At 19, Manansala was the youngest in the class that finally graduated from the UP School of Fine Arts. Among Manansala’s classicist teachers were Fernando and Pablo Amorsolo, Fabian de la Rosa, Vicente Rivera y Mir, Ramon Peralta, Teodoro Buenaventura — names which are today engraved in Philippine art history. All his grades were excellent except one. A professor wanted him to use fine strokes, he liked bold strokes and took a failing grade for his independent mind. Apparently, his talent is not meant for the classroom. This painting was done in 1944. Four years later, in 1948, he was to become a UNESCO scholarship grantee.
Later, he was to study at the Ecole des beaux Arts in Paris. Since the start of his career, Manansala was disenchanted with what was to him the artificial values of urbane life, as a theme. Early in his career, Manansala already produced images which, like his modernist innovations later, depicted resilience and indefatigable vitality. He consciously set out to assert in his belief in the value of ‘real life’ (as in day to day working existence) of real people (the local peasantry) in ‘real’ places.
To this end, the daily work of ordinary people has always been for him the justifiable subject matter for a ‘work of art.’ It is interesting to draw comparisons between the handling of his subjects before and after his training under Leger in Paris. Before his Parisian sojourn, the subtleties of form as explored by color was emphasized. Decades later, clarity of light through his own transparent cubism is what he would explore. The rural proletariat is endowed here with a tortured yet elegiac quality more found in the mid 79s depictions of the peasantry in social realist art. The composition is clustered yet loosely monumental, and the depiction of the women working with pestles have an almost sculptural quality. The eyes of the viewer are led upwards towards the men working atop the haystacks.
Manansala constructed various visual links between the elements, for example. A massive carabao at the lower left serves as a visual counterweight to the terraced mountains which serve as a backdrop to the right. However, the juxtapositions serve only pictorial ends; the artist makes no attempt to forge any narrative links between the characters as would traditionally have been expected in a genre scene. Welcome to another page in Manansala’s Tales from the Simple Life. Many have sung praises for his ebullient colors, his sensuous shapes bursting with “baroque” curves or contours, his brisk, lively strokes. Manansala’s can compress much of the festive spirit and love of the simple life. The evidence of his best-known works is that of a man whose cup rennet over.
The basic characteristic that brings such vitality to Manansala’s art is movement: there is nothing static about even the simplest picture or portrait. All the figures are done in meticulous and detailed yet abbreviated style, yet with no hint of the synthetic cubism which he was to innovate later in his career. A genre work portraying occupational activity, it contains numerous human figures loosely divided into two groups — the loose group of men on the haystacks and the tighter group of women pounding grain. The figures are fully, if abbreviatedly, modeled, and their actions create a chain of movements that rise and fall motion wise. Here Manansala intended to emphasize the hard reality of being a laborer, yet all in all, the image romanticizes the countryside in a period in the country’s history which would otherwise culminate in peasant unrest. The bright, almost festive tones of the peasant’s clothes complement the cool tropical greenness of the surroundings and preclude any impression of difficulty in their work. The artist creates a casual, informal atmosphere, avoiding the posed look, by painting the folk with their bodily movements taking front seat over their facial images, if any. Only two of the three women’s faces are clearly visible.