Frisson is an anthology of the critical essays of Alice Guillermo, one of the country’s most prolific and sharpest annotators of creative forms broadly conceived as art and their dynamic relationship with an equally encompassing social sphere.

This is an excerpt from an article by Roberto G. Paulino. You can download the book here.

Annotating Alice: A Biography from Her Bibliography

by Roberto G. Paulino

The 74 essays in this anthology offer a select but representative sample of Alice G. Guillermo’s voluminous body of work, encompassing over half a century of writings. An ongoing archival research project by the University of the Philippines (UP) Department of Art Studies to document and annotate her published writings and citations has thus far yielded a 70-plus page working bibliography listing at least 29 sole-authored books, 16 co-authored books, 29 chapters or works in an edited book or anthology, 22 journal articles, 19 exhibition catalogues, and around 300 periodical articles, among others.

The bibliographic entries were culled principally from her books, online public access catalog (OPAC) records, vertical files, and library archives. The latter was particularly useful in procuring copies of her curricula vitae. Unfortunately, her more recent CVs and 201 files were lost during the 1 April 2016 fire at the UP Faculty Center. When she passed away in 29 July 2018 at age 80, neither her home Department nor her family were able to provide even a résumé. For an art historian and academic, Guillermo did not seem preoccupied in listing and filing copies of her own work.

Her interest in writing and in history was evident in her undergraduate education. Guillermo was an A.B. and a Bachelor of Science in Education graduate, magna cum laude, from the Holy Ghost College (now College of the Holy Spirit) in 1956 and 1957 respectively. She majored in English and minored in History. She taught high school briefly at the Holy Ghost Institute from 1958 to 1959.1 Soon after,2 she enrolled in a masteral program at the UP in Diliman, similarly majoring in English before shifting to Comparative Literature.3

In an interview, she shared that her interest in the arts likewise started early. “When I was young, I loved to read art books and look at pictures. And most of the art books at that time were about artists of the school of Paris in Europe…I had an art teacher who was very stimulating. And I think I got the interest from her.”4 She noted that “[m]y interest in art…was awakened not by Amorsolo and his rural genre…but by…the impressionists, the surrealists, the expressionists, and the cubists, who offered new and fascinating imagery.”5

Her first publication on art appeared in The Philippine Collegian, the official student newspaper of UP Diliman, as guest columnist of Petronilo Bn. Daroy (1935-2017).6 The date and a copy of that seminal piece remains elusive. However, Guillermo recalled that she “wrote on European art—Cezanne, for instance—not necessarily related to local art. It was more for appreciation of art in general.”7 “Imagine that. And it was rather alienated because it wasn’t on Philippine art.”8

A fusion of the pleasures of seeing with political engagement was catalyzed by her membership in the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines (SCAUP), co-founded by Daroy and Jose Maria Sison in 1959. SCAUP was the “anticlerical foil”9 to UPSCA or UP Students Catholic Action, the influential religious organization in the university. Guillermo reflected how the former’s “radical mix of politics and art that would overshadow the bohemian influence of the existentialists.”10

From 1962-1964 or from 1963-1965, she was also an Instructor of English at the Department of Humanities, College of Agriculture in UP Los Baños.11 She had completed the course work in her masteral program in UP Diliman12 when, at age 27, she was awarded a scholarship by the French government in 1965.13 She studied at Université d’Aix-Marseille in France where she obtained the following by 196714: Diploma of French Language and Letters, with honorable mention; Certificate of the Seminar of Higher Studies in the Twentieth Century, 1965-1966, with honorable mention; and Certificate of General Literary Studies (Modern Section: English – Geography).15

Although she embarked on a tour of the Louvre, Prado, Uffizzi and other European museums in 1966-1967 during her French scholarship16 and took courses on European art history from the medieval period to the 20th century,17 it was her French language studies that provided her initial teaching position upon her return to the Philippines in 1967. Her original appointment at UP Diliman was as an Instructor I in French at the Department of European Languages.18 Though she was concurrently a Lecturer in Humanities at UP in Padre Faura,19 she listed French grammar and literature as well as English grammar and literature as the courses she felt best qualified to teach. She also noted French and Spanish (besides English) as foreign languages she read and spoke easily.20 Guillermo was further appointed as part-time Lecturer in French at the Philippine Science High School.21 She would later clarify though that, “I am not a Francophile. I don’t even really go for Sartre or de Beauvoir. From the beginning, what I wanted was to appreciate and understand art. I wanted to understand the motivations of arts and styles. I wanted to know what made them paint like that, these artists. What their influences were. And then, I wanted to see if I could relate these things to many other things. Ultimately, I wanted to see what it means to us.”22 For instance, she related French culture with the Philippine folk and rural.23

Likewise in 1967, at age 29, she married the poet Gelacio Guillermo Jr. (1940-2019) with whom she bore Sofia and Ramon in 1968 and 1969.24 She then took on the position of Assistant Professor in Humanities at the University of the East (UE) from 1969 to 1978.

It was in the 1970s then she began to write more about the local visual art scene. Her first Philippine art review “Salpukan! But not Quite” appeared in Graphic magazine in 30 August 1972. It was about an interaction work exhibited at the UP artists-operated Red Gallery. “I don’t really remember any reaction to that. I didn’t have any feedback. Well, anyway, it was then I started knowing the social realists. Many of us became friends.”25

From 1975-1977, she was vice-chairman for publications of the Cultural Research Association of the Philippines. For the latter’s Cultural Research Bulletin, she contributed articles that espoused art as a force for change. For example, she observed how “[t]he dramatis personae of [Orlando] Castillo are drawn from all social levels, although the larger number comes from the working class and the urban poor and the dispossessed. But the artist does not merely seek to represent the entire social scale, for he may choose to sharply delineate the antagonisms that exist along class lines.”26 In her review of Leonidas V. Benesa’s The Printmakers, she took issue of the interspersing of foreign names and places in Benesa’s survey of printmaking in the Philippines thereby “giving the impression that its history in our country is inextricably linked to if not dependent on, foreign grants, biennales, etc.”27

1976 was an auspicious year that saw her winning the art criticism award from the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), as well as co-authoring the textbook Art: Perception and Appreciation, published by the UE. More than forty years later, the latter is still included in the required readings and other materials of the Art Appreciation course prescribed by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).28

Guillermo was appointed Senior Lecturer I at the UP College of Arts and Sciences Department of Humanities for the first semester of AY 1977-1978 during the term of Felipe M. de Leon Jr.29 In 1981, her “Ang Sining Biswal sa Pilipinas” was reprinted in the textbook On Art, Man & Nature: Selected Readings in the Humanities edited by de Leon.30 Another survey “The Visual Arts in the Philippines” was earlier included in Rediscovery, a collection of essays in Philippine life and culture compiled by the Department of English of the Ateneo de Manila University in 1977. Guillermo would further develop the historical survey and produce versions for the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Tuklas Sining (1989), Art in Social Change (1993), and the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (1994).

At age 40, she transferred to UP College of Fine Arts, serving as Assistant Professor in Art History and Theory from 1978-1985.31 During this period, her essay “Ang Kaisipang Pilipino Batay sa Sining Biswal” won the second prize in the 1979 Palanca Memorial Award in Literature. She also authored her first book Mobil Art Awards in 1981 and co-authored Ugat-Suri in 1984.

With the retirement of Ricaredo Demetillo and the part-time teaching service of UP Film Center director Virginia R. Moreno, Guillermo at age 47 returned to the UP Department of Humanities as Assistant Professor IV effective 10 June 1985 during the term of Brenda V. Fajardo.32

As reflected in this anthology, majority of her art criticisms were produced during the 1980s. During this decade that she wrote weekly art reviews for Observer (1981-1983), weekly cultural articles for Who magazine (1983-1984), essays for Life Today (1983-1984), and a column for We Forum (1985). After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, she contributed in New Day Magazine (1986), Business Day Magazine (1987), and wrote a column in Philippine Daily Globe (1987, 1989).

She authored or co-authored several more books including A Portfolio of 60 Philippine Art Masterpieces (1986) and Social Realism in the Philippines (1987). Images of Change: Essays and Reviews (1988) collected her cultural essays, while The Covert Presence and Other Essays on Politics and Culture (1989) compiled her political essays.

In 1988, at age 50, she enrolled in the PhD Philippine Studies program of the UP College of Arts and Letters. The diploma and certificates she earned in France and the books and articles she had written were considered as equivalents of a master’s thesis thus enabling her admission.34 She obtained her PhD seven years later in 1995. Her dissertation “Protest Revolutionary Art in the Marcos Regime” was an extended and more thematic study of social realism in the Philippines than her 1987 book which was more biographical. The UP Press published her dissertation in 1991.

Her art reviews in magazines and newspapers lessened in 1990s due to her PhD studies (1988-1995), her administrative position as chair (1991-1994) of the UP Department of Art Studies [previously known as the Department of Humanities until 1989], and a one-year fellowship in Japan from 1995-1996. The lower frequency however allowed for a longer wavelength as she enriched the Department’s instructional materials by contributing several essays in the Humanities: Art & Society Handbook (1998) published by CHED, and co-authoring the Department’s general education (GE) textbooks in 1988, 1991, and 1997.35 Her chapters from the latter continue to be readings for the module on the language of art in the current GE course ARTS 1: Critical Perspectives in the Arts. Moreover, she served a larger public as co-editor of the volume on visual arts in the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (1994), where she also contributed 112 articles and artist biographies including major historical essays on the Philippine visual arts, sources and influences, and the American colonial and contemporary traditions.

Guillermo resumed writing art reviews this time for Today newspaper from 1998 to 2004.

Upon her retirement at age 65 in 2003 and her conferment as Professor Emerita by the UP Board of Regents a year later, Guillermo focused more on book publications for Petron Corporation, Ayala Museum, CCP, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Foundation, and Vibal Foundation, among others. She continued to contribute for Asian Art News (1999-2009, 2011-2013), World Sculpture News (1995, 1998-2005, 2007-2009, 2013), and Contemporary Art Philippines (2009, 2012).

In 2014, the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence (MADE) competition in Writing Art Criticism was named in her honor. Previously
in 1999, she was named Centennial Honoree for the Arts (Art Criticism)
by the CCP.

Even after her death in 29 July 2018 at age 80, Alice Guillermo continues to exercise a strong influence on the field of Art Studies and on the production of knowledge in Philippine art. “Reading the Image,” the introduction to her Image to Meaning (2001), has assumed near-canonical status, cited as reference in the syllabi of introductory art courses of other universities such as Ateneo, De La Salle, and the University of Santo Tomas. Her semiotic four planes of analysis is a staple method in the Department’s undergraduate theses. This semiotic, iconic, contextual, and evaluative approach attempts to more broadly situate the formalist aspects of the work within society and history. Adapted to the study of contemporary visual arts,36 it has since been extended to analyze logo designs as well as children’s book illustrations, to cite some.

This present anthology is part of a long-term initiative to archive
her writings into accessible resources for Philippine art history and criticism.

The select readings instantiate Alice Guillermo’s view of interlinking the political with “a deeply hedonistic feeling for art…quickened on occasion by the frisson esthétique.”37