Ed Defensor. If you haven’t heard the name yet, consider this as a belated intro. If you’re familiar with him, then this is a reintroduction; a refresher.
I went to view the collection in Art Forms with an empty mind and I came out embracing the conclusion that Ed Defensor is a living legend. It dawned on me why he is being referred to as such in many informal conversations among artists, academics, and cultural workers.
After reading this short sketch heavy with opinion, I encourage you to visit the Ed Defensor Gallery at the University of the Philippines Visayas Museum Complex so that you will have a personal experience with his work. You will have a better appreciation of his art and acquire a deeper understanding of his significance.
Then you too can write about him, his life, and art. Perhaps a better feature than this one. I tell you, there is a deficit of written articles about Ed Defensor online. I mean written, not copy-pasted press releases. There are plenty of that already. Every Google search will lead you back to www.edddefensor.com. We need to write more about him and his art.
The extraordinary life of a versatile artist
The 77-year-old artist is described as a self-taught and multi-media artist. He dabbled in painting, printmaking, sculpture, theater, and even literature. He is an academic, a community leader, and a public servant. Hence, a summary bio hanging at the gallery defined him as a “visual artist for all season”.
However, he is larger than what he is portrayed.
He is, undoubtedly, Iloilo’s most prolific artist – a living legend. This is affirmed by his creations that are displayed in Art Forms which show the unfading fingerprint that he established on the art community, in particular, and in society, in general.
The collection at the quaint, intimate, and almost a meditative space sums up a portion of his life as an artist, 45 years to backtrack from the present to his oldest work on display dated 1977 – Two Peasants, a work cohabiting with the most recent, a 2021 masterpiece – Manature Series, Opus 295.
Art Forms shows his genius in creating different forms of art and applying various mediums. You will see etchings, collagraph, and intaglio – printmaking techniques that are among the oldest methods in art-making and which have become an uncommon medium these days. Yet it characterizes the 80s work of Ed Defensor. He applied Etching in The Church of Miag-an, Iloilo (1984), Intaglio print in The Church of San Joaquin (1986), and Collagraph print in Aqua-Vita (1981).
The paintings of Ed Defensor likewise show the various techniques that he experimented with and which he sharpened perhaps at a particular period of time of his practice, making extraordinary art pieces in watercolor, acrylic, oil, mixed media, and charcoal. It demonstrates the depth and range with which he honed his skills in visual art.
His paintings likewise show the immensity of his knowledge, skills, and experience created across time and space. His masterpieces somehow highlight a deliberate focus on a medium for a particular decade. Among the most popular is his Manature Series, an Opus numbering close to 300 pieces that are now in the hands of collectors across the globe.
The title “Manature” is a contraction of two words: “Man” or the artist and “Nature”, the basic elements that comprise the artworks. It describes the series as art from the “interaction between the artist and the inadvertent designs and compositions created by nature as water and colors take their natural courses on the empty canvas.”
The Manature collections, he explained, are acrylic and mixed-media collages that utilized Korean and Philippine handmade paper and other materials which he discovered in the course of his experimentation in this particular art genre.
Iconic and large scale public sculptures
At the center of the gallery is a 171.5 cm x 56.1 cm x 25.5 cm Wood sculpture, entitled: Dancers (1998). Looking closely at his sculptures is like opening another chapter of the book. These were entirely different subject to dive in and you will see the remarkable application of various techniques that you have learned in Humanities 101 subject.
His sculptures on display are something to behold. The wood sculptures were dressed up in copper nails, bent to the shape of the three-dimensional carving, making an impression that it is entirely made of copper at a glance. Three of the Coppernail Sculptures that he preserved: Dancer VI (1998), The Lovers (1998), and Fire Dance II (1999) are part of the collection.
The Coppernail Sculptures were realized from the materials he encountered during a trip to the hardware. “I was attracted to its beauty and texture but felt sad in that its only use was as nails for boats since they do not rust. I decided to experiment with these materials and came up with these artworks,” he shared.
An Ed Defensor sculptural masterpiece is not only contained in the gallery. They are also rooted in the Iloilo community serving either as a monument or a landmark.
In 2010, a Defensor masterpiece was introduced to the public – the Donato Militante Pison, Sr. Monument, an old muscovado chimney that now stands as the historical landmark at the rotunda of Ayala-Atria in Brgy. San Rafael, Mandurriao. The work depicts the contribution of the Pison Family to the economic development of Iloilo City through their patriarch who broke ground on four industries, namely: sugar, rice, fish, and salt production in that location and which has now become a high-end commercial district.
Also read about Ed Defensor here: G12 shows works in retrospect of Ilonggo art and artists
The story of Pison patriarch was depicted in the 20 feet diameter base sculpture through carvings that are made of reinforced concrete with rosin finishing in gold and cobalt black.
The following year 2011, the 18-foot, 7 tons bronze statue named Lin-ay Sang Iloilo (Young Woman) was established at the dome of the Iloilo City Hall, serving as an icon who watches over Iloilo. This is by far considered the only existing bronze sculpture of size that is standing at the top of a building in the Philippines.
Another historical creation of Defensor was unveiled in 2015, the St. Ignatius of Loyola Monument at the Ateneo de Iloilo. This piece is considered the biggest sculpture of St. Ignatius in the world made of cold cast marble.
Ed Defensor’s sculptures that are of equal importance are hidden from public view for years, away from the galleries and group shows.
These particular collections were cultivated by the artist for around 25 years or even longer. They are constantly nourished, cleaned, manicured to shape, and cared for based on their exceptional need. This is the Bonsai collection assembled at the backyard garden, a living museum of various varieties of potted trees and flowering plants.
The Bonsai living museum shows another facet of Ed Defensor’s artistic life, especially that these art pieces requires an application of technique and hands-on maintenance, not by paint brushes, but by miniature garden tools.
While the Bonsai garden predated the popularity of the internet, it was social media that allowed its digital exhibit, displaying these works to the public through his updated album on Facebook. Cyberfriends, followers and art collectors of Ed Defensor marveled on his precious collection, especially the assortment of flowering bougainvillea.
A multidisciplinary Ilonggo artist
A dimension of his artistic life that is not crystallized on canvas nor in sculptural pieces at the gallery is his academic and Thespian side. Apart from being an art history professor, Defensor’s theater productions and performances were extensive and run parallel with his other art activities.
He is a multidisciplinary artist. It can be surmised that whenever Ed Defensor is not in the classroom or out of his studio, he is either on stage acting or directing, in a production room, or in the community.
Imaginably, Ed Defensor’s artistic life was happening simultaneously, if not alternately – theater, sculptor, painter, writer – rolled into one. Indeed, prolific!
He was artistic director of the Hiligaynon Music Theater for 35 years. This is the side of him which indulged in all of the elements of theater production from music, writing and directing.
Two of the more than 30 productions that he handled made it to national and international prominence and it traveled to foreign shores, Ang Babaylan and Apik!
Ang Babaylan received a National Performance Tour from the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In 1990, it traveled for a performance in Malaysia to represent the Philippines in the 1st ASEAN Universities’ Folk-Arts Festival. The dance-drama Apik!, on the other hand, toured to Melbourne, Australia as the Philippine representative to the 1994 ORFF 100 International Conference on Music and Dance.
More than anything, Ed Defensor is not a solitary artist. He is a well-loved and respected leader of the community. He is a movant of art movements having founded Hubon Madia-as and charter chairman of the Visayas Islands Visual Artist Association; a public servant for the artists having served as a member of the National Committee of the Visual Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. (NCAA).
Art Forms activates our imaginings of the life and art practice of Ed Defensor.
“The collection shows his versatility as a painter, a printmaker, and a sculptor,” expressed Prof. Martin Genodepa, Director of the Office of Initiatives in Culture and the Arts of UP Visayas.
The versatility of Ed Defensor as an artist manifests in his ability “to shift from either artform with equal ease,” enthused Genodepa who is likewise an artist and who curated the galleries at the museum.
Edward Defensor – versatile, prolific, a living legend.
 Ed Defensor Fine Art, https://www.edddefensor.com/works
 “Ed Defensor: Turning simple materials into things of beauty” by Kathy M. Villalon, January 23, 2008, http://www.thenewstoday.info/2008/01/23/ed.defensor.turning.simple.materials.into.things.of.beauty.html
 Chimney Monument in Analog, ILOstrado, Art and Photography of Christian Evren Lozañes, https://ilostrado.wordpress.com/tag/pison/. The Pison, Sr. monument project was undertaken by Ed Defensor together with Fred Orig and Harry Mark Gonzales.
[A] Bonsai garden, St. Ignatius Monument and Lin-Ay sculpture photos were from the Facebook album of Ed Defensor.
[B] The Pison, Sr. Monument photo is by Christian Evren Lozañes site ILOstrado.