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Sansó’s Darker Side is Explored in a New Exhibit

While Juvenal Sansó is known for his floral paintings, etchings, and azure-and-green Brittany series, the celebrated artist also has a somber side.

In Fundacion Sansó’s latest exhibit, “Sansó: Prized and Personal featuring the Marlon & Marissa Sanchez Collection,” there are no pretty florals. Instead, the paintings feature portraits of Parisians, sinister black bouquets, and Brittany landscapes that have an ominous cast over them.

This is the second of a series of “Sansó: Prized and Personal” exhibits, which show the artist’s works owned by different private collectors. Composed of 27 works on paper and canvas, the Marlon and Marissa Sanchez Collection focuses on Sansó’s expressionist Dark Series or Black Period, including his Grotesqueries, his Black Series portraits created in 1950s – ‘60s Paris, and Brittany Series paintings. 

Marlon and Marissa started out as art dealers but eventually collected Sansó paintings instead of selling them. What transpired was a love and deep respect for the artist and his work, and their collection gives us a detailed look at one of Sansó’s seminal art phases.

Art that hints at a traumatic past

This Black Period was Sansó’s way of dealing with his wartime trauma. After migrating to Manila from Reus, Spain in 1934, his family lived a relatively comfortable life until World War II broke out. The teenaged Sansó was mistaken by Japanese soldiers as an American and was badly beaten. Soon after, he was critically injured during the carpet-bombing of Manila. He survived his severe injuries and became a conductor for the bus that his father operated in the post-war city. 

“After the Fall,” 1959, tempera and ink on paper, Marlon & Marissa Sanchez Collection

These two episodes scarred him emotionally. As an art student in the University of the Philippines and later while sitting in on classes at the University of Santo Tomas, Sansó decided to eschew the happy, bucolic Filipino scenes—popular themes at the time. His painting “The Incubus”, which won him the grand prize at the Art Association of the Philippines, showed early traces of this dark period. It is described by Fundacion Sansó director Ricky Francisco in the book After the Deluge Comes the Dawn as “…nearly too grotesque to be human, reflected the trauma from his horrific and dehumanizing experiences of the war, and it was a clear departure from what was socially acceptable as fine art back then.”

Sansó’s Black Period in Paris

“When you see his Dark Series, you’re struck by a deep emotion. You could see how his trauma is translated as art,” Marissa says when asked why they focused on the expressionist works. “You see his heart.  He is not one-dimensional, unlike many successful artists,” adds Marlon.

In 1951, Sansó began his art education in Europe, first in Rome, and then settling in Paris. The young student was unhappy at first, but then began to observe his colorful, new surroundings. It was here that, according to art scholar Rod. Paras-Perez, he fully embraced his Black Period. 

“The Beret”, 1959, inks on paper, Marlon & Marissa Sanchez Collection

Sansó did not draw elegant Parisiennes. Instead, he focused on the underbelly of Paris: the smirking visitors of its cafés, comical Can-Can dancers, and other characters bordering on the monstruous. In Paras-Perez’s book, Sansó admitted that these also reminded him of the dangerous commuters he encountered regularly while working on his father’s bus in Manila.

Many surprises in the works

As in most unique art collections, there are many surprises in this exhibit. One, for example, is seeing Marlon’s favorite Sansó work, the portrait entitled “Thick Glasses”, in full color for the first time. Prior to this exhibition, it was only featured in black-and-white print in the catalog “Sansó: Nature and the Artist in 1,000 Works”, published in 1976.

Another surprise is “Shining Waters”, a 1977 Brittany Landscape that was first seen in the book Sansó: Art Quest Between Two Worlds by Rod. Paras-Perez. Comparing the present work to its 1988 photo, Sansó’s later amendments are apparent: painting over the central rock protrusion, moving the moon to the right, adding a sailboat, and brightening it.  

Marissa shares that there are other revelations when looking at a Dark Series work. “When you bring light toward a Dark Series work, you’ll be surprised by all the details. You start with what is obvious. And then as your eyes get accustomed to it, you see hues of red, blue, or black…and you see more details as you look further.” 

“Expressionist,” c. 1950s, tempera and ink on paper; Marlon & Marissa Sanchez Collection

Marlon says that once museumgoers and art enthusiasts are exposed to these particular works, they would love it. “I think a lot of people are just not aware of the Black Series…we have friends who see these works, and when we tell them they’re by Sansó, they always exclaim, ‘Wow! These are great!’” 

To reach a wider audience, this series of “Sansó: Prized and Personal” exhibits will culminate in the publication of a book of the same name. This book will provide an insight into what compels these collectors to acquire Sansó’s art, and will show the vast range of styles and mediums he covered in his career.

“Sansó: Prized and Personal Featuring the Marlon and Marissa Sanchez Collection” will run until August 2, 2022 at Fundacion Sansó, 32 V. Cruz St., Brgy. Sta. Lucia, San Juan. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday, 10am-3pm. For more information, follow Fundacion Sansó @FUNDACIONSANS0 on Facebook, and @fundacion_sanso on Instagram. For inquiries, email