The artistic voyage of Fred Galan

The artistic voyage of Fred Galan

As a young boy, Fred Galan started his career as a painter at the behest of his father (who was also a painter) by copying calendars using cheap paint. He then moved on to copying, for practice, paintings of old masters which he actually found unimpressive.

When it was time for him to choose a course to take up in college, he chose Fine Arts — which was not available in Cebu City yet at that time, so he enrolled in Architecture and was fortunate to have renowned painter Martino Abellana as his teacher. He asked this famous Cebuano master how he could become a great painter and was given this advice: Start with watercolor.

Fred, however, did not take this advice to heart as he thought of watercolor as too feminine. So, Martino brought him to the photo studio of a young Kimsoy Yap. Observing Kimsoy at work, he was finally able to understand the beauty of this medium and he would follow him whenever he ventured out to paint nature’s scenery. He tried to mirror Kimsoy’s style, because he rarely spoke. After some time, Fred ventured out on his own with a new appreciation for watercolor.

He almost did not graduate because he did not have the money to pay the last installment for tuition which was about P96, but he joined an art contest where he won P100 which was just enough to pull him through. After graduation, he started joining exhibits and competitions, enjoying the process as he was very competitive in nature.

He opened a business around the same time that he met his wife Marivel, venturing into commercial art like T-shirt printing and eventually opened a frame shop named Arts Architecture that lasted for about 20 years, moving its location three times. During this time, he was painting full time, doing one-man shows and joined several art groups like Cebu Arts Association and Binhi.

Fred was also part of Color Sugbo, a one-month trip for local artists to the United States that was facilitated by the Cebu City Government. It was above all, for him, an opportunity to see the work of renowned masters up close. He relates that the first time he saw the work of Vincent Van Gogh up close, he could not understand what the fuss was all about. He decided to return for a second look, and then a third. It was only during the third visit that he found himself able to visualize what it was like to be in Van Gogh’s seat, mesmerized by whatever subject was before him. Until now, Van Gogh is the only artist that seems to have truly impressed him.

In 2018, Fred became the first Cebuano to win one of the top spots in an international watercolor competition for a piece titled “Cover Up” that showed construction workers painting a wall.

What is the most expensive painting he has ever sold? Instead of giving a figure, he shared a story from his youth.

One day when he was a young boy of 11, he was painting in front of their hut when one of their neighbors, a lawyer, passed by and saw what he was doing. The lawyer told Fred that he wanted to buy whatever he was painting once it was done. Fred just nodded and forgot about it until one day, his father mentioned that they had nothing to eat and he wanted Fred to help him feed the family. He remembered that neighbor and off they went to find him in his office, where they waited for him to return.

Thankfully, Atty. Lim liked the painting and asked how much they were selling it for. They refused to set a price, and so the lawyer handed him P35. This was in the 1950s when that amount could sustain their simple family’s needs for a month. So for all his life, this painting will be the most expensive he sold because it provided for them when they needed it the most.

These days, the almost octogenarian artist has weathered many storms. Serious health issues have damaged his hearing and have left him scarred physically but the faith of this man in his Maker is truly admirable. When he became a Christian in 1987, his greatest awakening was that his talent was not of his own making, but was a gift from God. He gives back by including subliminal messages in his artworks, usually verses from the Bible believing the Word of God is the one that gives us Eternal Life.

And that is the legacy that Fred Galan wants to leave this world with.

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