We Heart Art! Visiting the Arts Capital of the Philippines

Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art. 

We had an incredibly fun whole-day tour around the Art Capital of the Philippines early last February, which just happened to be National Arts Month!

My officemate, Billi, who lives in Rizal, thought it would be a good idea if we all went on this little artsy trip. She set the whole thing up ('coz she's awesome like that). :) Kuya Lito, our tour guide, brought us to the best places, and we are so grateful.

Aside from E and I, the group included our highschool classmate - Gia, Billi, her friends - Estee and Monch, our SSI friend - Nikki, and a couple of UP tourism students who were there to "observe" us for their thesis. Such a diverse group. :)

We went around national artists' houses, museums, art galleries, a life-size-sculpture factory, had lunch at an exotic restaurant and looked at ancient rock carvings. All that, plus, we were extra lucky because we got a rare chance to meet some of the very talented artists living in the area. 

It was a very visual day for us - one of those days that made me extra grateful for the gift of sight. A whole day of immersing yourself in beauty does wonders to the soul.  And the passion that these artists have for what they do is just so inspiring. 

Must-See Places a.k.a. Our Rizal Itinerary:

1. Pinto Art Museum, Antipolo 

A happy marriage of art, architecture and nature, the Pinto Art Museum deserves more than the one hour we spent there. (We were on a very strict schedule because of the number of places we had to visit!)

I look forward to spending a day just strolling in its gardens, leisurely looking at the beautiful works of art and enjoying a good book over coffee at the Pinto Cafe (which is run by Bizu, by the way). Someday.

It's a great place for weddings and events, and a couple I know (identity withheld for now,haha) plans on having their pre-nuptial photo shoot in this place because of its Mediterranean-inspired vibe.



2. Yab! Design, Angono

This place, we were extra lucky to have been allowed entrance to. Normally, they're closed on weekends. Also, they don't usually allow "tourists" like us into their show room. It's mainly for their potential clients. (Who knows, though? We just might order some life-size figures someday. I'm now giddy at the thought.haha)

Yab! Design is a company that produces "hand-made decorations, mainly out of polyester resin, reinforced fiberglass and specialize in life-size and bigger-than-life figurines of all sorts."

Their showroom is huge, at 1,200 square meters. We were mesmerized by their expansive collection of products. It was room after room of interesting figures - from jungle animals and dinosaurs, to famous fictional characters, to world-renowned personalities like Elvis and Marilyn, to really creative furniture and restaurant ornaments. You name it, they can make it for you. Photos aren't allowed inside the showroom, so all we have are shots with the items displayed outside. Still a lot of fun. :)

3. Balaw-Balaw Restaurant

When visiting Agono, they say that the Balaw-Balaw Restaurant shouldn't be missed. The restaurant is named after a local specialty, balaw-balaw, which is a native sauce made of fermented shrimp paste mixed with rice.

They're famous for serving exotic dishes with ingredients like frogs (nilasing na palaka), beetles (ginataang uok), crickets (kamaru), cow's balls (soup no. 5), eels (palos), monitor lizard (bayawak), python (sawa), etc. If you're looking for an interesting meal, this is the place to be. We were extremely hungry and didn't want to risk ordering something we might not like, so the most exotic thing we tried was the nilasing na palaka. It's true what they say - that frog tastes like chicken. It's just not meaty enough. If you're not that adventurous, they do serve "normal" food and delicious local specialties. The place is pretty famous and was packed when we visited.

The upper floors of the restaurant serve as a folk art museum. The museum features artworks by Angono artist Perdigon Volcan. There is absolutely no risk of getting bored while waiting for your food to be served. For a few minutes, we actually forgot we were hungry. 

4. Nemiranda Art House

Our next stop was the Nemiranda Art House. Owned by renowned artist, Nemesio "Nemi" Miranda (Nemiranda), this gallery features the works of the Nemiranda and his five children. It also serves as their home studio. With such talent, they filled the space with enchanting relief murals, wood sculptures, drawings and lots and lots of paintings. 

5. Angono Petroglyphs

They call it the oldest work of art in the country. Discovered by National Artist Carlos "Botong" Francisco during a camping trip, the Angono Petroglyphs (sometimes referred to as the Angono-Binangonan Petrogylphs) feature rock engravings dating back to 3000 B.C. 

To get to the site, we had to pass through a man-made tunnel that cuts through a mountain. This short-cut was made specifically to give people easy access to this cultural heritage site.

Seeing the petroglyphs for the first time gave me a feeling like I was traveling back in time. It was surreal staring at something that people made in 3000 B.C. (That's... 5,000 years ago?) We saw engravings of human figures and some animals like turtles and lizards. Since the engravings weren't inside a cave (where pre-historic people presumably found shelter) but in an open area, archeologists believe that this was a place where the tribes usually convened for some ceremonial activities. Just imagining this gave me chills. 

6. Blanco Museum

The Blanco Family Museum is the second family gallery that we went to. Jose "Pitok" Blanco, his wife and their seven children ALL paint, and the talent flows through the generations, including Tatay Pitok's grandchildren. One particular artwork was a collaboration done by the whole family! How cool is that?

Aside from the amazing paintings of Pitok Blanco, the journey through the Blanco Family Museum is impressive because you literally go through the artistic life of each family member. Paintings and drawings are arranged chronologically, from the first colorful scribbles at 2 years old, to the most recent creations. Growing up in an artistic family, I guess there's just no way to avoid your creative side. By the time the Blanco children turn 7, their paintings look so real - something a regular 7 year old could never do (and well, something I couldn't even paint right now). What's more inspiring is that Pitok Blanco's wife started painting at 40 (or somewhere close to that age) and her work's not bad at all. I guess there is hope for us, after all.

Lucky us, we met two of the Blanco siblings - Michael and Peter Paul. :)

7. Doña Aurora Street

We then took a stroll along the famous Doña Aurora street which features murals created in honor of Angono artists Carlos "Botong" Francisco (National Artist for Painting) and Lucio San Pedro (National Artist for Music). The murals were recreated by local artist Charlie Anorico based on artwork by Botong Francisco. One part of the street featured murals wherein the lyrics and notes of San Pedro's popular "Sa Ugoy ng Duyan" were engraved.

8. Carlos Botong Francisco Art House

Along Doña Aurora Street, we stopped by the house of the late Botong Francisco. There, we saw his old studio, as well as some memorabilia from his very interesting life. His grandson, Carlos "Totong" Francisco II was the one who showed us around. Currently, he remains to be the only member of the family continuing his grandfather's legacy. Outside Botong Francisco's studio was Totong Francisco's gallery which featured a lot of colorful abstract paintings.

9. Orville Tiamson's House

When we stopped by the sea side area, we bumped into artist-slash-musician Orville Tiamson. He invited us to his home and we just couldn't pass up the chance. 

Upon entering the gate, we immediately saw his beautifully lit home studio. We could smell freshly burning incense and ambient music filled the air. Talk about a multi-sensory experience! :)

Mr. Tiamson was such a gracious host and he answered our many questions and took time to explain his paintings, a lot of which were a mix of cubism and realism (I'm no expert, but I think that's what he said). He also played us some cool electronic music. 

He's so nice, I heard Billi and Nikki talking to him about possible painting lessons in the future. ;) Can't wait for your own art galleries, girls!

We covered so many places in one day and we were dead tired by the time we went home. But it was so much fun and interesting. Filipino talent is truly impressive. :)