A deeply accomplished painter and printmaker, Romulo Olazo's career has spanned over forty years and a wide range of artistic approaches, earning him a significant reputation in the Philippines art scene. It is, however, long overdue that his unique contribution to art, and especially abstract art, should be recognised and properly considered outside the Philippines and in the Southeast Asian region.
Olazo began his career as an artist at a critical juncture, when the foundations of a modernist tradition were being laid, by key figures such as Vicente Manansala, Victorio Edades, HR Ocampo and Fernando Zobel. Olazo first came to the fore as a printmaker who made striking innovations in this field. This fed into the development of his Diaphanous series, a unique body of abstract paintings that "are veritable visions of light. They have been likened to dragonfly wings, sheets of gossamer veil or gauze, and even a symphony." (Victoria T. Herrera)
His discipline and sheer bravado as a modern abstract artist in the 70s and 80s might be said to outstrip that of many of his contemporaries or even seniors. In 1978 he showed a series of 7' x 8' black and white Diaphanous paintings at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, awe-inspiring in their monumentality and robust energy. His innovations as both a printmaker and a painter earned him the acclaim of a number of important critics of regional stature. In 1981, Leonidas V. Benesa (also a major artist), Rod. Paras-Perez and Emmanuel Torres selected him as one of the "Five Outstanding Living Artists" in the Philippines - he was the youngest of the group which included Ang Kiukok, Cesar Legaspi, Arturo Luz and Napoleon Abueva. Rod. Paras-Perez wrote:
"Olazo has achieved a complete oneness of technique and substance. Or of meaning, content ... and style.....
"Olazo's obviously geometric structures are given infinite nuances by an almost endless transparency which cast on his forms a highly human imprint. This is further accented by flecks of pigments which not only texture his planes but also add an extra index of depth. However, the very sense of depth that is the hallmark of his work makes him different from western painters. Presence as an element, the physical impact of a work, the assertion of pigment and other surface qualities is not given prominence in Olazo. These qualities may be present in isolation in his works but the total impact tends to blur such characteristics and stress qualities associated with Asian works: suggestiveness, introspection, and an impact that may be monumental but without harshness." (Rod. Paras-Perez, Critics' Choice '81: 5 outstanding living artists, Museum of Philippine Art and the Ma-Yi Associates, Manila, 1981)
Alice Guillermo writes of Olazo's dedicated approach to the Diaphanous series, "exploiting the many possibilities of colour, texture and material. But always, these translucent/transparent forms in fine, even layers, touching and overlapping, interplayed with light that was introduced, insinuated and imbued in the work by means of exquisite tonal control."
Alice G Guillermo, "Pursuing Art Together", Business Mirror, 26/4/06
In this beautifully balanced black and white Diaphanous painting from 1994, Olazo has extended his application technique to create a subtle texture of lines or veins, creating yet another dimension to the visual play of layers of paint. Here he also explores degrees of opacity, and seems to take a greater interest in certain shapes, which would have informed the development of the Permutation Series of the 90s.