Could next Picasso come from Philippines?

Filipino art on the spotlight in Dubai, with living legend Whang Od featuring in Susan de Guzman's Pintados collection

  • Susan de Guzman at the grand opening of her exhibition, "Pintados".Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • Susan de Guzman at the grand opening of her exhibition, "Pintados".Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • Susan de Guzman at the grand opening of her exhibition, "Pintados".Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • UAE-based award-winning artist Susan de Guzman
    From the Pintados collection of award-winning UAE-based artist Susan de Guzman.Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: "When can we have the next Picasso who will come from the Philippines?" mulls multi-awarded UAE-based artist Susan de Guzman, who is making her debut solo exhibit in Dubai tonight.

"We have a lot of really good artists, but I hope they get the international recognition they deserve," says De Guzman, who merges her work as an artist and educator to bring Filipino art to the world stage.

Perhaps it's a march that modern Filipino artists are going to have to make one brush stroke at a time, drawing inspiration from masters such as Juan Luna, whose 1884 painting Spolarium won the first gold medal in Madrid's Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes, and Fernando Amorsolo, who gained worldwide fame for his rural landscape paintings.

"Filipinos are very creative people and I want to be able to show this part of us to the world," says de Guzman, who is also a design professor at the Sharjah Women’s College – Higher Colleges of Technology where she mentors students in graphic design and art. Come May 12, she will be judging the art competition at the Dubai World Trade Centre as part of the Philippine Independence Day celebration in Dubai.

Among modern Filipino artists whose work she admires, de Guzman says she looks up to Raul Isidro and Antonio Ostria. She has created her own style, one that she describes as "transformative".

There's one rule she won't bend in her studio. "I don't paint when I'm angry," she says, "I want my artwork to give out a positive vibe."

And positive it is, with De Guzman's solo Dubai exhibit telling in vivid colours the story of the Philippines' most creative tribes people.

Dubai debut

De Guzman's debut solo artshow at the Philippine Consulate General opens at 7pm today. The exhibit runs until July 26.

Her work has travelled around the world, including New York, as part of group exhibits with other Filipino artists. Dubai is the latest stage for her Pintados collection.

In bold strokes, the collection tells the stories of the Philippines' Kalinga tribe, also known as the Pintados (Painted Ones), and is a nod to legendary tattoo artist and Kalinga native Whang Od, who, at 100, is considered the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines.

From the Pintados collection of award-winning UAE-based artist Susan de Guzman.

"This collection of work celebrates the life of Whang Od and the Kalinga tribe and their stories, as well as their strength in overcoming influence from other nations," De Guzman says.

Art enthusiasts from around the world trek two mountains, cross a river and walk through ravines just to visit Whang Od's house in the mountains and share a unique experience with the living legend. De Guzman hopes her art translates this passion on canvas.

For the love of art

De Guzman's world has always gravitated towards art. Coming from a family of doctors, De Guzman said she went against the grain by picking a brush over a stethoscope.

"My parents asked, 'Why do you want to be an artist?' There is no money in art," she says. She studied Fine Arts in the Philippines anyway and received a degree from the University of Santo Tomas. More than two decades in the UAE and countless art shows later, she disproves the notion.

"Art is a universal language, and when you know that language, everything else follows," she says.

She describes her work as contemporary and she flits between mural paintings, graphic design, photography, fabric and digital design. "I look at my work as a transformative process," she says, adding that she is always exploring ways on merging her interests to create new levels of art.

From the Pintados collection of award-winning UAE-based artist Susan de Guzman.

She is strongly influenced by masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Miro, Matisse, Monet and Picasso, with her abstract paintings "drawing you deeply into [her] inner thoughts and emotions".

She draws strength and inspiration from her family, including her two children who are also artists. 

"I love exploring and creating new ideas with them," she says, adding that she is preparing for a back-to-back exhibit with her daughter later this year.

Her favourite mediums are oil and acrylic, although she now prefers water-based paints "mainly because I live in an apartment". "It's more for health reasons since I live in a closed apartment in the UAE. Perhaps when I open my own studio I'd start using oil paints again," she says.

Many of her artworks are displayed in homes of private art collectors in the UAE and overseas. "Art is my life and I will never stop creating," she says.

 

Don't miss it

What: Pintados Art Exhibit
Where: Philippine Consulate General Dubai
When: Exhibit opens at 7pm and runs until July 26

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