, January 26, 2005  (STARWEEK) By JVM Francisco  -  The artist known as Malang celebrated his 77th birthday last Thursday and in true Malang fashion opened what might probably be his 77th show, entitled "7+7", at the Crucible Gallery. The show features seven works on canvas and seven works on paper, but it could just as easily be showing 77 artworks, for the artist Malang is an indefatigable, industrious painter, and there are certainly more than 77 women in his artist’s mind waiting to make their appearance on canvas and paper.

In the year 2000, to celebrate the new millennium, Malang–Mauro Malang Santos on official documents–held a retrospective exhibit of 200 paintings, which transformed into a book. Now, more than four decades after his first solo show at the Philippine Art Gallery (in 1962), Malang is still "happiest when I paint", and this he does every day.

He paints "freely and unencumbered", in gouache and oil pastel, on canvasses large and small, on paper too. His paintings, it has been said, "celebrate the Philippine landscape, its people and their traditions with rapturous, fiesta colors. His sunny outlook of life shines through his works."

"Sunny" may be too trite a term to describe Malang’s outlook on life, but he certainly is no dark brooding artist locked up in an attic. Laughter, full and resounding, comes easily, as do the quip and riposte.

He spends a lot of time with young artists, particularly in his role as current de facto "Tatay" of the Saturday Group, artists who get together every week for sketching sessions. The group has a long and distinguished history, at one time or another counting among its "members"–for it is not a formal organization, with card-carrying and dues-paying members–National Artists and the biggest names in contemporary Philippine art.

The tale of Malang’s artistic journey has oft been told, a self-taught painter who began his career as a comic strip illustrator (there are still many who recall with nostalgic fondness Kosme the Cop, Retired, Malang’s strip in the old Manila Chronicle). He set up, in 1955 with four other cartoonists including Larry Alcala, a gallery specializing in cartoons–the only one–called the Bughouse. He spent only one semester studying art at the University of the Philippines, and six months at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, California.

In essence, Malang just picked up his brush and painted, although this may sound overly simplistic. He often speaks of commitment and dedication, and these are words he lives by. He tells young artists to "paint, paint, paint and pray"–a formula tried and tested in his own life and career.

The awards have been many, including a TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men awards from the Jaycees in 1963), a Gawad CCP (from the Cultural Center of the Philippines), Artist of the Year (from the Society of Pilippine Illustrators and Cartoonists in 1964) and a Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan (from the City of Manila), among others. His works have been exhibited in Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Munich and cities in the United States, and collected by patrons all over the world.

Women are a favorite subject, and Malang’s are distinctive, be they vendors or madonnas. Likewise his Philippine landscapes, where nipa huts and shanties take on a quality above squalor. His colors are generally bright and vivid, vibrant as the tropical sun, but there are monochromatic Malangs as well, particularly his works in the mid-1990s, when they took on a more somber and abstract character.

We caught up with him one early morning, already in his office at West Gallery, not far from his home. He explains being early in the office with a hearty laugh: "Maglilinis pa ako dito!" He’s already had breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s, a habit that has become something of a conversation topic. We ask him for seven–in keeping with the theme of his show–people or things that inspire him.

Jesus. With his words, taught me how to live a joyful, fulfilled life.

A born again Christian, this is perhaps the wellspring of his positive life. Rising daily at five in the morning (he warns though, "Tulog na ako ng alas siete"), he goes up to his fourth floor aerie for quiet time, prayer and reading the Bible, before facing the day.

My mother, Justina Malang Santos. Hard working and a disciplinarian. I hope namana ko.

His mother was from San Miguel, Bulacan, and embodied the rural work ethic that frowned on laziness. Mother to a daughter and three sons, she grasped opportunities when they presented themselves, once putting up a store on a vacant lot near their place on Rizal Avenue.

Mary Santos, my late wife, who taught me how to run a "family" business.

"Siya ang marunong sa negosyo, hindi ako," he is quick to point out. But what he meant by this statement, he corrects, is that she taught him how to raise a family. She taught him well on both counts, for their children–some artists (including Soler and Stevesantos), some not–have turned out well, and the grandchildren too. The Marisan shop Mary started way back in the 1960s, now handled by the grandchildren, as well as West Gallery (owned by Soler), are successful enterprises.

Botong Francisco, a common unassuming person, who is bigger than all Filipino artists combined, I think.

Malang’s respect and admiration for this National Artist from Angono, Rizal began way back, during his newspaper/magazine days when he would visit the artist to get some covers. "Simpleng simple siya," Malang says, "pero kahit na kaming lahat, nobody can compare to him."

Theo Van Gogh, brother of (Vincent) Van Gogh. Without him we won’t have Van Gogh artworks to enjoy.

Theo was an art dealer in Paris, and he supported his brother through the latter’s tumultuous career.

Van Gogh inspired me to paint–and paint whatever.

"Kahit walang kita, pinta lang siya ng pinta," Malang says. And the cutting off of the ear? "Buhok ang pinutol ko!" he guffaws, explaining his current close crop of snowy white hair.

Richard Nixon. I like his character–a fighter to the end.

He realizes this is a surprise choice. "He doesn’t give up," Malang says, "up to the end." He cites the many elections Nixon ran in and lost, only to come back to run another day until he did finally win the prize of the presidency.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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