Salcedo Stories

A Woman, a Painting, and a Friendship Larger Than Life

A Woman, a Painting, and a Friendship Larger Than Life

  • 23 February 2021

There was something so deeply profound between the decades-long friendship of artists Gilda Cordero-Fernando, a prominent Filipino writer whose body of work became a significant cultural touchstone, and Elmer Borlongan, one of the nation’s most sought-after contemporary artists.

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Gilda Cordero-Fernando posing in front of a Borlongan in the early 2010s. Photo courtesy of GMA News.

As the story goes, Cordero-Fernando and Borlongan met through another fellow artist, Roberto Feleo in 1996. Even then, Cordero-Fernando already recognized the genius of a young Borlongan. She quickly became an early fan and art patron of his thought-provoking work, leading her to have a painting, ‘Huntahan,’ commissioned. Huntahan was rich in symbolism that alluded to the captivating personality of Cordero-Fernando— it depicted three figures in a close huddle, each enthralled in spirited conversation with one another— a familiar sight for anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting her home.

The Philippine cultural doyenne opened her home to every type of artist— from the painters to the poets. Her place became an effervescent cultural hub where art thrived and all were welcome. She lived ‘La Vie Boheme,’ constantly encouraging her artistic circle to let their creativity run free. Our Chairman and Chief Specialist, Richie Lerma, recalls that Cordero-Fernando had an affinity for cultural rituals— some of her mind’s own creation, and others drawing from animistic traditions. “There was simply never a dull moment when she was around,” Lerma remarks.

Like many others, Borlongan found solace in this artistic haven built by Cordero-Fernando and the two became close friends.

Only three years after completing his first commissioned work for his dear friend, Borlongan was tasked to create a second masterpiece, this time much larger in size. The painting was intended to welcome guests into Cordero-Fernando’s dream world— her home, the safe space she had carved out for herself amidst the backdrop of the city’s constant hustle and bustle. Expressing full confidence in the work of the then burgeoning artist, Borlongan was given free rein in the creative process to set the theme for this significant commission. Needless to say, the art patron was impressed by the outcome, honoring it, like the many other prized works by the artists she supported and that she acquired through the decades, with a ritual of welcome.

The mural in itself is an apt reflection of Cordero-Fernando’s spirit and, in extension, the energy of her home— it is vibrant, eclectic, and full of love for the arts. There is no one way to take in nor interpret this work— like its original owner, it is larger than life. Only a true friend and master of his craft could have encapsulated the essence of Gilda Cordero-Fernando so truthfully and intimately.

Years later, Cordero-Fernando wrote about this work in her celebrated memoir The Last Full Moon: Lessons on My Life.

“[This] bigger mural has a two-headed angel carrying a sword. Standing in the center is a towering male figure holding a conch shell. On the left side is a runway horse bring held down by a bald guy. A couple is in a desperate embrace and a doorway leads to the sea. There are some blue people floating in front. I warned Elmer that the painting must be friendly and welcoming because it is by the entrance. Located on a slatted bridge whose doors slide open, the mural is so big it has to be viewed from the garden outside.”

The painting has since been part of a private collection and has never been seen in public, until now.

A closer look at the details and visual narratives of the mural

This significant artwork, which once belonged to a cultural icon, will be the biggest Borlongan to ever go to auction. It is one of the highlights of Salcedo Auctions’ ‘Important Philippine Art & Furniture’ sale on Saturday, 13 March at 2PM.