"Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1907, three years before Manansala was born. It took another thirty-nine years before Manansala had a meaningful encounter with the revolutionary style. Cubism then became the generating force of Manansala's mature works, the stylistic center of his main oeuvres. It was not a master-follower relationship - it was more like extending the premises of a tradition. Cubism did not curtail the dimension of Manansala's vision. He enriched the style and gave it a new context. Above all, he gave it a new sense of place."
- Rodolfo Paras-Perez, Manansala, Manila, 1980, p. 75
Vicente Manansala is a significant name within the modernist movement in the Philippines. Growing up in the wake of the prevalent romantic realist genre, Manansala was twelve years old when Fernando Amorsolo, then the acknowledged leading painter of the Spanish school, first developed his iconic pastoral landscapes bathed in effervescent tropical light - rice planting, women in the fields, couples dancing, village festivities. Struggling to articulate an independent artistic identity for the 20th century, these were all deemed quintessentially Filipino by the art community of the period, who were justifiably proud of the developments in achieving a distinguishable, nationalistic pictorial vocabulary. However this was just the beginning. Soon enough Manansala and his peers were to rise to the fore in what eventually became the Philippines' impactful breakthrough towards modernism and the shattering of the rigidly structured compositional plane.
As a young art student, Manansala too adopted the vocabulary of genre scenes, painting rice fields and beautiful peasant girls. He soon discovered though that bucolic village images were less important to him than artistic texture and the interplay of colours and structure. Like the Western cubist painters, he became fascinated with how geometric shapes could cohere to develop a recognisable image, maintaining more expressionistic integrity than rendered by a purely realistic technique. Manansala only retained realism in straightforward portraiture; his other works were soon to bear the hallmarks of Picasso, Braque, Gris, and Léger. In 1950, he was awarded a bursary by the French legation and spent a period at Léger's atelier, learning from the master himself. Eventually, after developing the artistic confidence which his later works bear witness to, he abandoned their influences for most part and devoted himself to developing his own cubist methodologies which permitted the flexibility and freedom to articulate a truly Filipino context. In his own words, Manansala affirmed: "When I say I am a cubist, I mean that I have taken Cubism's basic elements, reorganized them and added my own, creating my own style." (ibid, p. 51)
This present work of 1973 depicts children engaging in the familiar Filipino game of 'luksong tinik' where the youthful participants use their hands to form a spine of thorns over which another child has to leap. The dynamism and energy of this work rivals the romantic compositions of Manansala's Spanish-trained predecessors, however it displays none of their established devices in describing (and idealising) a recognisably Filipino scene. Lucid and expressive, yet predominantly modernist in visual elocution, Manansala's use of a cubist background which isolates the figures in movement, judicious allocation of empty pictorial space, and blocks of gradient colour heralded a new dawn for the evolution of Filipino art.