Artist and Patron

Works from the Estate of Manuel and Violeta Dumlao

In a letter sent from London in 1969, José Joya wrote to his friend and patron Manuel (Manny) Dumlao, “Four hours before I left New York I was still at the warehouse of my broker helping wrap the painting to be forwarded to you”. The painting was Man’s Life Cycle, a monumental work completed by Joya just one year earlier. A muted, monochromatic composition with incised calligraphic markings, Man’s Life Cycle typified Joya’s output of the late 1960s when he received grants from the John D. Rockefeller III Fund and the Ford Foundation to paint and study at the Pratt Institute in New York. This period marked a departure from the bursting-with-color Philippine-inspired paintings of his early years and ushered in a new aesthetic, one that featured restrained palettes, heavy impasto painting and expressive drips. Although somewhat subdued, Joya expertly harnessed the same gestural energy in this work from 1968, carving out an almost sculptural, relief-like surface.

José Joya, circa 1980

On the receiving end of his letter (and eventually, this large painting) was Manny Dumlao, a Philippine-born architect based outside of Detroit. Dumlao and his wife, Violeta, attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art in the late 1950s. Both students in the architecture program, the couple would go on to forge impressive careers in some of the nation’s top firms; Manny worked for both Eero Saarinen and I.M. Pei before serving as the vice-president of Minoru Yamasaki & Associates for many years and Violeta held positions at Glen Paulson & Associates and Harley Ellington Pierce Yee & Associates among others. The Dumlao’s met Joya at Cranbrook while the artist was perusing a graduate degree and the friends quickly bonded over their shared heritage and artistic pursuits. Not surprisingly, architecture was a favorite topic of discussion in correspondence between Joya and Manny Dumlao—years of letters thoughtfully retained by Dumlao’s family—and the artist detailed with great pride the many new developments being constructed around his home town of Manila. Also detailed in the letters was Joya’s exhausting travel schedule which sent him all over Europe and the United States tracking an equally rigorous schedule of exhibitions and lectures.

A small arrow to indicate orientation drawn by Joya on the verso of Man's Life Cycle. In a letter from 1970, Joya describes making the mark while packing the painting for Manny Dumlao.

In January of 1978, Joya wrote to Dumlao that he was back stateside setting up an exhibition of Filipino artists at the IMF Center in Washington DC. Included in the exhibition was Vigan, an acrylic collage described by Joya as “among the better ones”. This work from 1977 further illustrates Joya’s artistic development, where the gestural and open brushstrokes of his earlier paintings condense into tight and rigorous blocks of color. Still, Joya’s ever-present vitality bursts from Vigan’s surface, like an exploding rock face, an avalanche of energy.

Later that month, Dumlao eagerly replied to Joya’s letter that he was interested in the collage and insisted that the artist visit Detroit on his way to the West Coast. A few weeks later, the friends were reunited at the Dumlao’s Birmingham home where a dinner party was held in the artist’s honor. Among in the carefully kept correspondence are two cancelled checks (presumably payment for Vigan) and a detailed hand-written menu for the celebration featuring traditional Filipino fare. An invoice is scratched on the back of an exhibition checklist for the IMF Center show, and next to Vigan, it reads “SOLD”.

The correspondence between Joya and Dumlao offers a rare glimpse into the artist and patron relationship, which in this instance, was one of mutual respect and admiration. The artworks, offered here, are exemplary of this visionary artist’s dynamic career and have remained in the Dumlao family’s collection until now. 

What incredible joy enamors me upon realizing the imagery I wanted to convey—the graphic concoction taking the shapes of joy, violence, turbulence, aspirations, and poetic ideas running in my mind.

Jose Joya