The Story of Claude Tayag's Wall of Filipino Art Masters' Autographs

How many signatures can you identify?

Claude Tayag might be known today as a chef and passionate promoter of Filipino cuisine, but his roots lie in the visual arts. In 1977, he was a 20-year-old art student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. During Saturday mornings he would commute by jeepney to Mabini in Manila to visit his art mentor, Emilio Aguilar Cruz, whom most people know by his more familiar moniker Abe. 

“I’d show him my works, my watercolor paintings, and he would critique them,” he tells Esquire Philippines. “Every now and then he would demo and all that.” 


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At lunchtime, Tayag and Cruz would go out and eat at carinderias and hole-in-the-walls in the area before proceeding to Taza De Oro, a restaurant in Malate. This was the meeting place of the Saturday Group, a collective of visual artists that was so-called because, according to Tayag, they could only paint during the weekends because they all had day jobs so they could earn enough to support their families. 

At the time, the Saturday Group was led by Cesar Legaspi and Hernando “H.R.” Ocampo. They’re giants in Philippine art and everybody knows the Saturday Group today, but at the time, they were just like many other struggling artists doing their best to put food on the table. 

“Ako naman I was just saling pusa kay Abe Cruz,” Tayag recalls. “Pipinta-pinta, tagging along with Abe to visit his friends.”

Claude Tayag in front of his wall of autographs of Filipino masters

Photo by Daniel Tan.

Tayag says he often found it difficult to join the painting and sketching sessions because there were just too many people at the venue and he couldn’t concentrate.

“So ginawa ko, one time, nagpa-autograph ako,” he says. “Usually autographs were just ballpoint pen on pieces of paper or napkin. But kung sa napkin lang, mapupunit or mawawala lang yun. So I thought, why not on canvas.” 

And so Tayag asked the artists in the Saturday Group for their autographs. Little did he know that that would start a lifelong collection of gathering the signatures of the superstars of local art that would eventually end up on one wall of his Bale Dutung restaurant in his home in Angeles, Pampanga. 

A closer look at the autographs

Photo by PJ Cana.

It started with artists like Ocampo, Legaspi, Jose Joya, and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz. Over the years, Tayag continued to expand his collection each time he would meet artists whose works he admired, whether they were already acclaimed or as-yet unknown. 

“Like ito kay BenCab,” he points to one displaying the National Artist’s unmistakable signature and doodle of his face, signed in 1999. “He came here to eat, so pina-sign ko yan sa kanya.

It’s the same with Architect Bobby Mañosa, musician and composer Ryan Cayabyab, and artist and writer Virgilio Almario, whose pen name is Rio Alma. Tayag says his collection has grown to include masters beyond the visual arts.

“Si Rio Alma, he wrote me an ‘adobo’ poem,” Tayag says. “Meron kasi ako series of adobo articles that will be turned into a book. Dinedicate pa niya sa ‘kin.” 

Writer and visual artist Virgilio Almario (aka Rio Alma) wrote a poem for Claude Tayag and signed it

Photo by PJ Cana.
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He also has one from sculptor Eduardo Castrillo. 

“It was in April 2012, Tayag says. “I was part of a three-man exhibit, along with Abdulmari Imao and his son Sajid Imao. Dumalaw si Ed Castrillo. Sabi ko, ‘Ed, diyan ka muna.’ Tumakbo ako sa National Bookstore, bumili ako ng canvas atsaka ng tube paint. Pagbalik ko sabi ko kay Ed, “Pumili ka ng kulay. Siyempre pinili niya yung brass, because that’s his signature color.”

Looking at the wall is like gazing at some of the absolute best in Philippine art: a veritable constellation of superstars whose work transcends time and space. There’s Abdulmari Imao, Elmer Borlongan, Juvenal Sanso, Ofelia Gelvezon Tequi, Lao Lianben and his wife Lilia Lao, David Medalla, Arturo Luz, Mauro Malang Santos, Impy Pilapil, Agustin Goy, Phyllis Zaballero, Manny Baldemor, and even a super rare signature by Anita Magsaysay-Ho, which Tayag was able to get just a few years before she passed away. 

He even has two versions of Sanso’s autograph.

“Yung una kasi Pentel pen lang daw, so inulit niya with paint. He asked me to choose, and I asked if I could have both,” Tayag grins.

It's an impressive collection, and Tayag says he intends to gather more autographs from newer artists

Photo by PJ Cana.

A noticeably unique one is an actual landscape painting by Betsy Brias Westendorp.

“This one is funny,” Tayag says. “Di ba she has her Cloudscapes series? So nagpa-autograph ako, but she said, ‘I won’t just sign my name, I’ll paint you a landscape. The painting itself is her signature, although she did sign her name very faintly over the painting.

Does Tayag want to add more to his collection?

“Oh yeah, especially yung mga contemporary ni Baldemor like sina (Alfredo) Esquillo, si (Emmanuel) Garibay. Hindi ko kasi sila kilala personally, so sometimes nagpapa-abot ako ng message. 

“I collect these autographs not just because I know them, but because I admire their works.”



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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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