Popular Bicolano painter Pancho Piano wanted to learn how to play the piano when he was younger. But he cannot do it because his family cannot afford to purchase the acoustic, stringed musical instrument. Piano and his family then lived in a coastal area of Lagonoy.
As a teenager, he would usually paint in the banca. One day, Piano's uncle gave him an oil paint for graduation. With a gentle stroke of brush, Piano debuted with a visual memoir that would eventually stir the spirit and warm the hearts of art aficionados.
"I painted when I was still in high school and for me that’s one piece which is very important. An uncle gave me an oil paint as graduation gift. I painted 'The Pianist' because I wanted to learn how to play the piano but I just don't know how," says Piano, during an interview at Okada Manila where he wrapped up the "Hagod" art exhibit recently.
Art fans wanted to buy his first painting ever. But he repeatedly turned them down for sentimental reasons. "That's my first paint. It is displayed in the house. It's so priceless and many art aficionados wanted to buy it. But I cannot sell it because it's very memorable to me. I had no idea with the materials so I used pinitpit na kutsara (crushed spoon) as palette knife," recalls Piano.
At one point, Piano's surname became a butt of joke for some art fans, he says. "I had an art exhibit in the US. Then they asked me, 'What time is your concert?" says Piano, in reference to piano recital.
For 35 years now, Piano's paintings and stained glass designs focus on Bicolano myths and traditions, most especially the Bicolano devotion to the Lady Peñafrancia. He has also mounted more than 30 solo exhibitions and participated in more than 50 grouped exhibitions, in the Philippines, Japan, Saipan, and the United States, France, Austria, the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland.
"When I travel, I am also influenced by international events involving landmarks." Piano's influence is none other than Jose Joya, a Filipino painter best known for his abstract expressionist works which utilized a variety of techniques, including controlled drips, impasto strokes, and transparent layering.
"One time Joya went to Naga where conducted a workshop and that's where he discovered me. He was the one who gave me scholarships from 1984-1987. That time, he was the dean of College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines. Later, I was commissioned to do artworks in churches. One of my influences is the Renaissance period....Michaelangelo," he says. Piano finished Bachelors Degree in Economics at the University of Nueva Caceres (1978), and took a degree in Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines Diliman as a Jose Joya Scholar (1984-1987).
The first Filipino artist to exhibit Leather Art in the Philippines, Pancho has executed numerous murals and stained glass designs for civic and religious patrons in various cities and municipalities throughtout the Bicol region, such as Naga City, Daraga, Guinobatan, Camalig, Polanngui, Ligao, Pio Duran, Sto. Domingo, Legaspi City, Tabaco City, and Boracay; in Pampanga, Quezon City, Mandaluyong City, Pasig City, Caloocan City and the Mindanao region; as well as in Japan, Saipan and Palau.
From the state university, a Japanese businessman discovered Piano and he was commissioned to do murals in Japan. Pancho has won over 10 major national competitions in the Philippines, including Finalist at the 1997 AFP Centennial Mural Painting Competition, and the 1998 AAP Centennial Painting Competition. Pancho was given Artist of the Year Awards for the total of 12 times by various institutions in Bicol. He was also featured on ABS-CBN, and his work has also been featured in 10 coffee table book publication.
Asked about his thoughts on art trends these days, Piano says: "Before, I am into realism and went to abstraction. I concentrate these days on exhibits. I have lots of commissioned works in Bicol and in Metro Manila." Piano also says that he has memorized painting "The Last Supper" which at one point became a popular painting among Filipinos.
"When I was still in high school, I used to paint a lot of 'The Last Supper.' I've memorized it already even if I don't look at it anymore." Yet Piano admits that he does not have any favorite living painter now.
"I cannot compare the newcomers to the great artists. There are many good contemporary artists but they are incomparable," he adds. Piano describes the prices of his artworks. "There are times when you feel it is important, then it's expensive. Those artworks with sentimental value have a higher price value."
There's no stopping Piano in the field of painting. In September, Piano will showcase colorful visual memoirs in rapturous explosion of fluid strokes when he mounts art exhibits in Vienna, Austria; and Prague, The Czech Republic.