Words and photos by Kaye Bernal
Launched as the first modern and major shopping mall in the district of Malate, Manila, Harrison Plaza became an outlet for people from different walks of life. One of these people just so happens to be a descendant of the renowned Filipino painter Juan Luna. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Freddie Luna Cruz.
As a self-confessed sensitive yet friendly guy, Freddie Luna Cruz is a progressive man who always has a positive outlook in life. “I’ve always been fond of drawing ever since I was a little kid. Even if I try to hide it, my passion for creativity will always come out. It’s in my blood,” he says.
“In high school, I started my semi-business as an artist whenever I [did] my classmates’ projects. In return, I would charge them so that I can spend it on my lunch and snacks. Then, when I went to College, I took up Fine Arts in the University of the Philippines.” Due to some unforeseen circumstances, Cruz’s years in college were cut short when Martial Law was declared. Nevertheless, his three years as an undergraduate student helped him in acquiring all the skills that he continues to apply to his work.
The then twenty-three-year-old artist started his career in 1976 in Harrison Plaza. Prior to his longest-running stall, he confessed that he had been to so many places before in order to publish his works, but it was only in Malate where his career became successful.
Just like any other artist, Cruz admits that he also started from scratch with 300 pesos per portrait. Despite being a Luna, even if his name helped him in establishing his career and his legacy, he confesses that he also had his fair share of struggles, critics, and insecurities as well.
“They say that a lot of artists are good, even better than me, in fact. Well, that’s good because, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It just depends if the critic is intellectual or not. Don’t waste your time on those people who are just trying too hard to criticize you. Listen to those are criticizing you constructively instead. In terms of insecurities, my only problem is my financial needs because, practically speaking, your rent is continuous but your business is not. I never felt that my works and I are not being recognized enough because I just do what I do. Whether you notice me and my works or not, I don’t care. Artists are like that, actually. We have our own vindication. So if you like my work, okay, thank you. If you don’t, I don’t care either because I have my own perspective as an artist.”
Known for his realist portraits, he also gets inspiration from sceneries as well. “I use everything that reminds me of the Philippines as the background for my portraits because that’s how I get to represent our country and our culture. It’s the vibrancy of my works that attracts especially my foreign customers,” he shares. Because of this, Cruz’s career reached greater heights when opportunities from abroad opened doors for him to be a representative here in the Philippines and showcase what Filipino artists can contribute to the world of the arts.
Another factor in Cruz’s career when he got to meet the different presidents of the country during their respective reigns–starting from Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo, and Duterte. “No amount of money can suffice to the fact that I was able to hand them my works personally, and that they got to touch it with their very own hands. That kind of reward is more than enough.”
As a witness of the state of the Philippine arts for so many years already, he says that the era of today is much luckier compared to before. If back then, he would go to such places like Greenhills and Makati just to endorse his works, he can now share them on the internet in an instant. He agrees that the youth is lucky to have digital technology and that the art of today is much better now. “It’s not bad to use technology when making art. What’s important is your composition. But to build a harmonious effect? That’s what they pay! Just be passionate with your craft, be devoted in making it, and be serious in your work.”
His advice to those who aspire to be an artist like him is to never stop working and to never stop learning. “Always research and always search for the best. Education, for me, is infinitive so that’s why it’s important to keep up with the development of this world. A lot of artists are great but don’t elate yourself. Never be boastful because that would be your biggest downfall. Always be humble.”
Now, at the age of 66, Freddie Luna Cruz still continues to live up to his words that as long as he is still alive, he will never stop doing what he loves because, for him, the history of the arts will always be never-ending.
If you want to have your own customized paintings made by Mr. Cruz himself, feel free to contact him using the details from the descriptions below: