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In Focus: Fernando Zobel de Ayala y Montojo

Fernando Zóbel de Ayala y Montojo (August 27, 1924 – June 2, 1984), also known as Fernando Zóbel y Montojo, Fernando M. Zóbel and sometimes as Fernando M. Zóbel de Ayala, was a Spanish–Filipino Non-objective modernist painter, businessman, and patron of the arts.

He was born in Ermita, Manila in the Philippines. He was the son of Enrique Zobel (1877–1943) and Fermina Montojo y Torrontegui and was a member of the prominent Ayala family. Zobel took up medical studies at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. Later on, Zobel in 1942 had spinal deficiency that forced him to him bedridden that year. Zobel to past the time sketched of anything that caught his eye. He finished studying in Santo Tomas and left for Harvard University in 1946 to take up degrees in history and literature.

Zobel started painting without formal training while in Harvard. He graduated in 1949 as magna cum laude. He later stayed on as biographical researcher after finishing his bachelor's degree. It was at this time, he met American artists Hyman BloomReed Champion and Jim Pfeufer who helped him launch his career as an artist. His paintings were in style of the Boston artists and are considered his Boston-style works.

He returned to the Philippines and became friends with contemporary Filipino modernist artists. As such, he collected modernist works and set up exhibits for them to be shown and noticed since modernist art was largely unappreciated. In 1954, he left Manila and enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design where he saw an exhibition by Mark Rothko. Rothko's paintings made an impression on Zobel later to be done in his later works. When he returned to Manila, Zobel started in having interest in Chinese and Japanese art and took up calligraphy classes until 1960. During this time, he joined the faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University and later was given an honorary doctorate and was made honorary director of the Ateneo Art Gallery for his contribution in education and as patron of the arts. To make a name for himself as a full-time painter, he later resigned from his position in the Ayala Corporation and move to Spain.

Zobel is best known for his first artwork series called the Saetas. Named after the liturgical song sung in Holy Week in Spain, they were developed for the most part in the Philippines. Zobel faced the technical problem of how to achieve the lines that his theme required, lines that were, in his own words, "long, fine, and controlled." The surgical syringe was the solution which was his trademark in painting. The Saetas were Zobel's first artworks incorporating colors he saw in Rothko's works. After the Saetas, Zobel started painting his concept on black as a color in a series called Serie Negra or Series in Black influenced by East Asian calligraphy. The Serie Negra was started in 1959 while he was in Madrid which were done after four years.

After his first two definitive art series, Zobel began painting landscapes inspired by the river Júcar. In his later years, Zobel created the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español at Casa Colgadas in the town of Cuenca, Spain in 1963. Zobel was a tutor and helped in the careers of Spanish painters some of which were Antonio LorenzoEusebio SempereMartín Chirino LópezAntonio Saura and many others. Until his death, Zobel was working on a series called Dialogos which was reactions to art masters which he saw in the museums around Europe. In 1983, King Juan Carlos of Spain bestowed upon Zobel the Medalla de Oro al Mérito en las Bellas Artes. Fernando Zobel died of a heart attack in Rome, Italy on June 2, 1984.

In 2003, a retrospective traveling exhibit in honor of Zobel were held in Cuenca and Seville. On May 21, 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo awarded posthumously him, the Presidential Medal of Merit for his contributions in the arts. On May 24, 2008, Zobel's work titled Noche Clara was sold at Christie's in Hong Kong for PHP 6,000,000, making it the most expensive Philippine artwork.

On Dec.19, 2010 a train station in Cuenca, Spain was inaugurated and named after hispano-Filipino artist Fernando Zobel.

Source: Wikipedia
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