Like we experienced some years ago, part of the excitement of visiting the studio/workshop of foremost Filipino sculptor Ramon Orlina was getting lost trying to find it in Sampaloc, Manila. The search always heightens one’s anticipation of seeing the glass masterpieces lined up on the ground floor, shaded away from the shafts of light that usually turn them into magical visual labyrinths in exhibits, of hearing the whirr of machines polishing the blocks of ice, and ultimately of being able to sit down and talk with Ramon Orlina.
When we finally found the place and set foot on the ground floor, we realized that nothing much seemed to have changed in the workplace the past years, not even during the pandemic. Men were deep at work in what must be the finishing stage of the glass sculptures. Ramon Orlina welcomed us like in the old days, ready to talk about his art, his history, and this time, also about his two offspring, Anna and Michael, who told us how they “found their own love for glass” and who are both making a name for themselves in glass sculpture.
Orlina and his Malaysian-born wife Lay Ann have four children—Naesa and Ning Ning, apart from Anna and the youngest Michael. Naesa and Ning Ning used to organize the well-attended music festival, the Tagaytay Art Beat at Museo Orlina in Tagaytay, which drew annual crowds until the pandemic.
Until March 31, Anna and Michael are exhibiting their works at Museo Orlina in Tagaytay in Artistic Legacies, alongside the works of the children of the late sculptor Ed Castrillo, painter and printmaker Fil Delacruz, modernist Raul Lebajo, painter Manny Garibay. They are Mierro, NIxxio, Ovvian Castrillo, Janos Delacruz, Gio and Nikulas Lebajo, and Alee, Bam and Nina Garibay.
We sat in the showroom upstairs of the Orlina home which displays a few sculptures of the eminent artist, and one or two glass works of Anna and Michael. Orlina showed a yet untitled sculpture he’s done—a horizontal block with jagged peaks. He was inspired by the mountain range of Luzon, but it was apparent to us that it is not the here and now that Orlina loved to talk about with us.
Before his children could join us, he reminisced about his detour to glass sculpture more than 40 years ago, when as an architect and working with Republic Glass in the ‘70s, then the country’s leading glass manufacturer, he decided to forego a foreign grant being offered him by the company so that he could experiment more with glass in the company’s factory; he wanted to learn technique to transform them into works of art. Unlike the glass being supplied by Republic, which was in smaller cuts used for buildings and homes, Orlina explored ways to work with huge solid blocks of glass in the factory, different from the traditional glass blowing industry of Europe. In the late ‘70s, his architecture profession wasn’t thriving since construction was slowing down, and he found a new passion—glass sculpture.
He pioneered glass art in the country, developed his technique and even equipment. He began his painting on glass, and gradually learned the process and technology involving glass, from cutting to polishing. “I even manufactured my own equipment,” he reminds us now.
He was invited to the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) to learn to work with solid glass as high as three feet. The Orlina glass art has evolved through the decades—the prism that turns into an intricate maze of light, a complex technology that yields a simple, relatable visual narrative that appeals to the viewer; or the curves that create the image of fluidity and movement, shaped by the viewer’s imagination and by the technique developed by Orlina.
Today an Orlina is not only in constant high demand; it also breaks auction records, fetching tens of millions in pesos—a market value indicative of the local lucrative art market (auction works are put on the block by collectors or owners; the provision entitling artists to percentage of the sale has yet to be implemented fully or strengthened). But beyond its enviable performance in the auctions, contemporary Philippine art has reserved a prime niche for the Orlina sculpture. Orlina himself put it—the auctions affirmed that his work is “not decorative, but fine art, one of a kind.”
“And now I’m happy to be able to develop what I want,” he told TheDiarist.ph.
Our visit last week introduced us finally to the sculpture of Anna and Michael. While they are apparently influenced by the art pioneered by their father in the country, the sculptures of the scions are distinct and different from it. Father and children are bound by the medium, but their works are of their generation.
Michael’s carries his generation’s pursuit of self-identity, if not angst. A student of Arts Management at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Michael pointed out his work, The Armour Within, in the showroom—smooth and soft curve on the outside but corrugated and rough on the inside. To us parents, this sculpture by a GenZ concretizes what you suspect—you never know what goes on inside of youth, when cheers, laughter and smooth, placid surface, like this sculpture, mask the corrugation and rough spots within.
Anna started with the glass surplus from her father’s sculptures, picked up their different colors and blended them into abstract sculpture. The daughter, who first collaborated with her father in 2015, has achieved the geometry of color, the perspective of which becomes fully dependent on the viewer. Anna’s art is a continuing taming of the medium. A graduate of Multi-media Arts from De la Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Anna, realizing that she wanted to learn more about the handling of glass, studied at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, initially joining a beginner’s class in glass blowing, and then engraving. She also joined the Corning Museum of Glass and learned Bohemian Glass Engraving in New York, as well as in the Czech Republic, where she learned the art of glass painting, the process of cold cutting, stained glass, sandblasting. She was a finalist in the 2019 Mullenlowe’s NoVA Awards in the UK.
The young Orlinas are not only developing a following of their own, even among their father’s collectors, but more important, they are introducing glass art to their generation to whom mostly everything is fleeting and perishable. Their art is permanence to instant, digital youth.
Ramon Orlina and Anna and Michael are preparing for another exhibit in July.