Art/Style/Travel Diaries

A legacy of art: 10 years of the Karen H. Montinola Selection at Art Fair Philippines

A retrospective of 10 featured artists since 2014 is a highlight of this year’s event

Drawing studies and sculptures from “Elegant Beasts, Beautiful Decay” (2015), 10x13 inches / various dimensions

Karen Hernandez Montinola was a mother, a wife, and an art aficionado and collector. She developed a collection both for her personal enjoyment and the exposure it would give her four children. The slow accumulation accelerated with the advent of a blossoming art scene and a new home, a space that she curated with care for those she loved. A three-year stint living in Milan fueled her passion further. The pleasure with which she obtained new art for the home was matched by the joy of seeing local artists succeed in the ever-developing arts scene in the Philippines. Today, the house full of her handpicked artwork remains an expression of herself, a lasting touch that nurtured four children into adults appreciative of both the visual arts and the love left to them.

Since 2014, Art Fair Philippines has hosted the Karen H. Montinola Selection, a special exhibit in which an up-and-coming artist is carefully selected and awarded this showcase. Her family hopes a viewing of this exhibit captures the spirit of what her collecting was about: astute curating, steadfast support for the local arts, and the lasting memory of an artistic soul.

In celebration of the 10 years of the Karen H Montinola Selection, Art Fair Philippines has mounted a retrospective of all past recipients, from 2014 to the present, curated by Normal Crisologo: Pio Abad (2014), Mike Adrao (2015), Mac Valdezco (2016), Mark Valenzuela (2017), Alvin Zafra (2018), Liv Vinluan (2019), Carlo Villafuerte (2021), Melvin Guirhem (2022), and Faye Abantao (2023). The KHM Selection artist for 2024, Gean Brix Garcia, will also be featured separately.

The artistic practice of Pio Abad is concerned with the personal and political entanglements of objects. His wide-ranging body of work, encompassing drawings, paintings, textiles, installation, and text, mines alternative or repressed historical events and offers counter-narratives that draw out threads of complicity between incidents, ideologies, and people.

In the drawings of Mike Adrao, figures often emerge out of a solid darkness of powdery graphite, eerily alive and intricately beautiful. Bodies unravel, dissected, spliced, and merged with other matter: bone, mineral, flora, meat, stone. Materials in varying states of transformation and decay combine into a Baroque ornateness, a labyrinth of decorous curves, chiaroscuro, and earthly twisting forms. They beg to be deciphered, holding the viewer still even as they come close to grotesque horror.

Mac Valdezco is known for her adventurous experimentation with different media in her sculptural works. She believes materials ultimately dictate the dimensionality and plastic qualities of forms, and can coax life from otherwise deadened objects. Her art practice may be seen as having three central elements: reverence for material, attachment as the spine of her work, and the ability to transform ordinary objects into beautiful creations.

Mark Valenzuela examines forms of conflict, dominance, and resistance through an interdisciplinary practice that combines installation, ceramics, drawing, painting, and video. In his works, he integrates personal concerns with the broader socio-political contexts of his home country of the Philippines and adopted country of Australia.

Mark Valenzuela, “Trigger Fingers (from the installation New Folk heroes),” various dimensions, ceramic, concrete, found objects, 2016

Mark Valenzuela, “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” various dimensions, ceramic, corrugated iron, concrete, found objects, 2020

Alvin Zafra, a Cultural Center of the Philippines Thirteen Artists awardee in 2015, has been recognized for his works on abrasive paper, in which he grinds objects to limn images on the surface: stones to city, bones to portraits. The resulting marks or images become the work’s surface information, resonating with the object used in production.

Alvin Zafra, “Revolver,” video, two hours, 2018

Liv Vinluan is a Filipino artist whose works are entangled with the cyclicality of history and the movement of time. A painter who largely works in watercolor and oil, she borrows the grammar of historical paintings to build a resplendent yet unnerving world.

Liv Vinluan, “Nung Gambalain ‘Yung Sayawan (Disruption of a Dance).” 10 m, vellum paper on acrylic stilts, 2019

Liv Vinluan, “Render of Oil on Canvas, “35×35 cm, 2024 (work in progress)

Carlo Villafuerte works exclusively with used textile, revealing his current preoccupations and state of mind. His heart-stopping tapestries are composed of materials he salvaged from wagwagan (the famous used clothing stores that dot Baguio City), culled on different occasions, bearing their individual histories, and now sharing the singular space on which the artist has sewn them.

Textile work by Carlo Villafuerte

Melvin Guirhem is a painter from Oton, Iloilo. He was accepted into the Western Institute of Technology’s Civil Engineering program, and studied architecture at the University of San Agustin. He is known for the use of fabric and stitches in his art, which often depicts traditions and explores cultural memories. His paintings call to mind tapestries and quilts with a surrealist flair.

Faye Abantao is a visual artist who was born and raised in Bacolod, Negros Occidental. Largely self-taught, Faye collects and deconstructs archival prints and expands their imagery with disciplines such as origami, digital collage, image transfer, and painting. In an overlapping sequence, the string of procedures begins with a camera and culminates with paint and brushes, giving her imagery their distinct visual form.

This year’s featured artist, Gean Brix Garcia, graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree majoring in Painting at the Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology. He was a finalist at the 50th and 51st Shell National Students Art Competitions, and launched his much-awaited first solo exhibition, Alchemy, at Kaida Contemporary in 2023.

Garcia’s wonderfully rendered brushwork is often mistaken for pen and ink, but are acrylics painted with the finest brushes that create the tiniest details. He has cultivated a unique artistic style that revolves around depicting fantastic landscapes and whimsical characters adorned in otherworldly outfits. The unconventional and magical imagery he comes up with combines fashion and fancy tableaus, exploring the gamut of human emotions expressed by his playful characters, who find themselves in various surreal settings.

As Garcia’s pieces showcase his unique vision, he highlights themes of transformation, growth, patience, and gratitude. By blending the eccentric, hypnagogic, and outlandish, he builds beauty out of the grotesque, intriguing us no end as we discover new elements with each fresh viewing.

Art Fair Philippines wishes to thank the Montinola family for their support of young artists, in memory of Karen H. Montinola, over the past 10 years.

Art Fair Philippines 2024 runs from February 16 to 18 at The Link, Ayala Center, Makati,

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