Tribute to a National Artist: Salvador Bernal by John Araneta, AB (Ateneo), PhD (USA)

Pete Lacaba’s message about the recent death of our friend and classmate Badong Bernal saddened me once again today. Just yesterday, I had received a call from Chito Lim about his death.

A few days ago I had been impelled to give Badong a call. We traded comments about our health or lack thereof. Typically, he seemed more worried about me than himself. I will always regret that owing to illness, we no longer had the opportunity of seeing each other once a year, when I visited Manila every October. These reunions were always marked by his hospitality and generosity, as well as the fact that such get-togethers never failed to involve intriguing exchanges of discourse. Though outwardly gentle and often unassuming, Badong’s sensibility was remarkably accute and he was always well-informed. Even our disagreements were often stimulating processes.

Last Christmas I was amazed to receive for a gift the book “Designing the Stage” with an appreciation by Nicanor Tiongson of the stage designs (not just of sets) created by Badong over the years. The magnificent photographs (a sure indication in itself of his meticulousness, since he supervised their taking whenever he didn’t do the taking himself), illustrated the exceptional quality as well as range of designs whether they were intended for plays, operas,
Salvador Bernal, National Artist for Theatre or ballets.

He was, of course, well known as a designer of clothes and people paid heftily for these. But in recent years, I also admired the one book of poems he published with its wonderful title “The Firetrees Burn All Summer.” The book’s design was, it almost goes without saying, remarkably elegant with wonderful drawings by R. M. de Leon. Some of the poems are certainly among the finest Philippine poems in English, as much exciting for its vividness of colour and image as the born poet’s feel for metaphor.

Our conversations on poetry, on what was new and interesting, or his exceptionally acute observations on and encouragement of my own writing are matters I gratefully acknowledge.

Last but not least, let me remember Badong for the spontaneous help he extended to my mother and aunt during their final years, two people who were very fond of him and who always welcomed him to our home all through our student years at the Ateneo and long after. I pay homage to Badong as an artist and writer but will miss him above all as a friend.

Updated: 12/03/2011 — 05:17:55