“The arts give expression to the beauty of the faith and proclaim the Gospel message of the grandeur of God’s creation,” said Pope Francis in his prayer intention for artists last August 2017. “When we admire a work of art or a marvel of nature, we discover how everything speaks to us of Him and of His love.”
One such artist who proclaimed the Gospel message of the grandeur of God’s creation through his works was Ben-Hur Gorospe Villanuenva. Before he died at age 81 last January 25, the Baguio-based artist earned the respect and admiration of critics, peers, and art enthusiasts alike as an accomplished sculptor, painter, educator, lecturer, and art entrepreneur.
In celebration of National Arts Month this February, we look back at the life and career of a man described simply as a “sculptor with a heart.”
His art is everywhere.
The award-winning Among Supremo, his dramatic brass-bronze sculpture of Katipunero Andres Bonifacio clutching a crumpled cedula, is fittingly found at a pocket park along Rizal Drive and 32nd Street in Bonifacio Global City. Thy Will Be Done, a statue of Jesus, kneeling with arms outstretched, is a notable feature in the campus of St. Paul University, Quezon City. And Baguio’s Botanical Park has a statue of his by its entrance: called The Builders, it’s a bronze sculpture of the Cordillera natives, Americans, Japanese, and Chinese men who worked together to build Kennon Road.
“I want my art to be for the masses,” he said in his journals. “I am an artist for others. I want that they could have an access and identify with it.”
He was an art teacher whose students went on to do great things.
As an art teacher of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Grade School for 30 years, he taught the likes of former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and esteemed architect Bong Recio. “Every individual has his/her artistic inclinations and propensity be it visual, music, dance, literary, or fashion and so he/she has the right to enhance and utilize it creatively,” he told the Sun Star. “Sharing it with others is what makes our life more meaningful and blessed.”
Baguio is his second home.
Born in San Mateo, Rizal, Ben-Hur-graduated with a fine arts degree from the Philippine Women’s University. When he retired from teaching in the early 1990s, he and his younger brother Roberto moved to Baguio. There, he set up Arko ni Apo (Ilokano for Ark of the Lord), an art workshop and gallery owned by his family.
He wasn’t the only artist in the family.
Before passing away from leukemia in 1995, Roberto was a known surrealist, award-winning documentarian, and installation artist who used indigenous elements from nature as his medium. Of Ben-Hur’s eight children, Bumbo appears to take after him, forging a career for himself as a sculptor and performance artist.