Cid Reyes: What he does is not for the faint of heart

Writing books, publishing magazine, mounting exhibits during the pandemic—'I am a better critic because I paint'

Cid Reyes before his work (Photo by Richie Macapinlac)

Cid Reyes’ ‘Fiesta’ in the office of tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan (Photo by Richie Macapinlac)

Credited as the first writer to use the term “art criticism,” British painter and collector Jonathan Richardson the Elder debunked in his Essay on the Theory of Painting in 1715 the widely held belief that the art of painting “is a pleasing superfluity; at best, that it holds but a low rank with respect to its usefulness to mankind.” He countered that by saying painting is important because it allows us to communicate ideas, elevates us beyond brutishness, and allows for individual style or expression.

For three centuries since then, art and its appreciation have made strides, even as the journey has been an uphill battle, especially in our neck of the woods. This passion, this profession is not for the faint of heart. This is especially true during the pandemic when artists, be they in visual or performance arts, have been among the most affected, professionally and economically. On the other hand, the lockdown must have given them, too, the gift of time to focus on their art without distraction.

One of these artists with typical Pinoy resilience and perseverance during this COVID-19 pandemic is artist and art critic Cid Reyes. What he did during the height of the pandemic for two years is nothing to scoff at. First off, his coffee-table book, MVP: The Art and The Man was awarded a Gold Trophy in the 2021 Stevie’s International Business Awards (Corporate Communications Category). Stevie, derived from the Greek name Stephanos, means “crown.” This book has made history as the first Philippine art book to receive an international award.

Reyes with his paintings (Photo by Richie Macapinlac)

Cid Reyes, MVP’s first cousin (his mother is the sister of Dominador Pangilinan, who’s a former PNB president), wrote: “When one thinks of Manuel V. Pangilinan, or MVP as he is known in Philippine business and sports circles, the image that comes to mind is a hard-nosed businessman, renowned for his work ethic and passion for excellence. But there is another side to the man, one seen by few but reflected in the corridors of his main offices and all over his home. This is MVP, the art lover; MVP, the collector.”

The paintings MVP has collected through the years are by the veritable Who’s Who in the Philippine art scene

Cid Reyes’ paintings in MVP’s office (Photo by Richie Macapinlac)

The paintings MVP has collected through the years, whether for his personal or corporate collections, are by the veritable Who’s Who in the Philippine art scene, counting 54 in all. They range from the masters—Luna, Hidalgo, Amorsolo, Manansala, Sansó—to National Artists Napoleon Abueva, Jose Joya, Arturo Luz, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, and BenCab; to Malang, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Fernando Zobel, Oscar Zalameda, Manuel Rodriguez, Sr., Pacita Abad, Nena Saguil, Betsy Westendorp, Lao Lianben, J Elizalde Navarro, Lee Aguinaldo, Alfredo Liongoren, Angel Cacnio,  Romulo Galicano, Soler Santos, Manuel Baldemor, Ofelia Gelvezon Tequi, Phyllis Zaballero, and the author himself, Cid Reyes, among others.

Written by Reyes, designed by Dopy Doplon, photographed by Richie Macapinlac, and edited by Debbie Tan, the book earned this plaudit by the international jury: “The Meralco team did an excellent job related to the beautiful production that provides the snapshot of the Art of the Philippines, culture, and essence of the region. The book was photographed creatively, and content written was exceptional.”

It was also during this pandemic that Reyes mounted two virtual exhibits, Rhumba: Geometry in Motion, presented by Cid’s daughter’s Galerya Amalia in November 2020, and the ongoing Alay Sa Maestro.

 “‘Rhumba’ initiates us into the deep structure of his rhythmic abstraction,” University of the Philippines (UP) Art Studies professor and curator of UP Vargas Museum Patrick Flores writes in Inquirer: “If (National Artist Hernando R.) Ocampo had tempo rubato, Reyes has his tango and rhumba as well as his evocations of folksy festivity marked by the burst of an ebullient chromatic climate alternating with subtle gradations. The congealing but also discrete units in this visual equation intervolve as if in an elastic mesh or a dynamic ecology, or as the title of the exhibition implies, a choreography, the push and pull, the congruence and asymmetry of a ‘geometry in motion’.”

Reyes’ ‘Maskara’ (Photo by Richie Macapinlac)

The paintings in the exhibit explode with colors, which, according to Reyes, “were consistent with my struggle to stave off anxiety, depression, and a creeping sense of meaninglessness in life, realizing our own mortality.” Three of them, Maskara, Harana, and Fiesta were procured by MVP, and now have pride of place in one of his offices.

The paintings ‘were consistent with my struggle to stave off anxiety, depression, and a creeping sense of meaninglessness’

Alay Sa Maestro is Reyes’ homage to the Masters: Filipinos, Europeans, and Japanese. They include Ang Kiukok, Botong Francisco, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Malang, Manansala, and Kandinsky, as well as his Geisha series and Renaissance series. Says Reyes of his exhibit: “The practice of paying tribute to the works of the Masters by recreating and reconfiguring their works, through the lens and style of another, has many precedents in history. Most renowned is Picasso’s reconstruction—in 45 versions!—of his fellow Spaniard Diego Velasquez’s Las Meninas or Ladies-in-Waiting.”

Reyes’ painting and quote

The prolific artist is also a well-known and respected art critic, the “last man standing” in the field of art criticism after the death of Alice Guillermo. The fabled triumvirate of Leo Benesa, Eric Torres and Dr. Rod. Paras-Perez has gone ahead. Reyes’ impressive work as art critic is a product of deep knowledge and scholarship gained from his Liberal Arts education at De La Salle University, a grant from the Italian government to study painting at the Accademia di Belli Arti in Rome, and art history studies at the City Lit Institute in London.

Art and art criticism—aren’t they contradictory? Can they co-exist? Artists have always had a complicated relationship with art criticism. If artists and art critics are such separate species, what can we say about artists who themselves are art critics? Eugene Delacroix, considered the greatest French Romantic artist, wrote an essay in 1829 titled On Art Criticism, in which he found that art critics—or “watchful dragons,” as he called them—“have always presented difficulties….Far from contributing to the advancement of art, these discussions embroil the simplest questions, and twist all ideas out of shape.” Meanwhile, another French artist, the Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne, wrote to his fellow Post-Impressionist painter and writer, Émile Bernard, in 1904: “Do not be an art critic, but paint; therein lies salvation.”

Half a century and three years ago, Cid Reyes, the artist, held his first solo exhibit at Joy Dayrit’s Print Gallery.  He recalls: “Even then, my works were already aligned along the idiom called Abstract Expressionism. Lots of splashes of paint all over the canvas, channeling Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and Jose Joya, of course!”

It was followed through the years by shows at F. Sionil Jose’s Solidaridad Gallery, The Hyatt Hotel, West Gallery, The Drawing Room, Ricco-Renzo Gallery, and Galerie Astra, for a total of 20 solo shows to date.

After Reyes won the 1979 AAP art criticism competition, jury chair Leo Benesa told him, ‘This is just the beginning of your art writing career’

Reyes, the art critic, piled up his achievements, commencing with his Grand Prize award in the prestigious Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) art criticism competition in 1979. Just back from four years of art studies in Rome and London, he was told by the jury chair, Leo Benesa: “This is just the beginning of your art writing career.” It was prophetic!

The award was followed by Conversations on Philippine Art, a landmark book which began when Reyes, on his trip to Davao, serendipitously interviewed Victorio Edades, known as the “Father of Modern Art in the Philippines” and named National Artist in 1976.  Working full-time in advertising, the productive writer kept a decade-long (1995-2004) weekly art column, “Gallery Hopping,” in the defunct daily, Today, where he wrote over 500 art reviews.

He also wrote coffee-table books on National Artists Arturo Luz, Bencab (co-authored with Krip Yuson), J. Elizalde Navarro, and Napoleon V.  Abueva, and over 40 art books, among which are those on Malang, Gus Albor, Lao Lianben, Charito Bitanga, Valeria Cavestany, Edwin Wilwayco, and Manila-based Spanish artist Betsy Westendorp, as well as the Philippine Art Awards’ Decade of Achievement, and Metrobank’s art competition, MADE of Gold. He co-authored Tanaw: The Central Bank Art Collection, and Herencia: The BPI Art Collection.

For all his outstanding contributions, Cid Reyes received the “Most Outstanding Kapampangan in the Arts” in 2015 from the Province of Pampanga. Not resting on his laurels, he still has books forthcoming—on glass sculptor Ramon Orlina, artists Prudencio Lamarroza and Roy Veneracion, and GINTO, the Saturday Group’s 50th Anniversary.

‘Inside the solitude and silence of my studio, I trust and commune only with my instinct’

On his dual roles in art, Reyes says, “I feel that I am a better critic because I paint. And hopefully, I paint better because I have a critical, questioning mind. But practice-wise, I leave the critic outside the studio door whenever I am working on my paintings. Inside the solitude and silence of my studio, I trust and commune only with my instinct.”

Asked if he were made to choose which he would prefer to be at this stage in his life, he replied: “Considering that I have, modesty aside, already produced quite a voluminous amount of art writing, I think I would rather make use of my time now working on my painting. I’m not getting any younger, and let’s face it, life is so uncertain these days.”

Maiden issue of Art & Lifestyle magazine

He may be heeding the advice of Paul Cézanne to Émile Bernard, but the ever prolific, ever productive, and energetic Cid Reyes, at 75, may yet remain as he has been all his life—an artist and art critic! With wife Mary Ann and managing partner and editor-in-chief April Villarta Manuud, he embarked on the publication of Art & Lifestyle magazine, its maiden issue launched December 2021. Asked if it’s sane or foolhardy to come up with another art and lifestyle magazine in the pandemic, Reyes replied: “Contra Mundum! Contra COVID-19!” He added that they take inspiration from the noble mission of a once beloved television network, now lamentably extinct: “Art and Lifestyle—In the Service of the Filipino Artist.”

Reyes with grandson Angelo Reyes (Photo by Richie Macapinlac)

About author


She is a freelance writer and retired business executive. She is the president of the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, Inc., author of “Soul Searchers and Dreamers: Artists’ Profiles” and “Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume II,” and co-author with Mario I. Miclat, Maningning Miclat and Banaue Miclat of “Beyond the Great Wall: A Family Journal”, a National Book Awardee for biography/autobiography in 2007.

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