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Jose's son Reynaldo recalls his father's life and work.
My Dad was born in Pulilan, Bulacan on March 8, 1919. He was the first of the two children of Alfonso Caluag, a chief of police of Baliuag, Bulacan, and Dionisia Castro, a housewife. His father died of Cholera when they were very young. Thus, his mother, with no other means to support them, married a fisherman from Navotas, Rizal and eventually moved there. His stepfather, as to his account, was not really that of a perfect adoptive parent. In his pre-adolescent years he was obliged to help him fish during the night, go to school during the day, and after school help his mother to sell charcoal and lime. His father was never supportive of his education, thus, he barely finished his high school degree.
His art education were informal and mainly self-taught. The former dean of National Teachers College, where he finished his HS training, recognized his talent and encouraged him to hone his skills and develop a career in illustrations and graphic designs, by providing him with the books and learning materials from the school's library as well as his personal art books and manuscripts. He also learned to write short stories. Though less than a handful were published, I remember him telling me how one of his stories won an award during those years.
Being 8th of his nine children I have sketchy recollection of his work history. I was told that he started doing komiks" illustrations in Liwayway and Bulaklak magazine starting in the late 40's. From 1950 to 1956, he was one of the resident artists at the United States Information Service (USIS) under the US Embassy. He was cited as "Valuable Artist of USIS" in 1955. He contacted tuberculosis in 1956, so was forced to resign and just stayed home working as a free lance illustrator under different publications that included Roces' and G. Miranda. He did illustrations for different writers but most of them were that of Pablo Gomez and Mars Ravelo's. He also designed product labels and posters for different local companies.
What I remember most, growing up was the small studio in our home, consisting mainly of a huge, adjustable inclined drawing board maybe 5'X4', with 2 solid wood chairs, flanked by a couple of filing cabinets and some shelvings on the top and the bottom where he kept some of his books, references and supplies. On the ceiling was a huge 4-bulbs florescent light fixtures hanging just above the drawing board illuminating every single details of his drawings. On the right, adjacent to the tall filing cabinet is another working table with drawers at the bottom and a hatch on the top, filled with spare parts for radio, some speakers, electrical devices, copper wires,nuts and bolts, soldering iron, and some old fashion radios that needed to be fixed. My father would stay in that studio drawing for most of the day and would come out only for lunch and dinner. When he got bored, he would work on electronics and fix some radios for additional income. His knowledge of fixing and small electrical appliances were also gained thru observations and self education.
Once in a while, for a quite while, there would be some budding artist or students that would sit on the second chair and would watch him draw and ink his work. At times, they would bring some of their drawings/works and my Dad would critique and suggest artistic solutions to their areas of difficulty. He loved to teach and would go out of his to do just that. I don't know how many that came and went. I also sat there during those years watching him and admired what he does. He taught me a lot of things as we went along. I have learned to draw and ink, and at times helped him ink some of his work. But there was a point in the '70's when he was just tired of drawing. I was doing my pre-med course, when he would ask me just to sit with him so he would finish his work. I wasn't really doing anything, most of the works were still his but it gives him a great pleasure that I was there, and the thought that he was able to mentor and impart his knowledge, that someday I'll take over his seat and continue what he had started.
After I finished medical school in 1981, my Dad had decided to quit Komiks illustrations all together. He migrated to USA in 1982 and just drew and painted as a hobby. He would copy a master's work in oil give it to friends and relatives as presents. He would do some original oil painting reminiscence of his old job - komik illustrations. When my Mom passed away in 1992 he stayed in USA for a couple more years then he moved back to the Philippines. He re-married an old acquaintance then suffer a fatal heart attack on February 5, 2000.
Reynaldo M. Caluag
Photos courtesy of Reynaldo M. Caluag