Meeting an art maestro in Sagay City, Negros Occidental

Through the years, I’ve hung out with a handful of artistic souls, most of whom were around my age or even younger. One time, though, I only caught a glimpse of Kidlat Tahimik at his enchanting Ili Likha Artist Village, which is where gastronomy intertwines with awe-inspiring art installations in Baguio City, as he sat at a neighboring table.

However, on this mist-laden day, huddled with fellow travel writers inside an eclectic beachfront hut in Sagay City, I got to be part of an extraordinary chance. Unlike that fleeting starstruck moment with Kidlat, this encounter involved a personal interaction with none other than an esteemed maestro of the art world, Nunelucio Alvarado.

Welcoming us to his humble abode, he immediately summoned us to circle around him as he spoke animatedly for nearly an hour about himself and his craft.

An artist village called Bougainvillea

“Imagine living in a community where an artist of Nunelucio Alvarado’s stature lives?” Sagay City’s Tourism Officer Helen Arguelles tells us as we ride past houses painted with a kaleidoscope of rainbow hues and mesmerizing mural walls.

The community which is called Bougainvillea in Old Sagay attracts artists from all over who choose to live simply in this quiet coastal town. Undeniably, Alvarado’s sheer presence in the neighborhood has drawn in other artistic minds and spread his enthusiasm for art throughout the neighborhood.

The neighborhood, also known as the “community of colors,” can be explored from the seat of a “trisikad,” a bicycle outfitted with a sidecar that can carry two passengers. Labeled as the “sikad” tours, it is one of the many community-based tourism programs of Sagay City.

Visitors can take a sikad ride through the community to see the colorful murals painted by local volunteer artists under the guidance of Syano Artlink, where Alvarado serves as art director.

We went on sikad excursions in pairs, and the route took us through a mangrove forest and down to the water’s edge, where we walked the final hundred meters to Kape ALBARAKO, a bamboo coffee shop overlooking Margaha Beach.

The cafe is owned by Nunelucio and his wife Sally, who both live in an equally charming hut just a few meters away.

PHOTOGRAPH by marky ramone go | With Maestro Nune and his wife Sally.

Meeting the Maestro

“Do you want to meet Maetro Nune?” asks Helen. Seeing our expressions brighten without a word being spoken, a unanimous “Yes” was expressed, and we set off for Nune’s residence.

Twice-nominated for National Artist, Maestro Nune was a fixture in Manila’s art scene in his younger years, especially at Penguin bar, whose former regulars still fondly remember him.

Even though Nunelucio and wife Sally’s beach shack appears unassuming on the outside, it actually contains a treasure trove of artworks, including examples of his signature social realist style, characterized by the unmistakable trademark of evoking ancient Egyptian paintings with hieratic depictions of bodies and faces.

While many of Nunelucio Alvarado’s works can be viewed at the National Museum of the Philippines, the Singapore Art Museum, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, just to name a few, a pile of them resides within the sacred walls of his humble abode. Stacks upon stacks of his creations occupy every inch of available space, forming a breathtaking labyrinth of artistic masterpieces.

As I immersed myself inside the couple’s private sanctuary, my eager fingertips rummaged through paintings that each held a mesmerizing allure, with value ranging from P30,000 to P300,000 — an exquisite collection that itself can fill up a museum already.

His wife Sally told us that Maestro Nune spends much of his day in his hand-hewn and painted studio creating new masterpieces everyday while facing the restorative energy of the 32,000-hectare Sagay Marine Reserve.

Battling an early onset of dementia, maestro Nunelucio recounted some of the highlights of his stellar career to us during our conversation. This was especially meaningful to me as I was one of the few people who knew very little about him before our trip to Sagay.

A Sagaynon through and through, Nunelucio can choose to live and find inspiration elsewhere, yet he elected to stay rooted in Sagay City, attached to residing by the tranquil embrace of the sea.

Nunelucio continues to derive profound inspiration from the ocean’s limitless depths, as suggested by the title of his final exhibition, “Stories of Restoration, Songs from the Sea,” which was displayed at the ILOMOCA Museum in Iloilo in December 2018.

The maestro’s memory may have begun to fade with age, but his devotion to his craft is undimmed. Nunelucio’s brushstrokes still leave a path of brilliance, as never-ending as the sound of the waves lapping on the coast in front of his home.