Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Leon Gallery auctions a Lao Lianben from Menchu Katigbak collection

'White Matter' evokes reinvigoration and meditation

Menchu Katigbak
Lot 70, PROPERTY FROM THE MARIA CARMENCITA "MENCHU" KATIGBAK COLLECTION, Lao Lianben (b. 1948), White Matter, signed and dated 1997 (lower left), acrylic, modeling, pastel, pencil on canvas, 36" x 24" (91 cm x 61 cm)

A calming yet invigorating Lao Lianben piece from the collection of Manila’s society “swan” Menchu Katigbak is up for auction at Leon Gallery. (“Swan” is how the American high society’s stylish women who made up the inner circle of the celebrated novelist Truman Capote, of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, were called—the likes of Babe Paley, wife of CBS founder William Paley, Gloria Guinness, Maria Agnelli.)

Menchu Katigbak

Menchu Katigbak

Lao Lianben’s White Matter is among the highlights of the upcoming The Magnificent September Auction this September 9, 2023, at 2 pm. One of the leading Filipino abstractionists in contemporary Philippine art, Lao has created meditative works with the Zen spirit of dynamic quietude.

In a conversation with Menchu, Thelma Sioson of learned that Menchu met Lao Lianben when a friend brought her to his studio to meet him and talk about a painting she could put in her house. In the exhibit catalogue, Sioson narrates: “He then went to her house to see the setting where his painting would be. The country’s foremost artist and A-lister/socialite struck up an acquaintance, and the low-profile artist did the White Matter drawing only for her.” It was while doing this big painting that Lao gave Menchu White Matter.

Menchu was born to the prominent Katigbak clan of Batangas. “Menchu didn’t have a long-running corporate affiliation, yet she’s kin, a friend, an acquaintance to the country’s power society, from presidents, industry/business/finance leaders here and abroad, to socialites and elite society,” Sioson writes. “Her dining room and living room, through the decades, have been a veritable epicenter of the Manila Establishment, given the quality and quantity of Who’s Who she has hosted. She’s lived in London, Paris, and now spends a good time of the year in Singapore.”

Aside from moving among society’s crème de la crème, Menchu has given time to philanthropy. She is a member of the Global Leadership Board of the US-Asia Institute (USAI), composed of prominent Asian leaders. The USAI is a United Nations-associated non-governmental organization that aims to improve “understanding and facilitating conversations between the people and governments of the United States and Asia.” As a member of the Global Leadership Board, Menchu has transformed her extensive involvement and acquaintance with numerous government and industry leaders into valuable insights and advice that profoundly contributed to the advancement of the USAI’s vision and the fulfilment of its mission.

Menchu Katigbak

In 2015, at the residence of the US Ambassador in Paris, Menchu (second from left) with Washington Sycip (second from the right), Federico and Monina Lopez © Katigbak Photo Archives

On Lao’s White Matter: The white matter regions of the central nervous system refer to parts of the brain responsible for efficient brain signaling—the transmittal and reception of information between different areas of the brain.

Lao depicts the white matter as a waterfall-like structure. The artist derives inspiration from the scientific definition of white matter and reimagines and reinvents it in his soothing language of Zen. Lao’s unbridled pencil strokes, suggestive of nerve fibers, are from the acrylic modeling resembling the white matter. Lao presents how a dynamic mind powerfully engages in profound meditation. Lao presents how meditation inherently runs through our inner selves, much like the white matter and the nerve fibers that enable our neurons to send and receive signals for proper coordination of bodily functions, ensuring a keen awareness and perception of the imperfections and contradictions of the mortal world.

Lao shows how our decisions and determinations are born from active introspection, the consummate realization of the balance and contrasts of things, material or abstract, spiritual or corporal.

Like a waterfall gently yet powerfully cascading down from a mountain, Lao’s strokes represent the incessant calm achieved through meditation, a meditation that is quiet in form yet dynamic in practice. Perhaps this was what drew Menchu to this piece. Lao’s White Matter must be a reinvigorating experience for the always busy Menchu—an immersive spiritual encounter, a sense of harmony and clarity. The founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma, once said: “Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen.”

Such is the state that awaits the successful bid for Lao Lianben’s White Matter.Adrian Maranan

The Magnificent September Auction is on Sept. 9, 2023, 2 p.m., at Eurovilla 1, Rufino corner Legazpi streets, Legazpi Village, Makati City. Preview week is September 2 to 8, 2023, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. For inquiries, email [email protected] or contact tel. no. +632 8856-2781. To browse the catalog, visit Follow León Gallery on their social media pages for timely updates: Facebook – and Instagram @leongallerymakati. 

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