Emerging Filipino artist Lui Gonzales talks drawing, bottling up fragments of her art and expanding her field of vision.
Art Radar chats with emerging Filipino artist Lui Gonzales to find out more about her drawing practice.
Splashes of bright and multicoloured hues may be what lures people to enter art galleries, but there are works that do not need all the colours of the rainbow to make a lasting impression. The layered drawings by Lui Gonzales (b. 1993), an artist from Manila, make an excellent example: using only pen and ink, she comes up with realistic portraits and representations of objects which she tears then puts together, layer upon layer. Looking like a cluster of shredded sketches mounted on the wall, viewers speculate why these figures and inanimate things were brought together only to be destroyed. And since all the drawings have a personal significance to the artist, viewers are also invited to see patches of Gonzales’ memory, as well as explore how hers parallels their own.
Exhibiting since 2006, even before her years of study at the University of the Philippines, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Major in Painting, Gonzales has explored other art forms and materials, but it is her ripped and bottled compositions that have made her known in the Philippine contemporary art scene. Among the Manila-based galleries she has exhibited in are Vetro Art Gallery, Kaida Contemporary, Underground Art Gallery, Tin-Aw Art Gallery and the Eskinita Art Gallery, where her first solo exhibition entitled “Colorless Confetti” is currently on show.
A scholar of the Philippine High School for the Arts from 2006 to 2010, Gonzales has also shown in popular art events, such as Art Fair Philippines and Art in the Park. In 2016, she participated in the group show “Paper Trails” held in Sangkring Art Space, Indonesia.
In this interview with Art Radar, the emerging Filipino artist talks about her first ever solo exhibition, the beginnings of her signature technique and how this has evolved, as well as navigating the art scene.
Congraulations on your first solo exhibition. We have seen you participate in several group shows last year. Could you talk a bit about the challenges you encountered in preparing for “Colorless Confetti”, your first solo exhibition? Did the show turn out the way you envisioned it to be?
Thank you very much! Yes, I was a part of a few group shows but I somehow managed to fit them all in my schedule. A challenge and requirement I give myself is to try to finish and pass my works way ahead of deadlines.
I was very nervous and excited during the whole process of conceptualising and production, but so far, the show went the way I envisioned it. Being surrounded by people who guide me very well along the way also helped.
Let us dive into your exhibition’s title. You must be frequently asked why you prefer to keep your ripped and layered works “colourless”. Art Radar is interested in getting to know how you developed this particular style. What was going through your head when you “destroyed and layered to rebuild” your drawings the first time?
I have been addicted to drawing multiples ever since I was in high school at PHSA. I wasn’t the best in class so I was advised to practice more. So ever since then I didn’t stop drawing and trying to improve. I also delved into painting and sculptures, but drawing was clearly my choice because it was honest and immediate for me. My thesis then was a hundred plus charcoal portraits on tracing paper, laid out side by side.
Eventually, still in love with drawing, I continued it in college at UP Fine Arts. There was a plate given to us by the professor; it dealt with themes and I was assigned with ‘Identity’. I still stuck with multiples, but I was figuring out a way to use images of other people as my own self portrait but in a different way.
At that time, I was using charcoal on craft paper. I figured by layering them, tearing and leaving important details, the portraits would still appear. It was a eureka moment for me. I explored this more during my thesis and switched to pen and ink on tracing papers. The works are colourless because I think, for now, colours would make the works look too busy. Until now I still find the process exciting, because I always get surprised with the finished work.
Portrait artists have their own set of reasons for selecting their subjects. Who are the people featured in your works? Do you have a personal connection to all of them? Additionally, how do they feel about their representations being ripped and added with others?
I really prefer to have a personal connection to my subjects. The portraits in my works are usually friends and family. I always feel excited about capturing their essence in drawing. People I draw always find the finished works interesting. I give them a heads up about my work.
The tearing process doesn’t really ring as negative for me. It’s not so much as tearing anymore, it’s about peeling through, to see what’s underneath. It has also become a way of acknowledging the interesting and temporary nature of things; that our entirety can also be acknowledged by our parts. The work for me, is a way of marrying degrees of separation towards people and everything else.
Another act of creating that you do is you do not discard anything that you have ripped. Instead, you keep these in bottles. What is the significance of this or why is it important to you to also present the “fragments” that did not make it to the artwork?
I still consider the fragments as drawings. I always give a significant amount of time and effort towards each layer, so these parts still deserve to be kept. I am very sentimental that way. The smallest tearing could still remind me of the depicted moment or the whole process of making the art piece itself. The bottles encase the torn parts in a convenient and interesting way.
“Colorless Confetti” seems to feature more objects/belongings than your previous artworks. Could you tell us what makes you attached to a material object? Do you collect anything?
Portraiture has always been my thing, but I figured I should also play with other images so I could broaden my technique. I actually started with objects during a two person show with Pam Quinto called “Tirhan”, which we did last year at Kaida Contemporary. I like that objects have the capacity to pile up because of attachments.
I collect anything that reminds me of good moments. The intention of my work is to analyse and reanalyse details of the past and present.
Let us backtrack a bit. When did you start drawing? And, when did you realise that you wanted to be a professional artist? Who are the artists that you look up to?
I started drawing when I was very little. [I made a] few doodles here and there. My interest in art also peaked when my father showed us art books about different artists and he asked us whose and what works we liked among Van Gogh, Picasso, Da Vinci, etc. I also learned a lot in elementary school. My teacher in Holy Spirit before had a very broad art curriculum. My plates from the classes actually got me to pass PHSA.
My experience in high school made me realise that I wanted to do art for life. I saw my teachers there and everyone exhilarated by different art forms. It was overall, great. Thankfully, I always have that support for the arts from my family.
Sir Don Salubayba, Sir Gerry Leonardo and Sir Marc Cosico were my first influences, they were practicing artists and also my teachers in high school. I was also interested with Christina Dy, Sir Bob Feleo and Nona Garcia‘s work. I never stopped loving Picasso, Dali and Van Gogh’s works as well.
Most of the local artists you looked up to when you were young, as you mentioned, were practicing artists as well as professors. Have you ever considered teaching yourself, especially since it is a good way of forging connections with people?
I actually teach art club for kids once a week in a small school and some art workshops every now and then. I dream of teaching college in a university or maybe in PHSA in the future. I’m just saving up and finding the time since I only started practicing a few years ago. If I do get to have the chance I’ll take a Masters degree in Fine Arts. We’ll see.
Other than the visual arts, you are also into music. How does music aid your art-making? Do you tackle the same themes in your drawings and music?
Music has always been a side by side thing with my art. I love both of them perpetually. I started playing and singing when I was very young.
However, I started writing songs just recently. What I observed is when writing a song, you also remove and add pieces of fragmented phrases and melodies together. There is also that surprising effect after finishing a song. My artworks and my music all stem from my interest in relationships and people.
What other shows do you have lined-up for the rest of 2018?
Currently, I’m preparing for scheduled shows for both local and international art scenes for 2019.
Most of the projects you have mentioned in this conversation have to do with commercial galleries. What is the best piece of advice you have received or learned when it comes to dealing with the Manila art scene, which is very much influenced by its galleries?
I do exhibits in selected mainstream galleries who develop and promote mainstream artists, especially young artists. In my opinion, galleries, artists, collectors, the academe and non-academic institutions work in a symbiotic cycle in art. All branches generate and receive resources from one another in order for the cycle to continue. My advice is to know how the cycle will work for you.
Do you have a dream project that takes your drawings to a different kind of space?
As of now I am currently working with galleries to promote my works. My dream project is to do monumental installation works in public spaces or museums. If in the future, I was offered a project from a different institution or space, and if it was interesting enough, I would take it.
“Colorless Confetti” by Lui Gonzales is on view until 13 July 2018 at Eskinita Art Gallery, 2nd Floor Makati Square, Chino Roces Ave. Makati City, 1230, Philippines.
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