cool and charm while giving a lesson. “Well, my experience was beyond awesome! Sir Abe Orobia is very excellent at teaching arts. I learn fast when he is teaching. He’s the very best!” Janelle Lansangan Losaria, a second year student from Las Piñas East National High School said.
I was graciously invited by the Orobia’s for their Art Exhibit with other famed painters; Alfred Capiral and Dan Libor at Alabang Country Club last May 2nd. The place was packed with art enthusiasts and patrons. “Abe Orobia’s creations provide the public with understanding that art could be a great venue where you can express social relevance in a creative way, and a great instrument as well, in quest for social reform.” Minnie Cosme, an art enthusiast, proclaimed when asked what fascinated her about Abe Orobia’s work. Abe Orobia’s attempts on social awareness on issues long forgotten could be read in the June 8, 2016, article by Edgar O. Cruz from the Daily Tribune; it highlighted Abe Orobia’s work “Ang Birhen ng Ferris Wheel (The Ferris Wheel Virgin, 48” x 24” oil canvas, 2016). According to Mr. Cruz’s article:
“Depicted as a fully accessorized bare-breasted Igorota maiden with a Ferris wheel as halo to symbolize commercialization of Cordillera culture, Abe Luna Orobia’s 48” x 24” oil canvas, ‘Ang Birhen ng Ferris Wheel’ (Ang Unang Perya) (2016), is an allegorical work that comments on how the natives were displayed as living exhibits at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Entitled‘Philippine Living Exhibits,’ it is blurbed as ‘better than a trip through the Philippine Island’…”
Having no authority in Philippine fine arts—no less in explaining the mind of Abe Orobia—let me venture in expounding on this particular work. First, let me setup the background: An Igorota is a female member of the indigenous Igorot tribe or Cordillerans ethnic group of the Philippines who mainly inhabit the mountainous region of northern Luzon. During the last years of the 19th century when the United States of America had just wrestled the Philippines from the Spanish Crown, there was considerable public interest in the United States regarding the Southeast Asian country. The “Philippine Living Exhibits” in 1904 may have been an attempt to satisfy the Americans’ curiosity. In my defense, I don’t think that people need not much elaboration upon seeing the “Ang Birhen ng Ferris Wheel” painting, it is a powerful image, albeit from the imaginations of Abe Orobia, on how discomforting the experience might have been for the Igorota who was among the 1,000 indigenous displayed in the “living exposition.”
Symbolism is an integral part of Abe Orobia’s works, and he is often available to explain the metaphors to every admirer of his works who would ask. Let me boldly claim that I think that is who Abe Orobia is— maybe more than a celebrated painter—he is a tireless educator.
(R.G. Gallardo is the blogger of RG Los Angeles Stories, author of the young adult fiction Survivors and Survivors Part II: After the Pandemic, and founder of the non-profit organization Filipino Educators of Tomorrow whose mission is to empower innovative and visionary future Filipino teachers www.facebook.com/
Myrtle Ruaza is a freelance hair and makeup artist and coordinator of Filipino Educators of Tomorrow in Manila, Philippines.)