August 31, 1950 – March 23, 2021
Reynato “Rey” Paz Contreras was a prominent sculptor who worked with urban refuse and environmental materials as his media, using these to create visual forms of contemporary images exploring distinct Filipino aesthetics.
He was born in Parañaque, Metro Manila to Antonio V. Contreras and Librada Paz. He graduated with an accounting and commerce degree from the Manuel Luis Quezon University in 1970. His training in sculpture began at the Eulogio Rodriguez School of Arts and Trade.
However, Contreras traced his artistic roots to growing up in a house by the railway tracks in the crowded district of Tayuman. When the railway company decided to replace the old wooden railroad ties or travieza, some of them a hundred years old, he used them to create functional objects such as bowls, careful to reflect the irregularities in the wood in the final product.
He experimented with other non-traditional art materials, including logging refuse such as roots and branches, and volcanic rocks and lahar from Mt. Pinatubo’s 1990 eruption, sculpting human figures reminiscent of the displaced lumad from the communities surrounding the volcano, particularly the Aeta. The stone sculptures were exhibited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Contreras was a pioneer in community-based “people’s art,” conducting workshops around Luzon and elsewhere, organizing self-sustaining community craft-based art groups such as the Cadaclan carvers in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija; the Malasiqui carvers in Pangasinan; the Banglos Art Group in Quezon Province; Daambakal Sculptors Collective in Tondo, Manila; and the communities of Jala-Jala, Rizal; Capitol Estate in suburban Quezon City; Capiz; Malasique, Dagupan; Nakar, Quezon; and Santiago, Isabela.
True to his roots, Contreras maintained a studio near the railroad tracks in Tondo, where he conducted much of his community-based art training, always in the promotion of “people’s art.”
He exhibited widely in the Philippines and abroad, starting with a one-man show in 1981 at La-iya Visual Arts Center, Mandaluyong City. He had shows in Canada (1987), Los Angeles (1987), Australia (1987), Malaysia (1994), Tokyo (1994), Singapore (1995/1999), New York (1999), Makuhari, Japan (2002), Johnson City, Tennessee (2003), and Rio de Janeiro (2004).
His art graces the Caleruega Chapel in Nasugbu and Chapel on the Hill in Batulao, both in Batangas, and the Episcopalian Church in Sagada.
In 1992, he co-founded with his wife Estrella “Tala” Isla-Contreras the Contreras Sculptures Gallery, located at the SM Megamall, where he pursued a successful furniture-making venture, sculpting massive utilitarian art from molave. It is now managed by daughter Marinel. Another daughter, Karlota, is a museum director at East Tennessee State University.
Contreras received the Patnubay ng Lahi Award from the City of Manila and the Grand Prize at the Art Association of the Philippines Annual Art Competition -Sculpture Category, both in 1992. His works are in the permanent collections of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, National Museum, Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Museo ng Sining, GMA Network, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, and Ninoy Aquino International Airport Centennial Terminal II. He was also the Philippine representative to the 1986 Havana Art Exhibition in Cuba.
He made the trophies for the literary prizes of the Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center, and he donated his work for the various fund-raising projects of BAYAN, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, Linangan ng Kulturang Pilipino, and other community and cultural organizations.
He was founding chair of Arte Etnika, chair of the Balintawak Artists Guild, vice chair of the Society of the Philippine Sculptors, board member of the Art Association of the Philippines, and member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and The Federation of Asian Artists.
Contreras believed that a community of artists could help nurture artistic activity: “Ang mga artists dapat magkakasama, sa paggawa at sa pag-iisip, para ang handicap ng tumatandang artist ay nako-compensate ng batang artist.
“Ang tumatandang artist, nakakagawa pa rin ang kanyang mata, at pag may sistema ng apprenticeship, makakagawa pa rin siya ng magagandang trabaho…. Inherent sa Filipino ang panlililok. The only way to propagate that spirit is through collective art production.”