Born August 22, 1921 in Iloilo City. Studied Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines. In 1952 he studied at the Art Student League in New York, USA and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in France in 1954.
One of the neorealist, he began his career with several exhibits of drawings and watercolors at the Philippine Art Gallery in 1949. He is best known for his watercolors, at times in a vertical format influenced by Chinese painting. These near-monochromatic watercolor landscape of nipa huts, farmers and carabaos are done in an exquisite style, with attenuated figures spread out in large tonal areas suggesting early morning fog.
Tabuena had another side to his art, and was expressed in dark oil paintings, some of which seemed to reflect the “proletarian” concerns of the period, as in Coal Gatherers. Here the figures are short and squat, with expressionist distortion and with no bright colors to relieve the heavy atmosphere. He approaches expressionism, especially in such a work as Childbirth, in which the pangs of childbirth are expressed in elongated figures and dramatic lighting which hints of fears of mythological beings. A later series consist of heads done in a monochromatic style with cubist influence, their jagged, angular features suggesting years of toil and arduous struggle.
When Tabuena settled in Mexico, he developed a colorful, prismatic style with folk subjects, including street sweepers, candle vendors, guards, and laundry women.
Tabuena won awards from the Art Association of the Philippines: second prize, Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), 1949, and honorable mention, Black Christ, 1952.