Claude Tayag never ceases to amaze me as he not only dabbles but shines in the various endeavors he pours his heart and soul into – whether it be the culinary arts or the visual arts.
We know him as a chef and culinary icon, with his relentless promotion of Pampango and Philippine cuisine.
The name of his private dining space is Bale Dutung. If you have not yet been to this culinary treasure, make your way to the Tayags’ home in Angeles, Pampanga (visit baledutung.com for details). It’s is by reservation only as guests experience the culinary traditions of the Pampangeños, as interpreted by Tayag, made extraordinary with the charming touch of his wife Maryann Quioc. You may opt for an all-Pampango menu or an all-lechon menu. It was in fact at Tayag’s home that Anthony Bourdain experienced and fell in love sisig, after which the culinary legend said that sisig would “win the hearts and minds of the world”. (To honor Bourdain, Bale Dutung now also offers an Anthony Bourdain menu.)
The Influence of E. Aguilar Cruz
But the chef’s hat is only one of his many hats. In fact, Claude Tayag was first recognized for his paintings, not for his cooking.
It was over 40 years ago, in 1977, that he was first acknowledged as a painter, when he won second prize at the annual competition of the Art Association of the Philippines, for an acrylic on canvas painting depicting the frenzied Ati-tihan festival from an elevated view. A year later, in 1978, he made his official debut into the Manila art scene with a one-man exhibition of watercolor paintings at the ABC Galleries of Larry J. Cruz, son of the great Emilio “Abe” Aguilar Cruz, in Manila. The exhibit was well-received, with critics describing Tayag’s works as “characterized by a forceful spontaneity and raw vigor”.
Abè (father of Larry) was Tayag’s greatest influence and mentor. Cruz was the bosom buddy of Tayag’s father, Renato “Katoks” Dayrit Tayag, a lawyer turned journalist. They used to call Abe “Tatang Milio”. Tayag very clearly remembers when Abe invited his artist friends over to paint the landscape of the Zambales ranges (now Carmenville Subdivision). Tayag holds dear a photo taken by his father of that moment, in 1968, with the 12-year old Claude watching the painters intently. It was quite a group: Sofronio ‘SYM’ Mendoza, Romulo Galicano, Rodolfo Ragodon, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Mauro ‘Malang’ Santos, and the future National Artist Vicente Manansala. Tayag remembers that it was then that he found his own calling, thinking, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up!”
Tayag also recalls his visits to Abe in 1976: “I was a third year Architecture student at the University of the Philippines but I would visit Tatang Milio in his painting studio on Arquiza Street, just off the tourist belt area along A. Mabini in Manila. I’d show him my latest watercolor paintings then he would critique them, and would demonstrate with paint sketches a trick or two.”
Tayag also remembers joining Cruz for the “Sketching Soiree” of the Saturday Artists’ Group – an informal association of professionals with a common passion for making art, led by Cesar Legazpi, then an executive of an advertising agency, and with members such as Alfredo “Ding” Roces, and artists who later became recognized as National Artists, such as Vicente Manansala, H.R. Ocampo, Jose Joya, Ang Kiukok, Arturo Luz, Bencab (Benedicto Cabrera) and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz.
Tayag was also influenced by the “Dimasalang group” comprised of Cruz and 3 friends, SYM, Galicano, and Andres Cristobal. “It was their watercolor paintings that I tried to emulate, in terms of style and subject matter,” Tayag recalls.
Inspired by these great artists, Tayag pursued watercolor as a medium, hoping to increase appreciation for this medium as well. “Watercolor is the most difficult painting medium there is,” the artist explains. “One has to have full control of the water, color, paper and timing. And this could only be achieved through a lifetime dedication of practice and exploration. For me, it is the most rewarding and most pleasurable to work with once you’ve mastered it.”
Watercolor and Wood
In the decade following his first exhibit, Tayag was very prolific, holding an exhibit every two years, with each exhibit focusing on a different subject. Among his exhibits were a European watercolor travelogue in 1980, inspired by his 11-month tour of Europe; Moriones in 1981; Cordillera landscapes in 1985 at the Hyatt Terraces in Baguio, after living in Baguio for a while; Kristos in 1987; and a black and white exhibition using Japanese ink on rice paper called the Bokuseki series, influenced by the Japanese style of painting called Sumi-e, in 1994 and 1997.
Later, Tayag also became known as a sculptor. He started by designing and manufacturing traditional Filipino domestic furniture (e.g la mesa, upuan, taburete, bangkô, paminggalan), which he consigned to the Pansol Pottery owned by potters Jon and Tessie Pettyjohn in Makati. He became known for his creations that had “straightforward functionality and clean lines, much like the Japanese and Shaker furniture”, with “no-nail construction, using mostly dove-tailing and mortise-and-tenon techniques”. In 1990, he staged his first one-man exhibition as a sculptor at the Ayala Museum, presenting both functional and sculptural creations in wood. He awed audiences with his ability to “supercede the limitations of an essentially rigid material, achieving limitless volume and sensuous plasticity with this wave and curvilinear series”.
In the 1980s, Tayag started dabbling in cooking. The ingenious Larry Cruz, then owner of Ang Hang restaurant in Makati, challenged Tayag to interpret his watercolor paintings as “edible art”. I guess a Capampangan does not back down from a challenge, especially one related to cooking, so Tayag executed a clever dinner entitled “Artworks” in 1989. So just as Cruz had given Tayag his first exhibit in 1978, it was also Cruz who gave Tayag his first culinary “exhibit” in 1989!
It must have been a hit as a few years later, in 1993, Tayag was featured as the guest chef of the hoity toity Chaine des Rotisseurs at their annual dinner held at the Manila Hotel. He cooked traditional Pampango cuisine.
In 2001, he was invited to be guest chef for an entire month at the famous fine dining restaurant Prince Albert of the Intercontinental Hotel, the first Asian chef ever to be invited, cooking alongside their French chef Cyrille Soenen.
Since then, Tayag has become a favorite in the culinary scene. Aside from his private dining space Bale Dutung, which he opened with wife Maryann in the 2000s, he has also hosted a television show on food, and has published three food-related books: Food Tour, Linamnam, and Kulinarya (with co-authors). He also made the country proud when he won the People’s Choice Award at the Embassy Chef Challenge in Washington, D.C. in May 2016.
But once an artist, you are always an artist. So when Dr. Ana Labrador, assistant director of the National Museum, saw Tayag at the Emilio “Abé” Aguilar Cruz Hall opening three years ago and suggested that he do an exhibition of his watercolor paintings with them, being a direct “offspring” of Abé as a watercolorist, he immediately said yes.
So until until September 22, the National Museum presents “Claude Tayag: Watercolors 1974 – Present”.
Here you will see the other side of the “chef”: that of visual artist, featuring his watercolor paintings of T’boli women, paintings from the Moriones series, the Kristo series, the Cordillera series, paintings of churches and images of Catholic saints, postcards with art from his travels, and a throwback to the Bokuseki series.
I love the energy that flows from each work of art – from the vibrant colors to the details that communicate life. It is a beautiful exhibition that mirrors the artist’s inspired journeys.
I encourage everyone to visit this exhibit. It is one that his mentors and even his father, who discouraged him from pursuing fine arts, would undoubtedly be proud of. Claude Tayag, like his mentor E. Aguilar Cruz, is truly a Renaissance man!
Claude Tayag: Watercolors 1974 – Present
At the National Museum
Until September 22, 2019
Other opening highlights: