Romeo Cortez, Jr.: Realism is an artist’s magical work

Mayor Eric Adams holds the painting presented to him by Consul General Senen Mangalile (right) with artist Romeo Cortez Jr. (left) during the Philippine flag raising ceremony in Bowling Green park on June 16. Photos by Marivir Montebon

By Marivir R. Montebon

Realist artist Romeo Cortez Jr. personally handed over to Mayor Eric Adams his stunning charcoal painting of the Mayor, together with Philippine Consul General Senen Mangalile at the historic Bowling Green Park.

This happened during the Philippine flag-raising ceremony in honor of the 125th Independence Day celebration in the Big Apple on June 16.

The portrait of the mayor wowed the audience, as it looked vivid (including the veins on Mayor Adam’s hands), like a photograph.

Cortez recalled in jest how he developed his portrait of Adams. Consul General Mangalile had asked him to paint the mayor as a token from the Philippine government to immortalize his wearing of the Barong Tagalog. In the previous year, Adams did not quite fit into the Barong Tagalog given to him. Cortez said that the Mayor could not fully close the shirt and the sleeves were short.  

“So sabi ni ConGen, ipa-pinta na lang sa akin na naka-well fitted Barong ang mayor. Nag research ako ng mga photos that I can use for the head, and I created the torso with that pose wearing barong. That is the story behind that portrait,” he enthused.

Portrait of Mayor Eric Adams, in charcoal and white pencil,
as rendered by artist Romeo Cortez Jr.
‘Legacy,’ a family portrait, is Cortez’s very important work of art.

(The Consul General asked if I could paint the mayor in a well-fitted Barong. I researched for his photos, and I created the torso of him wearing the Barong.)

A clearly delighted Adams accepted the painting with the remark: “It is easy to paint a good-looking guy.”

In visual arts, realist artists are magical. One must thoroughly study their works because they look like they came from the perfect click of a camera.

Cortez Jr., an employee at the Philippine Consulate in New York, has been an artist for several years now, garnering admiration and awards from various art groups and professionals. He is most comfortable in realism as an artistic expression.

“I found myself doing realism kasi self-taught ako. Yung nakikita ko sa surroundings ang nag influence sa akin, kung paano ko sila ipinta and I paint what I see. I believe that this is a God-given talent, kasi hindi naman ako nag-aral ng Fine Arts,” he said in an interview. (I found myself doing realism because I am self-taught. What I see in my surroundings influences me on how I paint them. I paint what I see. I believe that this is a God-given talent because I have not even studied Fine Arts.)

Cortez had eight one-man exhibits since 1998. Seven were done in Manila and one in New York in 2021, highlighting on the themes of Philippine culture and family. His participation in group exhibits has been innumerable.

He has several awards as an artist too, but mentioned two that are special to him: In 2005, he won first place (“Roosters and Hens”) in the 52nd Annual Hudson Artists New Jersey Regional Juried Art Exhibition. In 2020, he was 1st place winner (“Artist’s Haven”) of the Philippine Pastel Artists National Pastel Competition.

“Special sa akin and PPA award kasi national yun, buong Pilipinas at may mga Pinoy artists sa abroad din na sumali,” he said. (The PPA award was special to me because it was a national competition, the entire Philippines, and there were Filipino artists from abroad who joined.)

Asked what his most important work so far, Cortez said it was his portrait of his family titled “Legacy.”

“My family is my priority. And my objective as an artist is to offer my great respect to God as the Greatest Artist and give justice to His majestic creations,” he said.

For autumn 2023, Cortez will take part in the group exhibit organized by the Pastel Society of America and the Society of Pilipino-American Artists.

This article was originally published in

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