by Rica Arevalo
Modernist Cesar Legaspi is one of seven National Artists celebrating their birth centennial this year. In an exclusive interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, singer Celeste Legaspi talks about her relationship with her introvert father.
“On that particular year, 1917, ipinanganak sila, ang dami-dami nilang magaling! “Kasunod ng Papa ko si Nick Joaquin, sunod-sunod sila, puro National Artists!” (They were all born, all the extraordinary talented! After Papa was Nick Joaquin, they were all National Artists),” says Legaspi. “The preparations for the centennial came from tapang (being strong-willed) and the dedication to Papa. From the very beginning, we wanted to celebrate his centennial not to convince the people who already know him but we want him to be able to reach another group of people, that’s the youth, the future.”
Lying in State, a tribute to the 100th birthday of the National Artist for Visual Arts. is ongoing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines until June 4.
Celeste is the third of five siblings. “My Papa was simple. Artist siya pero hindi sya OA (overacting),” she says. “We never had moments that he was looking for inspiration.” For the color-blind artist, painting and drawing became a daily “office” job, working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with lunch break and siesta in between.
In the beginning, the family’s struggle was financial. For the longest time, the National Artist worked in advertising. “He would be painting in the morning before he left the office. Good thing there was no traffic then. Pag galing nya sa office in Escolta, mag pipinta din sya. Yung easel nya nasa tabi lang ng dining table namin. (After coming from his Escolta office, he would continue to paint. His easel was just beside our dining table). On Saturday, Sunday, that was all he was doing, painting. Then after he painted, he would draw.”
There was a time a lot of the paintings were just stored in the family garage because no one was buying them. “As a matter of fact, when my brother Dennis first went into IBM, right after college, his first salary was as big as or bigger than the salary of my father from advertising, and he had been there for 20 years!” recalls Celeste.
That episode stuck in Celeste’s mind. “I remember that day, he was so unhappy,” she says. “He realized, ‘Is this all there is?’ I think that gave him the impetus to see if there was something else.”
One of Legaspi’s biggest legacies is his unique technique. As a young teenager, Celeste would help her Papa identify the reds from the greens while he was painting. “The way he worked, layer by layer, nothing was mabilis (nothing was fast). If there was one thing he could teach the young, that’s it: You have to work hard, you have to focus, you really have to strive for excellence.”
Celeste knew she could sing well even when she was in kindergarten. Her Papa was supportive of her career.
“He would never critique except once, during the 1980s. I was already doing big concerts with Ryan Cayabyab,” she recalls. “He told me, ‘Maganda yang ginagawa mo kaya lang hindi original.’ Aray ko! (You’re doing well but you must be original. Ouch!)”
His biggest advice when she was at the peak of her career was, “‘Mag ingat ka kasi tingnan mo Mama mo, trabaho ng trabaho (Take care of yourself. Look at your mom, always working). That was the time she was exhibiting some symptoms of Alzeihmer’s. He wanted me to take care of my health.”
What does she miss about her father? Turning misty-eyed, she confesses: “I miss it that he is no longer there painting. We always were around him to see what he was doing and to chat with him. I miss that.”
Three of his major works, The Descent, Gadgets, and Games of Three are going to be streamed on giant LED billboards in Quiapo, C5, and EDSA this month.
“We are hoping to bring his art out of the museum and into the public. The goal is always beyond and behind Cesar Legaspi. He was a master who always wanted to learn,” says Celeste.
Call CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division at 02 832 1125 loc 1504 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. #CelebratingCesar | @CesarLegaspi.Org