I first met Bicolano artist Pancho M. Piano in 2014 when I covered his “Colors of Hope” exhibit (November 27-December 3) held in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, the first Filipino artist to do an exhibit in this country as well as the whole Caucasus Region. Though some of the paintings he exhibited featured Georgian themes such as his rendition of the statue of Kartlis Deda (“Mother of Georgia”), many of the paintings shown reflected his penchant for realism and abstractionism, often portraying the beauty of humanity, with a signature stroke where softness and loudness are both in harmony.
Pancho, a true blue visual artist, has, over the course of over 35 years, created incredible and distinctive works of art with a “jolly” vibe to them (a reflection of who he is as a person), using a wide range of art platforms to express his creative juices. While most of his body of work is paintings (he loves using pastel colors, with results that are striking and evocative), the artist has also crafted wood carvings and clay sculptures. He is also the first Filipino artist to exhibit leather art in the Philippines.
His numerous, impressive murals and liturgical stained glass designs were made for civic and religious patrons in various cities and municipalities throughout the Bicol region such as Naga City (the stained glass ceilings of the Penafrancia Basilica Jubilee Pavilion, as well as stained glass windows for the Adoration Chapel of the Basilica Minore, the outdoor chapel of the Penafrancia Shrine, stained glass installations at the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Archbishop’s Palace), Daraga, Guinobatan, Camalig, Polangui, Ligao City, Pio Duran, Sto. Domingo, Legaspi City (Cathedral of St. Gregory the Great), Tabaco City, Virac (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception), and Masbate City (Cathedral of St. Anthony of Padua). They focus on many interesting Bicolano myths, legends, cultures, and traditions. His works can also be found in Boracay, Pampanga, the Mindanao region, Quezon City, Pasig, Caloocan, and Mandaluyong, and in Palau, Saipan, and Japan as well.
Some of his favorite themes to paint are indigenous deities such as the multi-breasted Haliya (the moon goddess of abundance and fertility); Daragang Magayon in the folktale of ill-starred lovers; as well as myths surrounding the origin of Albay province. In his work, he also loves to incorporate the region’s festivals, most especially the Bicolano devotion to the Lady of Peñafrancia in a water festival, the principal yearly event for Bicolanos.
Born on September 22, 1954, in Mangogon, a quaint town of Lagonoy in Camarines Sur, Pancho, the second to eight siblings, was raised by a father, who was a teacher, and a stay-at-home mother. Early in life, Piano discovered his love for the arts. When he was in high school, the fishermen in his barrio would ask him to paint artworks in their fishing boats in exchange for the fish that they had caught.
In 1978, Pancho finished his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics at the University of Nueva Caceres but he felt art was his calling and so, from 1984 to 1987, he decided to pursue further studies in Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines as a Jose Joya scholar. Art eventually became a lifelong career. He studied leather craft in Germany in 1985, mural painting in Tokamachi, Japan in 1985-86, and stained-glass making in Palau. Among the artists he looks up to include acclaimed muralist Carlos “Botong” Francisco and Vicente R. Manansala, both National Artists of the Philippines in Visual Arts in 1973 and 1982, respectively; and Jose Joya, whose abstract expressionist works utilize a variety of techniques including controlled drips, impasto strokes, and transparent layering.
The enormously prolific Pancho has, over the years, joined over 200 group shows, both locally and internationally. Considered an ambassador of the Bicol Region to the rest of the world, he has mounted 54 solo exhibitions and participated in over 50 grouped exhibitions in the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Brunei (January 16-19, 2014), Saipan, the United States of America (Los Angeles, Chicago, and Las Vegas), France, Austria (Vienna and Innsbruck), the Federal Republic of Germany (Berlin), Belgium (Brussels), Australia, Slovakia (Bratislava), Italy (Milan), Netherlands ( Amsterdam) and Switzerland.
Pancho has won over 10 major national competitions in the Philippines. He was a Finalist at the 1997 AFP Centennial Mural Painting Competition and the 1998 AAP Centennial Painting Competition. Twelve times, Pancho was given the Artist of the Year Award by various Bicol institutions. Recently, he was awarded the Most Outstanding Bicolano Artist in 2009, the My City My SM Award in 2010, the Orgullo Kan Award for Visual Arts in 2011, and the USA – Pamana Award for Arts, Culture and Style in 2018.
Pancho was also featured in ABS-CBN television network, and his work has also been featured in 10 coffee table book publications. To share his talent with the next generation, he also spends his time mentoring young artists as the founder of the Salingoy Art Group, an organization of Bicol-based artists, and Bicol Expression, a group of Manila-based artists whose roots originate from Bicol . At home, Piano is a proud husband, a father of three, and grandfather to Aria, Basti, and Stella.
His local solo and group art exhibits include “Hagod” (meaning “gentle stroke of a brush”), held at the Retail Boulevard (Coral Wing) of Okada Manila from May 23 to June 23, 2018, “Merging of Colors” (opened June 21, at the Arts Elements Asian Gallery at SM Aura Premier in Taguig City), the Kugos Artists of Bicol (also founded by Pancho) Exhibit at SM Legaspi City last February 7-14, 2021 and “Doble Vista” ”at Legaspi City , with the Salingoy Art Group and Kugos Artists of Bicol Group, last February 1 – 28, 2022. This April, his solo exhibit entitled “Umbrae Spei” (Shades of Hope) is still ongoing until the 27th at the SM Megamall Art Center.
Images were provided by the featured artist.