Nene Lungay: the grand dame of Boholano artists
She was born Hermogena Aceron Borja on September 2, 1929 in Tagbilaran, to a clan of artists and artisans. Her grandfather, Ramon, was a painter, one of those employed to assist Cebuano masters Raymundo Francia and Canuto Avila as they painted murals on the ceilings and interior walls of several churches of Bohol in the early 20th century.
In the book Ani: The Life and Art of Hermogena Borja Lungay by Boholana author and poet Marjorie Evasco, Nene tells of the bouquet of flowers painted on the ceiling of her grandparent’s living room and how she gazed at the artwork as a little girl. Evasco notes that the Borjas of Tagbilaran were one of the families in Bohol associated with pictorial and religious art. In fact, Nene’s uncle, Filomeno Borja, was the first Boholano who attended the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts. Unfortunately, the war interrupted Filomeno’s formal training in painting. As Nene was leaving to attend university in Manila, Filomeno gave her his brushes and paint. It seemed that from birth, Nene Borja Lungay was destined to become an artist.
Nene followed in her uncle’s footsteps and enrolled at the UP School of Fine Arts in 1949, making her the second Boholana to take up Fine Arts at the same university and the only female student in her class. She was classmates with Napoleon Abueva, a fellow Boholano, and Jose Joya, who both became National Artists.
During her time at the UP, the School of Fine Arts was under the helm of one of the Philippines’ most influential artists in the 20th century and the country’s first National Artist for Painting, Fernando Amorsolo. Among her teachers were Prof. Ireneo Miranda and Prof. Dominador Castañeda, as well as National Artists Guillermo Tolentino (sculpture) and Lauro Larry Alcala (visual art).
In her freshman year, she barely passed in the Water Color Painting class of the late Prof. Emeritus Virginia Flor Agbayani. She resolved to improve her watercolor techniques and style, earning her the highest mark for watercolor painting the following semester. Watercolor became her favorite medium.
In 1952, when the Korean war broke out, she had to take a leave of absence from the university at her family’s behest. While on leave, Nene accepted commissions and art restoration projects in Tagbilaran and in nearby towns. She painted religious art for the church as well as for private clients. She painted portraits too.
She eventually went back to university and graduated Cum Laude in October of 1954. She was also recognized as the “Art Student of the Year” by the Art Association of the Philippines.
Rather than stay in Manila and practice her art, she came back to Bohol after her graduation as dutiful daughters of Boholano families did at the time. She married her high school classmate, Nicholas Lungay on May 29, 1957.
Her artworks, influenced by Amorsolo’s impressionism, reflect the art of mid-20th century artists trained at the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts. Impressionism was a major art movement that started in France from the late 19th to the early 20th century.
In the tradition of Amorsolo who depicted Philippine rural landscapes, Filipino culture and traditions in brilliant colors, Nene Lungay painted Bohol, the Boholanos and their culture and traditions. With her masterful strokes she depicted Bohol’s architecture and landscapes and painted familiar scenes that could evoke feelings of nostalgia from any Bol-anon.
Photo Credit: Photos of Nene Lungay’s artworks from the personal collection of Atty. Lucas Nunag.