The Beautiful Mind of Malang Santos

Saturday Stories 
July 1, 2017

I first knew about the great artist Mauro "Malang" Santos from the Bear Brand print commercials. The more I learned about Malang, the more I admire him.

Malang's art is distinctive for that spirit of optimism, that indestructible sense of hope, even in everyday scenes like street vendors and humble houses.

A newspaper poll in 2000 ranked him in the top three of the most popular contemporary Filipino painters of all time along with Fernando Amorsolo and Vicente Manansala.

His began to study art when he was only ten years old. As a young man, he sent himself through school by working for the Chronicle as an illustrator, cartoonist and lay-out designer. Malang is the first Filipino cartoonist in English and the first to have his comic strips published in American magazines, like his "Kosme the Cop" and "Chain Gang Charlie."

He also created magazine covers and advertising designs before he devoted his full time to painting. He made his first solo exhibit in 1962 at the Philippine Art Gallery.

Malang was intuitive. He will only sign his name once he felt that the work was right. "His devotion to his art was legendary," says Giselle P. Kasilag in BusinessWorld. "All of us have heard him say time and time again that art is like a mistress. 'Pag hindi mo pinansin, iwanan ka niyan!' And he painted every day – even when he didn’t feel like it."

His grasp of the inherently optimistic Filipino spirit also got the attention of the artist and art patron Fernando Zobel De Ayala who asked him to create the mural of the FGU-Insular Life Building. Malang's oil-on-canvas creation, Barrio Fiesta, is now one greatest art masterpieces in the country.

He knew the joy of living and seeing the good side of everything. The genius can be seen from his "surprising narrative skill distilled in a few frames and his witty and humorous sensibility," writes Cid Reyes in Philippine Daily Inquirer, "all these indicative of a sharp and perceptive observation of the Filipino psyche."

Malang is the co-founder of Bituin Komiks and the comic gallery Bughouse. He launched the Art for the Masses project in 1966 to bring art and printmaking to those who cannot afford it. Malang and National Artist Vicente Manansala opened the first art gallery in Makati in 1965: the Gallery Seven.

He was named as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of 1963 by the Jaycees. The Society of Philippine Illustrators and Cartoonists hailed him as the 1964 Artist of the Year. The City of Manila bestowed on him in 1981 the prestigious Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award for his achievements.

Malang's masterpieces is "a celebration of Philippine customs and rituals, observed with sympathy and insight," declares National Artist Arturo Luz. "It is a personal vision not only of a gifted artist, but of an active participant and observer sensitive to the color, texture and temper of a city he has learned to love and paint."

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