Cities in Stasis, Barrios in Motion

Hernando R. Ocampo and Cesar Legaspi’s paintings are part of the Vargas Museum collection. The Contrast and Frugal Meal, respectively, are both painted in oil on canvas and are exhibited at the second floor main gallery. Hernando R. Ocampo is a National Artist for Visual Arts in 1991. He was a leading member of the pre-war Thirteen Moderns. Cesar Legaspi is a National Artist for Visual Arts in 1990 and was also part of the Thirteen Moderns. Both are famously known for their triumvirate with Vicente Manansala. These artists are identified as Neorealists, whose themes usually focus on “social inequalities and the oppression of industrial workers, the stark reality of a country in ruins and poverty and dislocation of the masses that the war had wrought.”[1] These socially-relevant themes made the modern artists favour proletarian art over art-for-art’s sake during the post-war period.

The Contrast captures the feeling of heaviness and pain of a slum dweller against the background of a building that looks abandoned.  Ocampo used vivid and warm colors like red, orange and yellow casts the man in a meagre light.   The dim shadow and green hue that frames the man made the scene more depressing and sinister; it conveyed a sense of heaviness. On the other hand, Legaspi’s Frugal Meal used predominant brown tones suggesting softness and comfort.  The earthenware positioned at the background supplemented a rustic and local mood.

Structured by jagged and vertical lines, Ocampo’s painting looked static and inert.. But in Legaspi’s, curves and wavy lines predominate to lend fluidity in movement to the composition. The movement of lines on both paintings also contributes on the composition and placement of the figures.  In The Contrast, the man set in the middle of the painting’s frame makes the space appear narrow and limited, giving  a contained and claustrophobic feeling but in the Frugal Meal, the mood is  expansive, the atmosphere and ambiance  well-ventilated due to  the additional space provided at the background.
The disparity of lines and composition also represent the dichotomy of privileged versus unprivileged. Due to the wavy and curved lines which are evident in the man’s muscular and well-developed body built, Frugal Meal suggests that he is more privileged. This situation is emphasized not just on his body built but also on his clothed body. This is in contrast to the vertical lines placed on the unembellished, unclothed body and lean limbs of the less fortunate man in The Contrast.
Gestures and posture also tell us many things about these men’s social conditions.  In Ocampo’s painting, the way the man is shown in full length, seated (almost cuddling his feet) reminds me of the depressed areas in an urban setting. Images like the squatters as they are portrayed in newspapers and other media come to mind..  Notice also the empty plate which added to a feeling of bareness and misery. His eyes are closed as if he is in agony, and completely alone in his pain.  Legaspi’s painting, in contrast, depicts a more laid back rural setting.. It reminds me of my own life in the province. Here, the man sits differently compared to Ocampo’s painting. He holds his one leg comfortably and it looks as though a peasant or farmer is taking a break from work.  His hands led me to the plate with a food in it, telling me that while the meal is frugal, it is sustainable enough. The way the lines are drawn in his eyes and his facial expression denotes the peacefulness and contentment in his life.
In these works, the contrast between rural and urban settings is expressed through the binary opposition between staticity and fluidity, with the former describing life in a supposedly frenetic city and the latter, describing life in a supposedly laid back rural setting.

[1] Guillermo, Alice G. Asian Modernism. “The History of Modern Art in the Philippines”.


  1. Good day miss Aliana,may we ask if you know what year did HR Ocampo and Legaspi finished their canvases?

    1. 1940 my source was from the Vargas Museum. I went there.

    2. can we consider the contrast as an example of contemporary art due to its usual style different from the art styles that we had during the time it was painted?