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Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future

Renato and Guerrero Habulan, father and son






Naked and Sacred, Mixed Media on Canvas, 2019. Guerrero Habulan. Images by Eskinita Art Gallery


While collaborations draw interest from viewers who hunger to see the fruits of the synergy, the excitement is heightened in the case of Renato Habulan, a legend who paved the way for social realism as we know it today, and Guerrero Habulan, lauded for cultivating one of the strongest voices in the modern art scene, whose collaboration provides insight on the dynamics that exist between father and son, teacher and student, tradition and modernity.

These were contradictions explored in Renato and Guerrero’s fifth collaborative show, “Ama, Anak: Sangandaan,” hosted by Eskinita Art Gallery, for Art Fair Philippines 2019 at The Link.

Liwanag ng Alitaptap II, Oil on Canvas, 2018, Renato Habulan

Liwanag ng Alitaptap II, Oil on Canvas, 2018, Renato Habulan


For Renato, a fundamental paradox lies in the heart of the relationship between an older artist and his younger counterparts, largely exemplified by his relationship with his own son. As a traditional social realist, he prefers to focus on his subjects, mostly peasants and workers. “I reflect their true situation,” he says.



Guerrero Habulan and Renato Habulan


A fourth-generation social realist and part of the third generation after the EDSA Revolution, Guerrero, on the other hand, favors a lighter presentation of his subjects, with a more satirical and comical approach. “He takes a swipe at situations like poverty, oppression, colonization through a form of contrast to drive his message across,” Renato says of his son’s work, which largely favors pop culture forms.



Liwanag ng Alitaptap I, Oil on Canvas, 2018, Renato Habulan

For Guerrero, the paradox makes the whole process more interesting, adding that while it can be challenging to share common techniques and subjects with his father, somehow they each manage to create a different mood. This, he says, came naturally. “We see each other a lot,” Guerrero says. “We often brainstorm, sometimes with the whole family, discussing art, life. We travel together, observe, and engage with people and the environment until, without knowing it, there is something cooked so well that is ready to be served.”



Another One Bites the Dust, Mixed Media on Canvas, 2019, Guerrero Habulan

Sometimes, the father and son grapple with a “push and pull of ideas.”

“Some arguments happen,” Guerrero admits, adding that they always manage to conceptualize a show that is strongly reflected of their individual artistic identities.

For Renato, “Sangandaan” not only exemplifies the dialectics of their relationship, but it also objectifies it. “Same fire, same passion shown in the use of imagery, size, and stroke,” he explains.


Sheltered, Mixed Media on Canvas, 2018, Guerrero Habulan

Sheltered, Mixed Media on Canvas, 2018, Guerrero Habulan

Speaking of his own development, Guerrero recalls being surrounded by his father’s works from when he was as young as five. “I used to sit with him when he painted, so I guess some of my techniques and approach in realism I got from him.” As he grew older, he adds, he managed to create his own visual identity to achieve “a new face for social realism.”


Haplit sa mga Supling, Oil on Canvas, 1985, Renato Habulan

Haplit sa mga Supling, Oil on Canvas, 1985, Renato Habulan


Renato adds: “In the approach of realism, I am more crude and raw, sometimes with a hint of naivety— very traditional in my subject and center of interest. Guerrero is more free in deconstructing his figures. He even conjoins his figures but his rendering is refined and very skilled to the point that it looks like photorealism. I use a photograph to show the exact condition of my subject. Most of the time, it is candid. That’s why my reference is blurred. Guerrero uses photographs to play with it, destroying and deconstructing the imagery.”

Reflecting on how generational differences impact their individual artistic identities, Renato points to the fact that the artist and his art form is shaped by the socio-political condition of his country and the environment. “Does the political repression drive the creative expression of the artist? Or is it the economic boom that pushes the artist to be more creative and productive?” he asks.

Whatever the answer may be, Guerrero firmly believes in the importance of guidance. “Finding balance is hard nowadays,” he says. “But it is true younger artists could benefit more fully from the wisdom of older artists.”

As for his own thoughts on the progress of social realism, Guerrero stresses that he believes social realism is only going to get bigger. “There will be new elements but it will always opt for the same mood,” he says. “The fire is always present in Social Realism. It will make the people recognize and parallel the present condition.”

Given their wealth of experience and wisdom, the creative interaction between Renato and Guerrero serves as a visual exploration of two niggling questions in the local art scene today: Where did we come from and where are we going?



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