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The art of fatherhood

By IGAN D'BAYAN, The Philippine Star Published Jun 18, 2023 5:00 am

Imagine growing up in a house where the patriarch has such magical hands: used in painting, sculpting, or guiding others on that thorny yet rosy path of artistry. In the case of each of our interviewees, it is not the case of casting long shadows across the lives of his sons and daughters, but the exact opposite. We’re talking about someone who is full of light and has singularity of vision: to raise the young ones the best way possible. A man who has provided inspiration and exerted influence that go beyond the canvas, transcend clay or wood, and surpass whatever the man’s accomplishments are in his chosen field. We learn from these painters, sculptors and gallerists that they look upon their kids as works in progress and that they relish their roles in turning them into masterpieces.

Ramon Orlina & Anna

Pioneering sculptor Ramon Orlina says he and his daughter, Anna, even look alike. “She inherited my deep dimples and crooked fingers,” says Ramon with a laugh. And obviously, the talent as well.

Ramon, Anna Orlina

Just like her dad, Anna also works with glass as a medium, using the same cold-working technique that most glassworkers dread because it is very tedious and labor-intensive. Ramon says, “My daughter has her own personal flair that comes out through her sculptures.”

Anna talks about Ramon as a loving father and as a trailblazing artist. “My dad’s art is truly unique and his creative process is admirable since he is able to see figures, shapes and designs within a simple block of glass. And he is fearless when it comes to creating monumental art because of his architectural background that gives him insights and knowledge that other artists may not necessarily have.”

When Anna was still a child, Ramon’s studio was on the ground floor of the house and their family lived in the apartment above it. She recalls, “I grew up accustomed to the grinding noise of machines. My siblings and I were not allowed to wander around downstairs as the floor was always wet and dangerous for children with all the equipment and glass around. I would peep from the doorway to see him in his overalls crouched over his glass with a cigarette in his mouth.” (Ramon, by the way, stopped smoking in the early ’90s—probably because of the “No Smoking” signs the kids put up all over the house.)

The Orlina patriarch says, “I am here to provide my expertise, but it is still her art. I do not tell her what subject matter to make. I am proud that she wants to continue what I’ve done and this legacy we now share together.” 

Anna agrees, “My dad has almost 50 years of experience in his art and has much wisdom under his belt. Naturally, I turn to him for guidance and inspiration. At the same time, I am happy to say that he does not interfere. Forging my own path is something he is happy to see me do.”

Ramon Orlina concludes, “I always tell my daughter to work hard, be disciplined and be focused. Those are the three pillars of my work ethic.”

The first sculpture that Anna made was in collaboration with my dad. She says, “In my eyes, he is a genius.”

Soler Santos & Isabel

Soler Santos—visual artist, art patron and owner of West Gallery—describes the art of his daughter, Isabel, as “playful and experimental in nature.”

He shares, “I involved my kids when they were young in what my wife Mona and I were doing, which was mainly art-related. We would go to museums and art galleries together. Since Isabel was a little girl, she—among my three kids—was already painting. I always thought she was going to study fine arts in college.”

Isabel always aspired to be like Soler, to internalize her dad’s work ethic and outlook towards his art.

“He never does art for anything other than wanting to do it. I, sometimes, am pushed by deadlines. My dad is a very easygoing person, which I think manifests in his art. The ebbs and flows of his paintings come from the ebbs and flows of his own life.”

How does Isabel navigate the dynamic of having a father who is an artist and gallery owner while establishing her own unique artistic identity?

“I mean, we are in the era of the ‘nepo(tism)’ babies, right (laughs)? I’m sure people think that about me. But I appreciate all the help I get from having him as a father. It’s up to me now to create. As a gallery owner, my father is very kind and nurturing to artists, especially the young ones.”

My father is not keen on making clones of himself in us, yet he’s unapologetically tyrannical in his ways and his views. He challenges us to grow a spine and to be strong enough in our views and ourselves that we can stand up to him as equals. He doesn’t coddle or ‘baby’ us, and believes that people in general shouldn’t be shielded from the realities of the world in order for genuine growth, character development and wisdom to happen.

Soler Santos concludes, “I always tell them, ‘Gawa ka lang ng gawa,’ and enjoy the process.”

Art and fatherhood… don’t they both involve processes that aspire for perfection?

Sari Ortiga & Marco

Here is a father who is an art patron and gallery owner who has offered space to the top visual artists in the land (Arturo Luz, BenCab, Malang, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, and other names inscribed in the Filipino art canon). Here is his son who is an experimental conceptual artist, who explores ideas that go beyond the confines and restrictions of objects and traditions.

Sari describes Marco’s art: “I think Marco’s sculptures are technically refined in design, grounded on the integrity of material. The kinetic elements of his latest series are hypnotic.”

The father says the son didn’t have to tell him that he wanted to be an artist. “Marco had art pouring out of his ears (laughs). He is a natural.”

And Sari, according to Marco, will always be “the cool guy” to his friends.

“Papa loves all kinds of art. But exposing us to more contemporary and modern art is something I am definitely thankful for. (He taught us) how to look for the beauty in the obscure.”

Museums were like Disneyland to the Ortiga kids. Every tito and tita of theirs was an artist of note.

Sari Ortiga with grandson Pepe Ortiga Montefrio

Both Sari and Marco see art in mundane, everyday things. “We see abstract compositions on garbage piles or greatness in graffiti,” explains the father. “I often try to impress upon him that behind every successful art story are the blood, sweat and tears of hard work.”

This is what the father thinks is best: “I and The Crucible Gallery are behind Marco a hundred percent of the way. But as far as his art road map is concerned, we never dictate. He takes that lead and we eagerly, excitedly await for his next hurdles, just bracing ourselves for the next horizon this artist will reach.”

Somebody once said that the best teacher tells you where to look but doesn’t tell you what to see. For Sari Ortiga, the teaching comes a close second, but bonding is everything.

“Our discussions on sculpture are spontaneous and often. They are very technical and far from the conceptual side. The boring stuff is what we discuss most of the time. But these are my favorite moments, because I feel like a dad again giving sound advice to my three-year-old artist-son.”

Manny Garibay & Alee

Imagine your father being Manny Garibay. The mind boggles. How would his daughter Alee, who has also chosen art as a profession, navigate all this?

She answers, “Truth be told, I feel like I have obliquely shunted this inevitable comparison by delving into other facets of myself — as writer, organizer, educator, mother, etc. — that I can safely traverse through life comparison-free while still being effective and impactful. Going to two art schools and getting that fact (being Manny Garibay’s daughter) rubbed in may have subconsciously made it the biggest elephant in the room that I insouciantly ignored.”

The young girl has now become a very assertive woman. Manny says, “She is very eager to speak her thoughts out on the topic — even before I have finished speaking (laughs). But you see, I find Alee and the rest of my kids more substantial than many people I know. I don’t really need to go out and have good conversations with other people, because my kids are with me.”

Manny’s relationship with his father, Limerio, was similar in a way. “My father was very tolerant with us arguing with him, debating him on issues pertaining to politics and religion. Everything was fair game. So that atmosphere of openness I found very healthy in the family.”

And with this air of freedom, how does the daughter seek guidance and inspiration from her father while balancing the need to forge her own path as an artist?

“My father is not keen on making clones of himself in us, yet he’s unapologetically tyrannical in his ways and his views. He challenges us to grow a spine and to be strong enough in our views and ourselves that we can stand up to him as equals. He doesn’t coddle or ‘baby’ us, and believes that people in general shouldn’t be shielded from the realities of the world in order for genuine growth, character development and wisdom to happen.”

Alee recalls seeing Manny paint in their garage many years ago. The palette of his capturing humanist figures grappling against oppressive forces: distorted figures representing a distorted society. “There was also the time he and Tito Mark (Justiniani) were working on this big piece in the back of our house in a seminary in Dasmariñas, Cavite—and having a good time while we kids were playing in the backyard as The Beatles song Love Me Do was playing. I clearly recall hearing and loving that song. Up to this day, it’s one of my favorite Beatles songs.”

From her brilliant father, the daughter learned the essentials:

Just paint.

Live a simple life.

Do not seek validation from others, but see it within yourself.

And maybe love. Do love… do love art.

Jose Mendoza & Jordan

Renowned sculptor Jose “Mang Joe” Mendoza was caught by surprise when his then-18-year-old son told him he wanted to try his hand at sculpting. “Nagulat ako kasi puro ligaw lang siya noon (laughs). Six months later, Jordan had his first show.”

Both father and son are now known as makers of monumental, astoundingly detailed and lifelike sculptures. Mang Joe humbly shares, “Mas mahusay sa akin si Jordan. Lahat ng details hindi niya pinalalampas.”

The son responds, “My dad has been an invaluable source of inspiration, not only for me, but also for my daughter Ranya, who is also nurturing her own artistic talents.”

When it comes to setting a solid foundation, Mang Joe is a true master. Jordan amplifies, “Whether it’s in art or in forging relationships with friends and clients, he’s always had the basics in place. In his view, there’s no substitute for taking time to learn and perfect the fundamentals —whether it’s studying the principles of human anatomy, metal casting, or the logistical challenges that come with installing a monument.”

Mang Joe proudly explains how his son, when making a human figure, will start with the bone and from there build up the muscles and skin. That is simply taking it to the next level of sculpting. Those are almost Pygmalion levels of creativity.

Have they collaborated on a project in the past?

Yes, answers Mang Joe, many, many times. This is how their process goes. Jordan would start working on the sculpture. Mang Joe would see it, dislike it, and then redo everything. Jordan would come in and do the same. This goes on and on, ad infinitum—well, until one of them says, “Wait, I think this piece is done.” A metaphorical bell dings as both father and son nod in symmetry.

The son shares, “I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to strive to be different or unique, as we both share similar interests and have learned the same skills throughout our careers. I can simply build upon what he’s taught me and make it my own. It’s an honor to carry on my father’s legacy. We’ve found that seeking guidance from each other has not only strengthened our relationship but our individual artistic journeys as well.”

Mang Joe concludes, “Pinapabayaan ko lang si Jordan sa kanyang paggawa. Pero kung meron man akong advice sa kanya ay ito: sana ay maging inspiration at example siya sa iba pang mga artists. Sana rin ay ’wag niyang makalimutan si Lord. At sana ’wag siyang tumigil sa pag-tawag sa akin.”