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About Ang Kiukok

by Freeway, 2009
Freeway x National Artist Collectors Series Ang Kiukok Bio

Born to Sy Pang and Lim Shen in Davao City, Ang Kiukok was born on March 1, 1931.  Originally named Hua Shing meaning “Chinese Born”, but due to his father’s cousin naming his son with the same name, Hua Shing was renamed to whom we know now as Kiukok, meaning “Save the Country”.

Ang Kiukok was a trader’s son. The Angs were a very prominent family known for trading dry goods, abaca and groceries. In 1936, at age 5 he started his schooling at Chinese Highschool in Davao. Later on, his schooling was abruptly stopped due to World War II and his family fleeing to the mountains to escape the Japanese.  It was then; Kiukok lived and learned from the highland tribe, the Mansalca. Living in the mountains for two years the family finally was able to return home only to find there stores ransacked and looted.  Very deeply disheartened, his father decided to just restore one shop and be satisfied with the earnings of the lone shop and then telling his children, if they wanted more, they will have to get it themselves.

The only son, Kiukok has always had a fondness for drawing, and while back at the Davao, Chinese Highschool, he caught the eye of a known Chinese painter Tan Kok King. His passions being fueled by this, he continued drawing and was later then known at school for his art.  In 1947, he found a job that allowed him to practice his talent. Ang Kiukok went to Cotobato to work as an apprentice for 2 weeks making billboards for movie in theaters.

In 1952, with him honing his skills he found the strength to tell his father that he wanted to study Fine Arts in Manila. He found his educational home in the University of Santo Tomas where he studied under the greats of Philippine Art, these included: Victorio Edades, Diosado Lorenzo, Jose Garcia Llamas and many others.  But it was one professor that found Ang Kiukok with great potential and took him under his wing; this was his watercolor and composition professor Vicente Manansala. Manansala made Kiukok’s watercolor work an example to his students to aspire for. He went on to retire and left many of Ang Kiukok’s schoolwork in his locker.  Only to return later and finding his locker emptied and all of Kiukok’s work gone.

After his 3rd year of college, Ang Kiukok had to drop out of school due to financial troubles.  As an artist, this did not affect the direction he was going in nor his stand in the art community, he had made many friends and connections in the “industry”.  Shortly after dropping out, Manansala convinced and aided him in putting up and exhibit of his work. On December 10, 1954 he finally puts up his first one-man show at the Contemporary Arts Gallery.  The exhibit featured 29 watercolor painting and two done in oil.

After that one man show, commissioned work, exhibits and awards became part of his life. He aided Manansala on the mural for the Nation Press Club; he won the 5th Shell Students Art Competition in 1955, and held another one man show at Lyd Arguilla’s Philippine Art Gallery where well known works such as Pieta and Boats were featured.

1958 marked the birth of his signature “cubism” style. With this new style in tow, Ang Kiukok continued to be recognized and was awarded at the exhibits such as the Association of the Philippine’ 12th Annual Art Exhibit, where his work Blind Musicians was given a special award.  Then at the AAP Semi-Annual Art Exhibition, his piece called Still Life was given honorary mention. Year after year his work caught people’s attention and earned many of his peer’s respect. It was in 2001 when he was then escalated to become and was awarded as National Artist by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

He continued to work passionately from home with his wife Maria and his 4 children.  He later moved to Quezon City from Santa Mesa in 1974 and moved his studio to the same area. He continued receiving awards such as the Araw ng Maynila Award for Painting and the Outstanding Alumnus Award from UST.  He had numerous exhibits which included one along side his great friends Cesar Lagaspi and Romulo Olazo at the Finale.  This was a yearly occurrence until Cesar Legaspi’s death in 1994. His work was even auctioned at the great auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, garnering even respect and admiration of those from outside the Philippines.

Ang Kiukok was a National Artist that one remembers with not just admiration and respect, but for those who new him with endearment and affection. A man who was bold in his art but quiet in nature. As he told an interviewer once,

“I am not good at speaking. At school when the teacher asked me to recite, I could not say anything. When I was asked to write a long composition, I would only give a few sentences and the teacher didn’t like that. But in my painting, I feel free.  I can express what I want to say.”

See Freeway x Ang Kiukok collection HERE.

* source:  Kiukok, Deconstructing Despair by Alfredo Roces