• The Pasig Review

The renaissance man who is Cenon Rivera

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

Noel Rivera

Many artists lived and died searching for a purpose to stand in a crowd and be remembered by the people. Cenon Mangahas Rivera was successful at that for he became not only an artist but their teacher and guru.

Cenon M. Rivera and his Genesis! 1st Prize among the 400 entries in the Mostra Lazio, 1963 Rome, Italy

The great Cenon just like any man was born simple. In a little barrio called San Jose in Hagonoy, Bulacan the artist came to this world on April 16, 1922 and as a child,was hypnotized by the beautiful and the unusual around him. He was restless and impatient when he had nothing to do. When sick, and had to be in bed, he surrounded himself with toys most of which he made himself. In the 1930s he made cardboard cut-outs of Tarzan and Jane and various animals and made shadow plays with them on a white sheet behind candle light.

Sometime in 1935, he made a bust of Rizal with clay made from an ant hill. He also started making pocket-size sketches during lulls in the classroom. He did this is a past time and through the years, be brought this habit even in his local and foreign travels.

He graduated salutatorian form the Hagonoy Elementary School. Throughout his high school and college years he excelled in English composition classes. This stimulated his passion in writing which he compiled in a limited edition book titled “Pintig ng Buhay at iba pang Katha” that includes his poetry, short stories and essays. He also wrote Tagalog short stories categorized as “pampanitikan” which were published in Liwayway, Malaya and Bagong Buhay. In 1947 he started designing the “Veritas”, the UST High School annual, which he handled for 13 years. Not long after he designed the UST annual “The Thomasian” for 23 years (1954-1977). He designed various cultural and historical publications of UST.

In 1948 he graduated BSE major in art education. This started his teaching profession in art and advertising subjects in the then UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts up to 1995 after which he was conferred Professor Emeritus by the UST. His stature as an artist, being above the artisan colorist, is an understatement. He is a multi-faceted craftsman. He finished his art education at the University of Santo Tomas.

He was a working student engaged as an art director, copywriter and Tagalog editor in advertising agencies. He started painting seriously in the late 1940's evolving a personal style characterized by horizontal and vertical grids akin to the technique of stained glass. In 1956, Cenon Rivera held his first one-man exhibition at the Philippine Art Gallery, a famous breeder of avant-garde artists at that time.

Being a modernist, he works mainly in the abstract and non-objective idiom. In 1952 he was one of the pioneers in graphic art or printmaking in the Philippines. He started making distinctive Philippine Christmas cards with over 60 different designs. He experimented in monoprint, woodcut, linocut, lawani cut, and serigraph. He designed the official seals and diplomas of all faculties, colleges and departments of the University of Santo Tomas. As heraldry artist, he designed through the years coat-of –arms of bishops, seals of all Bulacan towns to conform more closely to the rules of heraldry. In this heraldry design, he won an Award o f Distinctive Merit for layout of Thomasian seals in the ADCP (Art Directors Club of the Philippines) exhibition and competition. With his knowledge, experience and expertise in heraldic design artistry, he was tasked to design the new corporate seal of the local government of Pasig City in 1994.

A scholar of the Italian government, he trained at the Academia di Belle Arti in Rome in 1962. He observed and absorbed the classical culture of the art capital winning first prize in an international painting composition in Rome in a field of 400 entries by 80 international artists. He repated this feat when he won first prize in a field of 120 on-the-spot painting entries by artists from different nations in Italy. In all, his foreign sojourns merited him 13 international art competition awards. He is a stained glass designer and expert after having learned the technology of the craft in Rome and observing it in 22 cities in Europe. His designs now grace innumerable churches, memorial shrines and residences in the country. Some of his stained glass he designed are the 22 stained glass panels in Santuario Church in San Juan, Metro Manila; the 15 Mysteries of the Holy Rosary in Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Pasig; the fourteen historical stained glass at the Basillica de Santo Niño in Cebu; the three panels behind the altar in Mount Samat National Shrine.

The Altar of Valor with the Stained Glass Art of Cenon at the Dambana ng Kagitingan in Mt. Samat

Thus, Cenon M. Rivera has been engaged in teaching and in art production and promotion in the Philippine art scene these past half a century. In that span, he has held 16 one-man exhibitions and garnered 17 national and international art awards aside from citations from his Alma Mater, the University of Santo Tomas, and from his hometowns, Hagonoy, Bulacan and Pasig City, and various reputable institutions.

Mariang Alimango by Cenon Rivera

Professor Cenon M. Rivera has helped produce a covey of art graduates who are now well known in the local art firmament and continuously pushing their golden brushes to achieve greater heights as embodied in their mentor's dictum: "Experiment and seek thy own limits." Known names such as Castrillo, Isidro, Mercado, Parial, Samonte, Austria, Manalo, Antonio, Belleza, Dalena, Castillo, Concepcion and dela Cruz are a few among the thousands of artists who were once upon a time under his tutelage, trying to please their mentor by achieving their level at best in their plates and projects.

Other anonymous artists now productively working with less than a whimper behind art director's drawing boards in advertising agencies, private and government offices here and abroad would raise their hands to be counted as having been under the expert guidance of Prof. Cenon M. Rivera, the teacher and artist. He too dabbles in sculpture designing historical and religious relief murals in churches, memorial spots and making non-objective wood sculptures for various visual purposes.

Prof. Cenon huddling with his students

Rivera's legacy to teaching can very well be summed up into a roster of successful professional artists. His almost half a century of teaching art and graphic design interrupted only by scholarships, research grants and international sojourns, clearly manifests his intense love for the career.

Being a teacher, he is adept in organizational skills. He organized art clubs, exhibitions, competitions and missions effectively promoting art in the community level. For his meritorious contribution to the community such as free art classes, summer workshops and art training for teachers, he was awarded a Distinguished Alumnus Award from his alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas first in 1967, then in 1976, and again in 1986. Being acknowledged both in the field of art and teaching, he was chairman of the committee that prepared the civil service examinations for artists and illustrators supervising the initial implementation of the examination. For his outstanding merit, the University granted him the rank of Professor without the usual academic credit.

Three years after his retirement in 1994 he was conferred the title of Professor Emeritus by the University of Santo Tomas as recommended by the committee headed by Dean Yolanda Reyes of the College of Architecture and Fine Arts and Professor Jaime de los Santos. Likewise, he was named Outstanding Citizen awards were granted by his hometowns, Hagonoy and Pasig.

Cenon Mangahas Rivera, multi-awarded Artist and Pasigueno died in 1998.

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