By Paul B. Zafarrala
RAMON G. Orlina and glass sculpture have become interlinked in contemporary Philippine art. Not that this young, 44, artist of the highest caliber had boxed himself in his blocks of "studio glass", as it were. Far from it. Rather, he had
single-handedly pioneered, on a self-taught basis yet, in this hitherto untested and challenging medium locally, and was able to conquer it despite antiquated and crude tools. Result prismatic works that make illusion a reality and reality an illusion. Light, depths and 4-dimensions are as illusory as they are a lived and relived experience. Each work is a masterpiece of some abstract reality fashioned out of some natural object or ideational formulation.
The works truly reveal the head, eye and hand of a young master at work, who is no longer an "undiscovered mater" as Anding Roces complained, but is now in the limelight - rightfully and at last. The irony is that it took the Czech Artist of Merit (the equivalent of our National Artist) Prof. Stanislab Libensky, head of the Prague Academy of Applied Art to hail Orlina as "il maestro". In Europe, IL maestro is used "calibrate the prowess of an artist as one existing in a class by himself."
Czech Artist of Merit
Prof. Stanislab Libensky
Photo by www.lasvit.com
His ongoing one-man show attests to his position of primacy in sculpture and in Philippine art as a whole. (Lopez Museum Gallery, Meralco Ave., Pasig, MM, 12 May - 8 June). Called NAESA (his daughter's name and first child - ASEAN spelled backward - who was born during the summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last December), the show consists of 23 new works on their world premiere. It was formally opened by Dr. George Hill Hodel, chairman, International Research Associates (Asia).
Lopez Museum Gallery, Meralco Ave., Pasig City
12 May - 8 June, 1988
ORLINA, a licensed architect, ventured into glass sculpture by chance. While discussing a project with a client, he kept talking about the properties and characteristics of glass and its potentials for sculpture. Before he knew it, he found himself face to face with Victor A. Lim, then president of Republic Glass Corporation in Pasig, MM. An art lover, Lim gave him "special arrangements" that included, among others, free and unlimited use of the company's facilities for Orlina's needs including study grants anywhere in the world without any obligation at all to the bewildered and speechless Orlina. Things happened so fast, too good to be true. When he found his bearings again, it was to request Lim on paper that he, Orlina, accept the offer purely and solely as an artist. No more. No less. The arrangements are still in force. No party has tried to exploit the other.
The blocks of glass come in various sizes and degrees of surface crudeness. The prismatic thalo green colors are no where visible in the raw blocks. Instead, muddy colors and corrugated surfaces, no better or worse than a block of earth, are all that suggest a faint studio glass.
From these unsightly materials, Orlina would fashion out his abstract designs directly on the blocks - cutting, grinding, and polishing the surfaces until the original artistic idea is released from the block that imprisoned it.
This sounds easy. But not quite. An artistic idea exists in its purest abstraction - no natural outside referent - and undergoes transformation, revision and sometimes an entirely new trajectory in the process of creation. The block of glass and idea in progress enter into a give and take process given the characteristics of the medium.
Serendipities like a bubble or two trapped within which a technician may consider an imperfection, is exploited to the hilt, highlighted and made an integral part of the composition. This is where the artist is separated from the technician. Orlina, the consummate glass sculptor that he has now become is that kind of an artist. He knows how to exploit the virtue of "imperfection". And the floodgates of exciting, incredible prismatic visuals take place. The multiplier effect takes effect. Flat planes receive the bubble of an imperfection and multiply it for as many number of times as there are possible viewpoints, each time releasing varied values and intensities of the single color: thalo green.
Then again are the flat planes that optically become concave and convex surfaces leading the eye into tunnelized paths clarified by a labyrinth of planar patterns accented by shifting light in and out of the glass sculpture.
Positive voids (continuous holes) appear where none actually exist. Further more, light and planes cascade in recessed columnar flanks, taper to an optical vanishing point only to break into either singles or pairs. In any case, the eye journey in and out and around a sculptural piece follows an asymmetrical balance that underscores the dynamism that is built in.
To look at an Orlina glass sculpture is to encounter the workings of a determined and disciplined human mind capable of formulating and releasing thoughts both pristine and prismatic. Orlina's thoughts are as orderly as they are provocative, conditioned and tempered no doubt by his formal training as an architect.
Structural logic governs his works. Where a mass demands vigor and strength, it gets both with the added dimension of depth through light. And light through depth.
This kind of synergism is obviously a conceptual framework, but does not, however, exist a priori of the finished product. It exists as a twin entity of the concept, and likewise submits to changes in degrees as the work progresses. In this sense, an Orlina glass sculpture is not really a finished artpiece. It grows. And grows continuously. As it does, it generates new ideas calculated to enrich the life of the mind.
TWELVE years ago, Orlina cut himself into the local art scene with a commissioned muralief (mural in relief) on glass, of course. Titled Arcanum XIX Paradised Gained, this large glass mural measuring 1.80 x 3.20 x .60 m, is now catalogued as the first of its kind in the country. It occupies a position of prominence at the lobby of the Silahis International Hotel.
Then as now, his mastery of the medium had become apparent. Such mastery is indeed incredible given the shortfall in technology and the culture of poverty close to a bloated zero vis-à-vis glass sculpture. No art school in the country, even at this moment that piece is being written, has taken the lead role in introducing glass sculpture in the fine arts curricula. No short courses. No workshops. No nothing.
Modeling from cast, hand and face mostly, must still be the standard practice. At this time of high-tech and the concomitant fast pace of change, the art schools owe it to their students to overhaul the curricula with an eye for innovativeness, ineventiveness and foresight.
The Third World thinking - call it inhibitive - must now give way to a macrovision with a tenable world view. The art schools have to institutionalize this new and needed thrust if they are to continue being regarded as the training ground of the country's visual articulators of culture. Anything less is a disservice to Philippine art and culture.
It is against this otherwise pathetic background that Orlina becomes a towering artist and his glass sculptures solid milestones besides being a class in themselves. He has single-handedly -- again - shattered the bias against artists in developing countries as behind the times.
Not one to cower in fright before a cold, solid glass loaded with problems and shortcomings known and unknown, Orlina has had the good fortune of meeting his adversary head on. His slim build is a deceptive as his relatively "small" artpieces. His body has conquered the limitations of its size and made an abstract thought crystal-clear and a tactile experience.
REALIZING, no doubt, the virtue of a pass-on technical know-how, Orlina had seen fit to employ no less than five assistants. His is to conceptualize; theirs is to actualize. Just the same he, he is onto every artwork because of the conceptual and structural changes that must be made in the process of creation.
Creativity, after all, is nontransferable.
Employing assistants who can deliver assumes a social dimension only a few artists are able to give. This kind of help is not really new to Orlina. He had done this in various capacities in the past: as an architect, sculptor or painter. And he had never counted the cost.
Public recognition of Orlina's worth and firmly established position in contemporary Philippine art unfortunately escaped him in 1984. Despite his distinguished body of works and scores of testimonials from people who really matter here and abroad, not to mention the enormous points that he had amassed, the jurors in the Ten Outstanding Young Men bypassed him "in favor of a less-deserving nominee whose achievements pales besides him - a debacle which the TOYM organizers will probably never live down," as Torres puts it.
The final loser of course, was not Orlina - but the TOYM because it lost face, credibility and prestige.
Orlina can have the last laugh now if he wants to. But he is more preoccupied with his art and new trials to be blazed to brood over a cardinal sin committed by some people. His environmental sculptures and mobiles in public plazas and ultramodern buildings in the Asian circuit must grow into newer artforms. The chemistry of glass must be studied so that glass and wood may form a partnership bigger in scope and more ambitious in concept. Given his creative reservoir, this is attainable. Definitely.
June 2, 1988