Oil has the texture of memory

Philippine Star


One of the best poets in the country, Marjorie Evasco, once wrote, “Water has the texture of memory.” The same with oil, in the case of New York-based artist Mia Ongpin Herbosa. Talking about new pieces in her ninth solo exhibit titled “Carpe Diem” at Alliance Française Total Gallery, she says, “I am trying to paint a memory of my life.”

Take the case of her work titled “Three Hats.” Herbosa says she was reluctant to throw away her daughter Lana’s hats, so she sat down and captured them on canvas. In this hurrying life where one moment metamorphoses into the next, the artist tries to capture each facet of her life as a mother. “My life revolves around my kid who just turned four. You could say I see the world through her eyes.”

Herbosa arrived from New York recently to spend Christmas here in the country. She says she spent the whole year painting on her own and taking care of her daughter.

“As a painter, I have changed emotionally. My works are more personal. There is more attachment. As you can see, I am using a lot of primary colors, because I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books with Lana, and it is fun to see how a child reacts to colors.”

Even in the way Herbosa plots her perspective the viewer can see how the artist’s daughter has exerted her influence. Herbosa says, “In my work titled ‘The Red Chair,’ I used flat perspective. When Lana looks at drawings in a book, she doesn’t know that figures are big because they are near and they are small when they’re far (laughs).” True, true. Kids probably think every storybook is a rehash of Gulliver’s Travels.

In Herbosa’s “The Red Chair,” the artist regards the subject with childlike wonder. It’s as if she were in her kid’s world, keeping a visual journal, mixing her oil paint to approximate the texture of memory.

“My works before were somber, now I could see something maternal in them.”

The other works in the collection have the signature Herbosa touch: strong lines and deft interplay of shadows and light.

The artist won the prestigious Edward G. McDowell Grant from the Art Student’s League of New York, and with this she traveled to all major art capitals in Europe to study the masters. Her works are in the collections of the New York Public Library and in the Museum of the City of New York. Her self-portrait (on view in her “Carpe Diem” show) titled “Life in a Still Life” was exhibited at the National Arts Club at Gramercy Park in Manhattan, New York last October. It was the third year in a row that the artist was invited to the prestigious Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club, one of the oldest professional women’s art clubs in the States.

“I have finished art school, but every now and then I take up a course if there’s a teacher that I like – such as Michael Grimaldi who had a summer workshop. There is a new art school that opened in New York called the Grand Central Academy which offers courses in figurative and classical paintings. The point is to keep learning as an artist.” * * *

Herbosa’s works are on view until Jan. 12, 2007. For information, call Alliance Française de Manille at 895-7441 or 895 7585, e-mail odintinger@alliance.ph or cultural@alliance.ph, call Elaine Herbosa at 0917-8901219, or visit www.miaherbosa.com. Alliance Française Total Gallery is at 209 N. Garcia St. (formerly Reposo), Bel-Air II, Makati City.

Mia O. Herbosa: Carpe Diem


By Amelia H.C. Ylagan

Alfonso Ongpin contemplates his newborn son, Luis. The amber of dusk falls softly on his lapel from an imagined window just over his shoulder. The soft light picks up a dab of muted vermillion from a palette of ochres and siennas, glazing a pink glow on the baby’s cheeks. In the somber silence, one can feel the meditation in eternity between father and son, as they gaze into each other’s eyes.

“Legacy” is painter Mia Ongpin Herbosa’s powerful tribute to her maternal great grandfather, Alfonso, and her grandfather, Luis. The portrait is part of her exhibition of recent works, Carpe Diem, which opens at the Alliance Française de Manille Total Gallery on December 5, 2006 and runs until January 12, 2007. This is her 9th major solo exhibition.

“I never seriously thought I would grow up to be a painter, but I did,” Mia says in her artist’s statement for the exhibit. ” Thoughts of Lolo Poncho and how he loved art as I do often fill my mind. We even share the same introspective interest inself-portraits.”

Mia has done about ten self-portraits, which include two etchings and a sculpture, in her young career. Among three major self-portraits, “Self Portrait at Thirty-One: Homage to Dürer” (2001), was bought by an insistent private collector who saw it at the framer’s as it was being prepared for the “Homage to the Masters” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in July to September 2002. “Self Portrait (Lamplight)” (2000), oil on masonite, was exhibited at the L’Arc En Ciel in Alabang, Muntinlupa and at The Drawing Room in Makati in 2004, and kept as part of the family’s collection. The third is “Life in a Still Life: Self Portrait at Thirty Six” (2006), which is one of the paintings to be seen in the Carpe Diem exhibit at the Alliance Française.

“I paint my life,” Mia says of her art and its evolution. Indeed, her style has subtly changed in the 14 years that she has been painting. Her self-portraits seem to mark the introspective self-assessments that she speaks of, as these are whispered into her consciousness by what she calls her “inner voice”. Mia’s latest paintings flash with new colors, rejoicing in her fulfillment-first, as a mother to 3-year old Lana, and second, as a recognized and multi-awarded painter who has done her Lolo Poncho proud.

After a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Arts, major in Fine Arts at the Ateneo de Manila University, Mia relocated to the United States in 1992 to train at the New York Art Students League. She studied portraiture and figurative painting for four years under the famous “Master of Light”, Frank Mason. It was from his exacting mentoring that she gained mastery of perhaps the most vital element that gives life to a painting – its lights and shadows, or chiaroscuro. Learning Mason’s methodical application of a grey scale to create dimension, Mia painted in uncanny likeness to the grisaille of the old masters in her early works.

Figurative exactness characterizes Mia’s mastery of her art. Her amazing deftness with skin tones and instinctive grasp of body language and facial emotion make her portraits come to life. Her four years training in sculpture and another four in etching honed her genius in form and tone as she evolved into her own style after the Mason discipline. She has won the Junius Allen Memorial Award in three categories-portrait, sculpture and etching, the Dumond Memorial Award for painting, the David Peña Award, and has consistently won the Red Dot recognition in the Art Students’ League for her paintings from 1993-2000.

Mia acknowledges her second teacher, Ronald Sherr, the portraitist of many U.S. Presidents, as the most influential in her style and technique. Critics have pointed out similarities in their choice of subjects and message, and in their style and composition, as the candid or informal are preferred to rigid poses. Encouraged by Sherr, Mia has become more experimental, unleashing her instinctive shades and exuberant color. “Aviva” (2000), a realistic portrait of an overly made up fat lady and “At the Mirror” (1997), a magnificent black female nude posed in a dance studio, were among five paintings that won and brought Mia to 27 cities in Europe on a study tour under the Edward G. McDowell Study Grant in 2002.

It is her friend Gregg Kreutz, (author of the book “Problem Solving with Oils”), who urges her to be spontaneous and to be free in her expression. Kreutz is an impressionist who paints with a flourish, finishing a piece in three hours, or at most, in two days. “I am a classical realist, and will probably never be an impressionist,” Mia says. It would take her about eight sittings to complete a portrait. (She does not work from photographs.) Then she would let it sit for a month or so, and look at it again before the final corrections and finishing touches are made. Still, Mia works well with Kreutz – she is the only painter allowed to work unsupervised in his personal studio in Manhattan. There, the much-sought North light falls perfectly on the canvas, especially between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the colors on the palette are pure and clear.

“I am not a rebel,” Mia says of herself and her art. While she had opted to leave the Art Students’ League in 2001 to join the more unstructured Salmagundi Artists Club, Mia feels that her disciplined, academic ’90s genre will always be with her. To this day, the set-up process before painting is for her a prayerful ritual – a deliberately slowed process of cogitation and composition as the thought tableau is positioned for still life or a live model. She still meticulously lays out her palette like Mason taught her, although the ubiquitous grey scale of Mason is now replaced by a vibrant color scale of mixed yellows, reds, umbers and blues, and a lot of white to bring in the light and to accent high points. “My palette is my instrument,” she says.

And so we can almost hear music in the inner rhythm of Mia’s recent works – more vibrant with the joy of primary colors. “Perhaps it is motherhood,” she says, when asked about the bright reds in three of her paintings at the exhibit: “Red Letter Day”, “Favorite Red Shoes” and “Red Chair”. “I am painting for my daughter, who loves red, like children often do.” Is it a deliverance from the loneliness of the heart and the soul in her early years in New York, when struggling to find herself and her art?

“It can be a very lonely life, being an artist,” Mia says in her artist’s statement of her 2004 Manila exhibit. “So cerebral, so personal, one lives very much in the world of the soul, mind and heart. So internal is the struggle, conscious life goes on, many times oblivious of this other life, only to be surprised by unexpected moments of chance and serendipity.”

Beautiful Mia, beautiful soul. She has framed herself in a trompe l’oeil titled “Life in a Still Life (Self-portrait at Thirty-six)”, looking out to the world in a knowing Mona Lisa half-smile. The gilt mirror painted on the panel sees Mia looking at herself, and holds her up for the rest of us to see and applaud.

On the wall across, in yet another portrait, “In a White Hat (Lolo Poncho)”, her great-grandfather, Alfonso beams his approval. “Carpe Diem,” he says to Mia. Seize the day.

‘Life in a Still Life’ at the National Arts Club

FILIPINA Mia Herbosa is currently showing her self-portrait ‘Life in a Still Life’ at the National Arts Club at Gramercy Park.

This is the third year in a row her work has been accepted into the prestigious Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club. This is their 110th Annual Juried Exhibition and it will run from October 5-27, 2006. For Gallery hours please call 212 475-3424.

The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club is one of the oldest professional women’s art club in the country, and was founded in 1896 in honor of Ms. Wolfe one of the country’s first art collectors and the only woman among the 106 founders of the Metropolitan Museum Art. Today, its members are in the Who’s Who series in American Art, represented in museums, art collections around the world.

Mia Herbosa has exhibited in the US , Italy, Japan, Hongkong, the Philippines since 1995. Her work is in the collections of New York Public Library, and the City of the Museum of New York, as well as in many private collections. She has given oil seminars in Manila. Her 9th major solo exhibition, will be held in Manila at Alliance Francaise this December 2006 as well as an oil seminar in the same month at L’ Arch En Ciel Gallery in Alabang.

Multi-awarded Mia O. Herbosa shares her art

Philippine Star
By Fina Evangelista

Multi-awarded New York-based artist Mia O. Herbosa conducted a five-session oil painting workshop at the L’ Arc en Ciel Home Gallery in Ayala Alabang recently. Twenty-two participants experienced the French-style atelier system of teaching, an interactive method by immersion, wherein a group of learning artists all work at different levels, whether they be beginner, intermediate or advanced.

“It is good to look at this experience from the perspective that each one’s journey into oil painting is his own,” says Herbosa. “Everyone is different. Painting is not for everyone, though anyone may learn it. The understanding of its basic principles can prove to be enjoyable for anyone who enjoys visual things like drawing, color, and shapes, things that bring you back to the child in you.”

Mia divided the learning artists into three groups who painted from live setups: the portrait group painted a live seated female model; the still life group were given a choice between two setups; and the tower group chose from any object or corner they liked from the gallery’s Upper Room.

The atelier method is used at the renowned Art Students’ League in New York City where Mia studied for more than a decade.

“I was blessed that I found this school in 1992, a school that gave me a lot of freedom and where I found really strong teachers, like Frank Mason, Gregg Kreutz and Ronald Sherr, among others. They constantly discussed, dissected and analyzed the works of the old masters, all for the truth of what they saw, how they explored the visual experience in their lives through painting,” she says.

“The more I work on my art, the more I discover that it is a language, a powerful means of communication. I learn how colors, edges and lines communicate. And the more I paint, the more I learn about myself,” she adds. “And this is what I wanted to impart to the learning artists in my workshop. That what you paint is your creation, and it becomes a part of yourself. It tells a story of what you see and what your mind is thinking and feeling at that particular moment of your life. It’s like a journal. Your painting becomes a part of you. It chronicles your growth, your art, your life.”

The students in her workshop were asked to paint from live setups. Herbosa asked them to develop their eye, what they see, and how they see an object or a person from their unique point of view, then how their hands eventually communicate what their eyes see, and how they see it, and then let their hands move to create it in colors, edges and lines.

“Each student is unique. The atelier method guides, nurtures. It is personalized. There’s no forcing through an instructor’s style. It allows the learning artist to grow, to evolve, to create his or her own art. Painting is a continuous development of one’s eye. Like, I am still developing. My eye is still learning. I think I can see new things in more modern masters now, things I couldn’t understand before. It’s really amazing, this business of developing your eye! ” she explains.

Why does Herbosa want to share her art in a weeklong painting workshop?

“I don’t know what led me to find it in New York, but I do feel compelled to do what I can to pass it on to you here in Manila,” she says.

“I was blessed to have had the overflowing richness of experience and learning from more than 10 years with the Art Student’s League of New York, not to mention the Edward G. McDowell scholarship grant given to me, whereby I traveled to many countries learning art in each one. I believe it is now time to impart, to share my blessings, this life of art,” she adds. * * *

Mia O. Herbosa is holding two art workshops on December 2006 to be held at L’Arc en Ciel Home Gallery in Ayala Alabang and at Alliance Française de Manille in Makati City. Call 0917-8901219 for inquiries.

Home is Where the Art is

Philippine STAR
TALKING DESIGN by Christian Espiritu
Jan. 15, 2005

Some homes that we have visited are greatly improved by the addition of worthy works of art – oil or acrylic paintings, sculptures, photographs or in some instances mere pencil drawings. They provide additional texture and become accents on walls or corners that direly need them.

This house is dominated by art. The lady of the house, Elaine Ongpin Herbosa, the lovely and talented wife of Poch Herbosa, has been painting all her life. She has a charming and very nonchalant figurative style but her greatest masterpiece came by way of her daughter Mia who has made painting, sculpting and printing her full time and personal vocation. Mia has intimated that her mother inspired her to paint as a young girl.

Designed and built along the Moroccan cum Mediterranean vernacular, the Herbosa complex includes an independent structure that doubles as an art gallery apart from the main house. Close friends and relatives often congregate in this private gallery to view Mia’s latest oeuvres before they are exhibited in commercial galleries. On occasion, this gallery, which features all the accouterments of a regular house replete with its own kitchenette, serves as a cozy destination for tired or vacationing guests.

Galleries are usually left starkly bare, waiting for artworks to inhabit and embellish its interiors, but not in this case because Elaine loves to layer her interiors, so vignettes abound generously within its confines. Call it well-studied clutter since, despite their presence in every nook and cranny, these cute and interesting tableaux do not compete for attention with the exhibited works. Let your eyes roam and you are assured you’ll discover surprises in the place.

More is more indeed at L’arc en Ciel (that’s how the Herbosas labeled their haven, written on a minuscule plaque on an entrance wall). If the interiors burst with vignettes and tableaux composed of delicate objects, the patios and gardens outside likewise vie for scrutiny and attention.

In the main house, Mia, the accomplished global artist who spends the greater part of the year painting in her studio right in the heart of Manhattan, rendered on one of the walls of the entry foyer an eye-catching mural. In her romantic and classic genre, she painted a mural depicting a dreamy European scene depicted in hazy and delicately muted colors.

As one ends his brief visit at the Herbosas’ L’Arc en Ciel, he discovers that the sanctuary, just like the majestic rainbow, is suffused with boundless color and beauty.

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