Country’s leading art critic Alice Guillermo passes away; tributes pouring in

Tributes are pouring in for the late University of the Philippines professor and leading art critic Alice Guillermo who passed away Sunday, July 29, due to a lingering illness.

She was 80 years old.

News of Guillermo’s death immediately circulated among academics, artists, writers and activists Sunday who held off posting announcements and tributes on their social media accounts in deference to requests by her family for some private time.

Born in January 6 1938 in Quiapo, Manila, Guillermo is survived by poet and essayist husband Gelacio and children Sofie and Ramon.

In his message of condolence, poet and fellow art critic Jose Maria Sison wrote Guillermo’s “great amount and high quality of works in the field of culture and art are outstanding and make her a brilliant icon in the national pantheon of culture heroes.”

“She and her works will live on both as significant contributions to the cumulative revolutionary tradition of art and literature and as inspirational guide to the revolutionary artists and creative writers of this and further generations,” Sison added.

Sison said Guillermo studied the entirety of Filipino artists and scrutinized the works of a wide range of Filipino artists, including Francisco Coching, E. Aguilar Cruz, Santiago Bose, Agnes Arellano, Alfredo Carmelo, Galo B. Ocampo and Julie Lluch.

“She paid the closest attention and appreciated most the artists and creative writers that may be considered as the artists of the people, especially the adherents of social realism who exposed the dire conditions and needs of the oppressed and exploited toiling masses of workers and peasants and expressed their immediate demands for national and social liberation and their vision of a brighter and better future in socialism,” he said.

UP professor Lisa Ito for her part expressed grief over Guillermo’s passing who she considers a “beloved professor.”

“Thank you for teaching how words should be wielded with perceptive precision and a sense of purpose for the people,” Ito wrote of Gullermo on her Facebook account.

“Pinakamataas na pagpupugay kay kasama’t kagurong Alice Guillermo,” former UP College of Mass Communication dean Rolando Tolentino wrote on his Facebook account. (The highest tribute to comrade and fellow teacher Alice Guillermo.)

A former chairperson of the Department of Art Studies of the U.P. College of Arts and Letters, Guillermo became one of the country’s leading art critics and expert on Marxist theory of arts and literature.

In 1976, Guillermo won the Art Criticism Award of the Art Association of the Philippines and became the Centennial Honoree of the Arts (for Art Criticism) of the Cultural Center of Philippines in 1999.

(An endearing portrait of Alice Guillermo as narrated by her children Bomen and Sofie Guillermo, husband Gelacio, and visualized by documentary filmmaker, Jaja Arumpac.)

A prodigious author and writer, Guillermo was most famous for her books The Covert Presence, Social Realism in the Philippines, and Image to Meaning: Essays on Philippine Art and Protest/Revolutionary Art in The Philippines.

According to her profile by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Guillermo finished bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees in education, magna cum laude, in 1957 at the College of Holy Ghost. She then went to UP where she obtained her master’s degree.

Awarded a scholarship by the French government, she studied at the Universite d’Aix-Marseille in France where she obtained the Certificat d’ Etudes Litteraires Generales, the Certificat de Seminaire d’Etudes Superieures, avec mention Assez Bien, with a study of the French nouveau roman, “La Modification par Michel Butor: Themes et Structures” and the Diplome de Langue et Lettres Francaises, also Assez Bien, in 1967.

She was a member of the Cultural Research Association of the Philippines and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and was a long-time art studies department professor of the College of Arts and Letters of UP Diliman.

Guillermo wrote numerous reviews and articles for magazines like Archipelago, Observer, Who, WE Forum, Business Day, and New Progressive Review.

Her other books included Mobil Art Awards (1981), Blanco: The Blanco Family of Artists (1987), Images of Change (1988), Alfredo Carmelo: His Life and Art (1990), The National Museum Visual Arts Collection and Cebu: A Heritage of Art (1991), and Color in Philippine Life (1993).

Guillermo was one of the senior authors of the survey of Philippine sculpture, From Anito to Assemblage (1990), and authored an essay for the book, Anita Magsaysay-Ho. She also participated in the CCP’s Tuklas- Sining monograph and video series project as essayist-scriptwriter for Sining Biswal, An Essay and Documentary on Philippine Visual Arts (1989) and Sining Biswal IV, An Essay and Documentary on the American Colonial and Contemporary Traditions in Philippine Visual Arts (1993).

She was the co-author of the textbooks Art: Perception and Appreciation (1976) and Ang Sining sa Kasaysayang Pilipino (1991).

Guillermo was a recipient of a Japan Foundation Fellowship Grant in Tokyo in 1991, a UP Diamond Jubilee Assistant Professorial Chair in 1988, and was a UP ICW national fellow for the essay in 1987-1988.

Her essay, “Ang Kaisipang Filipino Batay sa Sining Biswal”, won a Palanca Award in 1979. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)