Botong Francisco

Carlos Villaluz Francisco (Angono, November 4, 1912 – March 31, 1969), also known as his nickname Botong, was a Filipino muralist. He is considered to be the most important wall painters of Philippine history and is famous for his historical paintings. Francisco’s work is characterized by his flawless sense of composition, smooth lines and abundant use of color. In 1973, Francisco became posthumous with the title of National Artist of the Philippines. In addition to his murals, Francisco, along with filmmaker Manuel Conde, was also active in the Filipino film industry.

Botong grew up in Angono, a municipality in the Philippine province of Rizal. His father produced wine and died when he was five years old. As one of the few in Angona, after his middle school education, Batong was given the opportunity to study further. He studied at the School of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines. Director of this training was Fabian de la Rosa, a prominent Filipino painter. However, shortly before the end of high school, Botong was forced to stop his education to work.

He began his career as a trainee at the Philippine Herald, later working as an illustrator at La Vanguardia and the Manila Tribune. Shortly after World War II, he joined the newly founded Faculty of Architecture and Art of the University of Santo Tomas. After the outbreak of war, he returned to his birthplace Angono, joining the local guerrilla movement.

After the war he returned to his old job as a lecturer at the University of Santo Tomas. The popularity of his murals soon became known as a great escape. At the end of 1947 he stopped his job as a teacher to fully focus on his artistic work. In July 1948, Kaingin won his first prize at the Philippine National Museum’s annual exhibition of Philippine Art. The award confirmed its status as one of the most prominent artists in the Philippines. Gradually he received more and more great assignments, as he made murals for famous Filipino people like Carmen Planas, José Yulo and Eugenio Lopez. He also received major public building projects, such as Musikong Bumbong, at the Manila Hotel Fiesta Pavillion, a painting for Jai Alai’s Keg Room, the Bayanihan scene for the Philippine Bank of Commerce, a four-panel painting for The Philippine General Hospital and painted walls of stations the chapel of Far Eastern University and the Santo Domingo Church.

In the 1950s, the celebrity of Botong was at a peak. In 1953 he was unanimously chosen to paint the main entrance of the first Philippine International Fair. The theme of this masterpiece was “500 years progress in the Philippines”. The American weekly Newsweek published this work prominently on the middle pages of the magazine and thus Botong became the first Filipino artist who received so much attention in an internationally renowned magazine. The job was lost when it broke down shortly after the exhibition.

In addition to his work as a mural artist, Francisco in the 40’s and 50’s was also active in the Filipino film industry, in which he mostly collaborated with filmmaker and Filipino national artist Manuel Conde. Thus he wrote the script for Ghenghis Khan, Putol after Kampilan, (1950) Tatlong Labuyo (1953) and designed the costumes for Prinsipe Teñoso (1941), Ibong Adarna (1941), Siete Infantes de Lara (1950), Romeo at Julieta (1951) and the Juan Tamad series.

With the money he earned as an artist, Botong could live well in his birthplace. On March 31, 1969, Botong died at the age of 57 with the impact of a cracked vein when he was exuberantly laughing while watching his favorite television show.

Francisco was a most distinguished practitioner of mural painting for many decades and best known for his historical pieces. He was one of the first Filipino modernists along with Galo Ocampo and Victorio C. Edades who broke away from Fernando Amorsolo’s romanticism of Philippine scenes. According to restorer Helmuth Josef Zotter, Francisco’s art “is a prime example of linear painting where lines and contours appear like cutouts.”

He was also responsible for the discovery of the now famous Angono Petroglyphs in 1965.