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When Fred Luna Cruz heard that the first-ever mall in the Philippines was rising in Manila’s Malate area, he did what he could to get his paintings on display. Eventually he became friends with Harrison Plaza mall owners, the Martel family, becoming one of the mall’s most recognized tenants. Now aged 67, Fred finds himself without a place to show off his on-the-spot portraits—an artistic skill he is prominently known for—with the official closure of Harrison Plaza on Dec. 31.

Fred is a descendant of Juan Luna, the 19th-century artist famous for masterpieces such as Spoliarium and El Pacto de Sangre. Fred continues to display his ancestor’s artistic talents through his career as a portraitist, making portraits for Harrison Plaza’s mallgoers and visitors for the past four decades.

Manila Bulletin Lifestyle got to ask him about his early beginnings as an artist, his life in the iconic mall, and his plans going forward.

How are you related to Juan Luna, exactly?
I am a fourth generation descendant, through my mother. My older brother is an architect, and my cousins are artists too, but we all went different ways. I pursued being an artist—my father didn’t want me to take up fine arts because pang-mayaman lang daw (only for the rich)—but I’m a Luna through my mother.

And so you pursued the arts anyway?
I took fine arts at the University of the Philippines–Diliman, in advertising, during the time Jose Joya was the dean. I wasn’t able to graduate because of the revolts—I was an activist. I did three years at UP but when Marcos declared martial law, I moved to the Philippine Women’s University to finish my fine arts degree.

What did you do upon hearing about Harrison Plaza being built?
I used to work along Mabini doing on-the-spot drawings in front of hotels. I did not know the Martels then. I applied to work at the mall’s gift shop. I approached a person—who I did not know was the owner—and showed my works of Michael Jackson and Muhammad Ali. Since then I’ve been working at Harrison Plaza. A lot of people asked to be sketched, back then I was the only one who did.

AT HOME Artist Fred Luna Cruz, a long-time Harrison Plaza tenant , built most of his career at the now-closed mall

AT HOME Artist Fred Luna Cruz, a long-time Harrison Plaza tenant , built most of his career at the now-closed mall

You were the only one?
I had the first painting and tattoo shop at a mall! It’s because this kind of shop wasn’t allowed at malls, but because I was the artist and a friend of the owners, they gave way for me. Now other malls allow shops like mine, they use me as an example.

What jumpstarted your career?
The Martels were friends with Cory Aquino, so after the EDSA Revolution they told me, “Sige na, gawan mo si Cory ng portrait, at isasama ka namin sa Malacañang (Come on, make a portrait of Cory, and we’ll accompany you to Malacañang).” That was my first visit to the Palace, and it started my career. Cory made me an artist for  tourism, making on-the-spot portraits at embassies. I’ve drawn every president since Cory, except PNoy.

But you still loved working at Harrison Plaza?
I’ve been to the US 10 times, and I never liked it there. Life is hard and you’re on your own. At Harrison Plaza, everyone knew me. I’m friends even with politicians and mayors. Even when the mall caught on fire, my heart was still there. I was complacent, I felt at home.

How does it feel that it closed during the Christmas season?
This is probably the saddest Christmas for its tenants. I was at Harrison for 42 years. Harrison Plaza was like my second home.

What will you do now?
Maybe take a vacation. I haven’t gone on a vacation for 43 years. The most “vacation” I’ve ever done was when I went abroad for tourism reasons but even that was work. I’m applying elsewhere, but I’m sad—Harrison Plaza was home.

Source: Manila Bulletin

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