29th 2008
Mia Herbosa’s kaleidoscope world

Posted under Articles

Philippine Star

Monday, August 25, 2008

Like some of the great adventures in art, it started with a small object. In this case a kaleidoscope.

“It has two discs with jewels and when you turn it, the images are amazing — like stained-glass windows in a church,” enthuses Mia Ongpin Herbosa about a particular kaleidoscope that was lent to her by an acquaintance, a key moment leading up to her latest exhibition that will open this Thursday.

“The kaleidoscope is not just an instrument, it has something to do with an allegory of life itself,” she explains. If you look at it from the outside, it’s merely a vessel, nothing oracular about it. But when you peer inside, you get these visions. Remember how John Lennon once sang about skies with diamonds, cellophane flowers and girls with kaleidoscope eyes? Mia’s epiphany is similar. Human beings are kaleidoscopes of sorts: we may be made of matter that rots and is corruptible, but from the inside we could peer into another dimension — one illuminated by the light of spirituality. This is the human condition; everyone is a repository of varying visions.

“I was sitting on the floor of my studio with my 15 paintings around me, and it felt like looking through a kaleidoscope and seeing (aspects of) my life. It was a weave of emotions, visual, tactile, even audible. Like any child’s kaleidoscope, the physical look of it differs so entirely from the feelings you get by peering into it and looking at the light. Its capacity to make you see and feel something so joyful and magical is what constantly draws me to expressing myself in visual art,” she explains.

Mia presents her latest paintings in oil and mixed media in her 10th exhibition titled, aptly enough, “Life’s Kaleidoscope,” which opens on Aug. 28, 6:30 p.m., at The Ayala Museum ArtistSpace. The show is on view until Sept. 11.

Her present works are far more personal, more introspective, and in some cases more experimental.

“I am using mixed media now — oil with delicate Japanese rice papers, handmade Nepalese marbled paper and Burmese paper that I found in a New York supply store. I also use many antique silk, provencal cotton and even woman’s hair. The overlapping textures gave me a feeling of depth and gave me a wider sense of expression. This is my way of understanding my feelings about cycles of life — ‘life’s kaleidoscope.’ I learned this printmaking technique called chine collé, which gives you different feelings depending on what types of paper you use. I thought if you can do this in printmaking you could also apply it in oil — superimpose paper or natural fibers on top of it or beside it, using rabbit-skin glue as adhesive.”

Mia has always been entranced by gold leaf and has an attraction for Gustav Klimt’s work — a duality of “draftsmanship and fierce abandon to the power and psychology of color, rhythm and shapes.”

She stresses, “Some works in the show are precursors of things-to-be, still forming in my mind. Just like me, my art is still growing, expanding, it is still becoming.”

From the time Mia started exhibiting as a student in The Art Students’ League of New York in ’95, she has dealt with motifs of her life as artist in the Big Apple. (One of her achievements is becoming the first Filipina to win the top prize at the Annual Junior Scholarship Members Exhibition held at the Salmagundi Club in New York, a center for American Art since 1871.) She remembers painting in this building on West 57th Street and going to Central Park with its “trees and rolling slopes two blocks north,” as well as going ice-skating at Wollman Rink during a break in class.

For Mia’s latest show, she dug deeper — digging through stacks and stacks of sepia photographs of her ancestors, as well as digging through ineffable things piled up in her own psyche.

She remembers sifting through photographs from the early 1900s of her Lolo Luis who chronicled life with his own trusty Leica camera. Some of those photos would become the basis for her paintings. “Clown Brothers (Luis and Dante)” shows her grandfather with his brother Dante, who passed away at a very young age. A painting titled “Portal in my Mind (Alfonso and his Leica)” depicts her great-grandfather Alfonso — a foremost collector of Rizaliana, and an early collector of Luna and Hidalgo — taking his self-portrait. Somewhere in the painting a dragonfly symbolizes the ethereal; and the stairs, something transcendent.

“He was my first inspiration to venture into doing something more personal. Art rooted in my ancestry — who I was, who am I… He was an aesthete and a lover of noble ideas.

“Luis and Cats” shows her lolo carrying two of his pets. Another one, “Once Upon a Time,” juxtaposes rich sepia tones with collaged paper. She explains, “For these paintings I wanted to capture childhood, a way of rendering memories through art.”

There are newer memories also.

“Lana and Jada” is a painting of Mia’s daughter with a Labrador who lived in the resort where they stayed in and who followed them around like a pet of their own. “Mutya (Monica)” is a combination of oil paint, torn-up bits of kimono and real hair. Mia points out the therapeutic effects of art. “Not only painting, even the tearing of the paper, the cutting, the pasting, the whole creative process.”

Mia reveals how art saved her from a depressing moment in her life.

“I got very sick in the States for almost the whole of 2006. I got burned out by the pace and coldness of New York. Even simple things like the weather would affect me. I felt nauseous every time I stepped out of the apartment. I realized that this was because my painting took a backseat in my life. I think it did something to my spirit, affected my body. Some people are predisposed to expressing themselves. It’s like a lifeline in a way: a dancer has to dance, a writer has to write… If you’re cut off from it, that’s when problems arise. When I rested and then painted again more regularly, bumalik ’yung energy ko. Something opened up in my mind.”

It was like looking at the world again with a whole new kaleidoscope of colors.

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“Life’s Kaleidoscope” opens on Aug. 28, 6:30 p.m., at The Ayala Museum ArtistSpace, second floor, Glass Wing, Greenbelt Park, Makati Ave. corner De La Rosa St., Makati City. For information, call Ayala Museum at 757-7117 to 21 local 31, visit and, or SMS 0917-8901219.