By Sara Grace C. Fojas
Photos by Pinggot Zulueta
An awardwinning cartoonist, illustrator, and visual artist, Mauro “Malang” Santos was an icon and an inspiration in the Philippine art scene. Last Saturday, he died due to a lingering illness. He was 89.
Malang’s creative journey started when he studied drawing when he was 10. At 19, he had to quit attending art classes at the University of the Philippines Diliman and finished only one term at the College of Fine Arts in order to work. Then and there, he decided to turn his passion into profession by entering the now defunct newspaper Manila Chronicle’s art department where he apprenticed for Liborio “Gat” Gatbonton. While he was there, he gave birth to the familiar characters of Kosme, the Cop, Retired, the first daily English comic strip of the evening edition of the newspaper, and Chain Gang Charlie. He also became a graphic designer for the paper and its magazine This Week. The magazine was a significant time in his career for there he met the neo-realist and avant-garde artist H.R. Ocampo who was his immediate boss at the magazine. In 1965, he took Ocampo’s advice and started painting full time.
From that time, his creations started earning prestigious recognitions in the art scene. In 1957, Philippine Art Gallery founder Lyd Arguilla included him in the Who’s Who list in the art scene. The Art Directors Guild of the Philippines conferred him the Award for Editorial Design in 1958. He was included in the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines in 1963. In 1964, the Society of the Philippine Illustrators named him as Artist of the Year. The City of Manila awarded him with Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award in 1981. And, in 1994, he was given the highest award given by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Gawad CCP para sa Sining.
His signature paintings were women garbed in traditional dresses bearing fruits in a basket or on a bilao, folks caught in the hustle and bustle of the big city, in jeepneys, kalesa, and rustic houses. Later on, he leapt into abstract, getting inspiration from Ang Kiukok and Vicente Manansala, but he retained his every day sceneries of landscapes, barrios, women,and men.
Some of his paintings won awards from the annual Art Association of the Philippines competition such as Street Fight, Traffic, The Yellow Sky, Quarter Moon, and Gate to Intramuros.
But his work didn’t stop there. He loved art so much that he wanted it to be always accessible to his fellowmen. He created a gallery showcasing cartoons called Bughouse and launched Art for the Masses, a project that paved the way for art to be more accessible to art lovers.
Malang was a legend in the local art world, and a role model to the local artists in the Philippines. His paintings always sells and though he might have left the planet, his works still live on his children and inside the household of art enthusiasts who noticed his great talent from the very start.
He was blessed with wife Mary San Pedro, who passed away in 2002, and four children: Steve, Simon, Sarah, and Soler. (With reports from Pam Brooke Casin)