Mia Herbosa Sees Art in the Anonymous Philippine STAR

Philippine Star


New York-based visual artist Mia Herbosa went to see a soothsayer in New York one time. How she ended up in that shop she doesn’t remember. There was a street… there was a sign… she walked in – very hazy details. All she clearly recalls is that the soothsayer told her, “People love your poetry.”

“So, I corrected her by saying I am not a poet, but she said, ‘You create something that is like poetry’,” Herbosa shares. “I realized then that the more I work on my art, the more I discover that it is a language. Painting is like telling a story, but in this case you’re not using words. I learn how color, edges and lines communicate. And the more I learn about oil, watercolor and graphite, the more I learn about myself.”

Yes, there is something poetic about Herbosa’s portraits, which will be featured in an exhibit to be held at The Drawing Room starting Jan. 15. One of the pieces is titled “Mr. Wilson,” which shows an old African-American man in a meditative mood.

“All my portraits depict people who are very still, very serene,” Herbosa says. “I like calm. I try to capture that mood, the moment. For me, painting is a bit like yoga or meditation. I try to portray that stillness within. I try to latch on to another world apart from the physical.”

Another noticeable thing about Mr. Wilson (a life drawing model at the Art Students’ League of New York where Herbosa took up painting, printmaking and sculpture) is his obvious unattractiveness: His flabby body, silvery hair and gnarly skin complementing his palpable melancholy.

“Mr. Wilson died last year,” she says. “I painted him four or five times already. I like to paint those whose lives you might consider as ‘irregular,’ just like mine – a hermetically sealed life filled with artists, sculptors and models. Somehow I feel that I see things differently from other people, and no amount of explaining can clearly express what I see.”

Another artwork is titled “Nina in a Black Robe.” The model was a Russian immigrant who fled her country, which was under Communist rule at that time. Nina is way past the bloom of her life. She has sagging boobs and a heavy sadness. She is not what you would consider a Victoria’s Secret model. But Nina is the bearer of a different beauty altogether.

“So many people ask me about her,” Herbosa enthuses, adding that there was a time Nina ate grass because there was no food in the Russian town where she lived. “I’ve had many paintings wherein she’s portrayed as being very bizarre. She’s a remarkable character.”

Herbosa loves outcasts, outsiders, the ordinary and those who reside on the fringes. One of her paintings, which was exhibited in her exhibit titled Blessed Times, Sacred Days at The Drawing Room in March last year, features a fat lady called Aviva, another regular at the Art Students’ League of New York. She, like the others, has quite a story to tell.

“Aviva is like a diva. She puts on lots of mascara. She wears leotards and a black bra with a strap that she rolls down from her shoulder. When she sat in front of me it’s as if she’s on stage.”

A lot of people ask Herbosa why she paints the homeless and the undesirables instead of celebrities, socialites, CEOs or even the Pope. “I tell them I don’t paint for fame. I want to do portraits of quiet people leading quiet lives.”

She recalls a terrible incident as a way to explain why:

“Our house was robbed when I was 19 years old. Men held us at gunpoint and got jewelry, clothes and money. I thought my family and I were going to die at that point. If Paul my boyfriend hadn’t alerted the security guards in the village, and the police didn’t arrive just in time, we would be dead already.

After that traumatic incident, Herbosa resolved to do something worthwhile. “I tried to paint every day. I tried to put a part of my life down to show that I didn’t die at age 19, and that there was so much to accomplish. I wanted to travel the world both outside and within. I realized that life could be taken just like that. I realized that each person is important. That was the turning point for me.”

At age 21, Herbosa left for New York to pursue art, an experience that at first was like “Pinocchio going into that scary place where boys turn into donkeys.” It was lonely and frustrating at first, but heeding the words of her mom Elaine (“Struggle is good for the soul…”) and studying under really good teachers (Rank Mason, Gregg Kreutz and Ronald Sherr, among others), Herbosa bloomed as an artist. She managed to win several awards in New York for her paintings. She was awarded the Edward G. McDowell travel scholarship and other grants, and has participated in several exhibits at the Art Students’ League of New York.

For her latest show at The Drawing Room, Herbosa created large-scale portraits of anonymous men and women that have entered and left her life. There is a man who looks like a balding junkie (“Untitled”). There is a woman whose beauty has reached its twilight stages to the point that the viewer could almost detect the stale makeup and fresh emptiness (“Fading Rose”). There is a man with flaming red hair and an inscrutable expression (“Rugged Red Head”). Subjects that reinforce the artist’s philosophy: Each life is important… Each person (even the man with a face only the blind Homer would love) is valuable.

“I would show my paintings to the doormen of our New York Apartment and I’d tell them, ‘Isn’t this beautiful?’ And they’d answer, ‘Not really!” Herbosa says with a laugh. “But I value even the ugliest person, even the ugliest corner. My subjects ground me. Art is a teacher.”

One lesson Herbosa has learned is that there is transcendence in the seemingly trivial, art in the anonymous. And she has found beauty in the unlikeliest faces. * * *
Mia Herbosa’s one-woman show was held from Jan. 15 to Feb. 7. Featured are the artist’s works in oil, graphite on paper, watercolors, as well as etchings. The Drawing Room is at the ground floor of Metrostar Bldg., 1007 Metropolitan Ave., Makati City. For inquiries, call 897-7877 or 897-6990, e-mail drawings@pldtdsl.net, or visit http://www.drawingroomgallery.com/.

Filipina artist exhibits at National Arts Club

Filipino Express

Two NYC exhibits, and a Filipina portrait
September 30, 2004

NEW YORK — Filipina painter Mia Herbosa is currently holding an exhibit at the Gallery at the Art Students’ League of New York, featuring “Filipina” — a portrait of her close friend, Dindin de Borja Araneta. It is part of the Juried Members’ Exhibition, showcasing many of the most successful alumnae of this prestigious organization. The Gallery is located at 215 W 57th Street, NY.

Herbosa has had also work accepted into its 108th Annual Open Exhibition at the National Arts Club, located at 15 Gramercy Park South, NY. The exhibition is sponsored by the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club, one of the oldest women’s art club in the country, and was founded in 1896 in honor of Miss Wolfe, one of the country’s first art collectors and the only woman among the 106 subscribers to the founding of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Annual Open Exhibition presents works by women artists in oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, graphics, and sculpture by juried admission and was not limited to members only. The exhibition is open to the public from Oct. 2 to Oct. 29, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Herbosa’s “Sala” is detail from her former home here in New York, an old chair, and one of her paintings hung on the wall behind it. She had a one-woman show held at the Drawing Room in Makati, Manila last April, entitled “Blessed Days, Sacred Times.”

Filipina Wins Top Award in Big Apple Art Show

Philippine STAR
By Arthur Calapatia
Manila, March 20, 2000 – The Salmagundi Club of New York has been a center for American art since 1871. The club was started by a small group of young artists and non-artists who gathered every Saturday evening at a large Broadway studio owned by J. Scott Hartley for an evening of sketching, critiques and good camaraderie. The word salmagundi, which means a stew or salad of many ingredients, became a suitable name for the club because the members were from a varied breed with diverse views and ideals. Several years and several location moves later, Salmagundi grew and produced renowned artists such as Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, N.C. Wyeth, Louis C. Tiffany, Thomas Moran, and John LaFarge. Thanks to the donations from its members, the club was also able to move to a permanent location in the neighborhood of Washington Square.

Today, Salmagundi is still dedicated to the advancement of American art, including painting, sculpture, photography and art appreciation. The club has almost 600 members, comprising of artists, non artists and prominent business people. Each year, Salmagundi holds events like private auctions and exhibitions by artist members and sometimes, from artist non-members from all over the world. Aside from the rich art collection, these events also provide the opportunity for private art collectors and the general public to meet the artists personally. Cash prizes are awarded to the best works at these shows.

From Feb. 28 to March 17, Salmagundi held a show called the Annual Junior Scholarship Members Exhibition. As the name suggests, the show is a gathering of the works of young talents who are chosen as artist scholars into the club. The works vary from oil paintings to etchings to sculptures. I wa s pleased to learn that this year’s winner of the top prize, the David Pena Award, is an oil painting on canvas called “Luda,” by a young Filipina artist named Mia Herbosa, who is also a friend of mine. Anyone who has been following Mia’s career knows that this news comes as no surprise. Last yea r, Mia’s “At The Mirror” won the Red Dot at the Art Students League, an award given to the best painting in the show. In earlier exhibits, she garnered a couple of Blue Dots, an award given for honorable mention. Beginning in 1995, Mia launched her professional career with three consecutive shows in a row in Manila. All were successful, and the warm reception for her works placed her in the public eye for the first time.

I have known Mia for almost a year now and not a day goes by when she will not talk about her art. This is when I realized that to her, art is not just her career but her life. She sacrificed her comfortable, sheltered life with her loved ones in Manila to go to the bustling city of New York to do what she loves the most. Last Sunday, after seeing the show at Salmagundi, I had coffee with Mia at the University Café in Union Square and informally interviewed her. The following is a gist of what transpired during our conversation over Belgian waffles and a strawberry sundae:

What got you into art in the first place?

“As a kid I’ve always liked picture books and I loved to read. The first (artist) I would say who’s had a real influence in my life was Charles Schulz. And what I liked about Charles Schulz was his little comic strip, Peanuts. It was a comic strip, yes, but it was more than that, too. The characters were his thoughts, his life, his sense of humor. And it was the first time I felt something different, realizing that art can be a powerful vehicle of a communication, direct communication from the artist to the viewer between two distinct persons. Up to high school I was still interested in that thought. Then I traveled to Europe and saw the masterpieces of Western art. In the Philippines, particularly in college, I was exposed to the work of Amorsolo and the works of Luna in the National Museum. Then my mind opened further in the exploration and study of different forms of art and different kinds of paintings. I studied with Emmanuel Torres, who was just an excellent teacher for art history, both for art in the Western world and the Philippines. I was interested in the tradition of how art developed, how one style was replaced by another by an innovator and how that artist was likewise challenged. For example, how Classical art preceded the Renaissance and then came Baroque, Rococo, and then how the Romantic period preceded Realism, then was followed by Impressionism and then, Post-Impressionism finally being the entry-point of Modern art. That’s also the reason why I liked reading about Philippine art history, particularly the era when modern art started developing, around the time of Victorio Edades.”

At what age did you start painting?

“I made my first attempt at painting when I was about seven years old. It was a still life painting of mangoes, and I used acrylic. It was one summer in the ’70s. I, my mom and two of my friends formed a little class. My first teacher was my great grandmother, Doni Ongpin, who was also an artist. She set up a little plate of fruit for us to copy, and she hovered behind, trying to guide us along. I started thinking about learning to paint seriously in college. Somehow I always felt that there was something inside me that saw things differently from other people, and that no amount of explaining can express clearly what I see. That’s why I got interested in exploring another vehicle of communication, which was the visual language of art.”

Which artists influenced you the most?

“Ang dami eh. (There’s a lot.) In college I did my thesis on Victorio Edades who is a modern artist. He inspired me not particularly with his painting style and technique but more with how he devoted his whole life to art and what he did for art in the Philippines, how he fought for what he believed in. Then I also liked Juan Luna and Hidalgo, Amorsolo. And then there are many others. 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.”

So it’s like many artists had a contribution to your art?

“Yes, that’s how it is for everyone I think. And I guess that’s why I believe in artists exhibiting their works even if it’s not a selling show because it has a unique power to influence people. I was influenced by all the exhibits that I’ve seen in person, and the ones I’ve seen in books. I like art that has a sentiment behind it, not just art that was made for sales, for a livelihood. Unfortunately, the majority of artists need to sell regularly, as it is what allows us to live, and to continue our art. This will always be a tension inside, I think. I like art being that it deals with a person’s mind, and shows what the artist is thinking at the moment of painting. This gives another dimension to the painting, it’s not just a picture of something. Sometimes an artist is thinking of something that he could not grasp, but feels, and traces of its show in his painting. It’s like something hidden in the soul of the artist brings itself out in the painting. It’s much more than a nice picture with nice colors to decorate the living room.”

Is that what you try to do with your own painting?

“I don’t think it’s something that you can consciously do but I hope that after I do a painting, someone will get the feeling that I got when I was painting it.”

You told me before that art can lead to spirituality. How is that?

“As I developed my painting, and was studying landscape art, I saw George Inness’ paintings, all landscapes that always had a strong element of spirituality. Like they were of real places, but were also unreal, real and unreal, fusing in your eyes, you know. Spirituality not only deals with religion per se, more like painting and the study, pursuit, and understanding of it can lead you to questions about life, which is basically spirituality. Or maybe it’s closer to philosophy, the pursuit and love of wisdom? I spent one afternoon with the late Onib Olmedo in August of 1996 and he said something very interesting. He said that if an artist is true to him or herself no matter what, then he or she would always be a catalyst, or a strong influence in the community because of the truth that was found between his soul and his art.”

How’s your school, the Art Students League?

“I was blessed that I found this school in 1992, which is a school that gave me a lot of freedom and a school where I found really strong teachers. They constantly discussed, dissected, and analyzed the practices, theories, and methods of the Old Masters. In this early period, all my influences were the old masters–Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Whistler, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velasquez, and many more–all for the truth of what they saw, how they explored the visual experience in their lives through painting. And that would always blow my mind.”

What is it like to be an artist at our age (early 30s)?

“Most people our age have the stability of full time jobs or are starting families. It’s quite financially difficult to have art as your career. I feel lucky and blessed that I’m able to survive, people do buy my work. I’m lucky to have parents like mine who are supportive. I know how trying it can be on their patience. I understand. That’s why I find it sad that there are people who are talented but who are unable to express themselves through art because they need to have other jobs which takes up most of their time. Time would pass by without your being able to use the gift that was given to you. It’s a depressing feeling.”

Let’s talk about your etching.

“This is my fourth year of etching and I find it a very interesting medium. Using the ink, the press and the acid is so different from brushes, and paint and canvas because there is more of a separation between the actual work and the final product. So it opened my mind to another way of expressing myself using another medium. Personally, for me etching opens up more of the subconscious than paintings because paintings deal more with illusion with color, while etchings are more graphic and the subject is more powerful because of the effect of black upon white, if it’s a black and white print. Like the information is less, and so the viewer feels like filling up the gaps with his imagination. There is more interaction.”

What is one of your most memorable anecdotes from your experience in painting?

“Last February, I was in a painting workshop under one of America’s portrait masters, Everett Kinstler, and the singer, Tony Bennett was there, studying, too. You know he is also an artist. I was so disappointed, because when they called the spots, I was stuck with one of the last ones, and only had the nape of the model to do. So I still tried my best, and at the end of the afternoon, had a pretty interesting painting of the ear and back of the model’s head. I noticed someone standing behind me, and it was Tony Bennett, he smiled and said it was lovely. I was very much flattered and amused to have this comment from him, I told him thanks and mentioned that I liked his music, too!”

We stepped out of the café and into a bright spring day. Walking westward, we made our way towards Fifth Avenue, and the venerable old brownstone which housed the Salmagundi Club. The thought running through my mind was that it certainly is very refreshing to know an artist who paints like the old masters and keeps their values, wisdom and tradition into the 21st century. Yet Mia is still humble enough to count her blessings and not forget those who have influenced her and helped her career. As long as there is her hunger to learn more, and her need to express her truth, Mia will continue to astound everyone with her vibrant colors and passionate brushstrokes. If you haven’t heard of Mia Herbosa, she is not an up-and-coming Filipina artist–she is already happening.

List of Reviews and Publications

Here is a list of reviews and publications written about Mia Herbosa:

  • Mia Herbosa, “Memories of an Oil Painting Workshop,” Planet Philippines, March 1, 2006
  • Fina Evangelista,“Multi-awarded Mia O. Herbosa shares her art,”  The Philippine Star, February 20, 2006
  • “The Mia Herbosa Exposure,” the Villagers, February 13, 2006
  • Igan D’Bayan,“Moving to Stand Still,” The Philippine Star, October 2005
  • “Painters of Beautiful Pictures,” AAVA News Monthly, September, 2005
  • “Mia Herbosa at the Drawing Room,” Alabang Village Voice, January 16-22, 2005
  • 100 Years: 100 Women Artists, the Centennial of the Feminist Movement in the Philippines; edited by Leonarda Navato-Camacho, March 8, 2005
  • Christian Espiritu, “Home is Where the Art Is,” the Philippine Star, January 15, 2005
  • Igan D’Bayan, “Mia Herbosa sees art in the anonymous,” the Philippine Star, January 14, 2005
  • “Another Mia Herbosa Show,” AAVA News Magazine, January 8, 2005
  • Victoria T. Herrera, “Mia O. Herbosa Comes of Age,” Art Manila Quarterly, December 2004
  • Constantino C. Tejero, “Self-Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 8, 2004
  • “Two NYC Exhibits, and a Filipina Portrait,” the Filipino Express, October 11-17, 2004
  • “Artist Mia Herbosa…” the Filipino Reporter, October 15-21, 2004
  • “Mia Herbosa at the Drawing Room,” the Philippine Star, May 10, 2004
  • Marissa Alejandro Lopa, “The Art of Loving Life,” Metro Magazine, May 2004
  • “Quintessential Artist, Mia O. Herbosa,” AAVA News Magazine,March 20-26, 2004
  • Joseph Cortes, “Seeing Life Through the Hands of Mia Herbosa,” the Philippine Star, February 23, 2004
  • Ayala Alabang; Twenty Five Years Later, Ayala Alabang Village Association Inc., by Guy Romualdez, 2003
  • Susan A. de Guzman, “Modern Acquisition,” Art Manila Quarterly, January 2003
  • The Drawing Room, the Drawing Room, GA Printing, October 2002
  • “Her Own Artistic Persona,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 9, 2002
  • Homage to the Masters II; Art Link Group Inc., and Metropolitan Museum of Manila, published 2002, pages 56-57
  • “Thoughts on the McDowell Experience,” page 8, Linea:Journal of the Art Students’ League of New York, Spring 2002
  • Kayumanggi: Biographies of Philippine Visual Artists; Peso Book Foundation, Manila 2000, page 53
  • The Rizals: As My Father Knew Them; Almijo Commercial Press, by Dr. Francisco M. Herbosa, August 2000 (Back Cover and Overleaf)
  • “Two Emerging Artists Holding Exhibit,” the Filipino Reporter, February 16-22, 2001
  • “Filipina Artists Exhibit in New York,” the Philippine Star, February 12, 2001
  • “Scholarship Winners, Edward G. McDowell Grant,” page 9, Linea: Journal of the Art Students’ League of New York, Fall 2000
  • Anna Maria Roxas, “Filipina Artists Take a Bite Out Of The Big Apple,” the Philippine Star, July 17, 2000
  • Linda Orosa, “RP Artists Win Honors Abroad,” the Philippine Star, July 12, 2000
  • Lourd Ernest De Veyra, “Mia Herbosa, Realism Bites,” Today, July 4, 2000
  • Arthur Calapatia, “Filipina Artist Wins Top Award in New York Art Show,” the Philippine Star, March 2000
  • Rod Paras-Perez, “Mia O. Herbosa: Walking With the Masters,” Taipan Magazine, March 1998
  • Ramon R. S. Lerma, “The Nouveau Art of the Bourgeousie,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 1998
  • “A Painter Matures,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 26, 1998
  • Nikki Quirino-Abalos, “Mia Herbosa’s Art Is In The Heart,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 5, 1998
  • “Mia Herbosa at Ayala Museum,” Village Voice, January 1998
  • “American City Scapes,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 1998
  • “Shared Expressions of Life,” Village Voice, January 11-17, 1998
  • Petronilo Bn. Daroy, “Herbosa Returns to Ayala Museum,” Manila Standard, December 25, 1997
  • “Portraits,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 22, 1997
  • Maurice Arcache, “A Tres Glorious Exhibit,” the Philippine Star, October 29, 1996
  • “Two Budding Artists Show Varying Styles,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 19, 1996
  • “Mia Herbosa Exhibits Renaissance Artworks,” Manila Bulletin, August 14, 1996
  • Lorelei de Belen-Punsalan, “Painting with the Masters,” Manila Standard, August 15, 1996
  • Cecilia M. Santillan, “Hooked on Classics,” Business World, August 14, 1996
  • Petronilo Bn. Daroy, “Mia Herbosa’s Latest Works,” Manila Standard, August 2, 1996
  • Lourd de Veyra, “At the Feet of the Masters,” Today, July 30, 1996
  • Agustin Montilla, “Capturing the Renaissaince Spirit,” Village Voice, July 30, 1995
  • Gadjo Sevilla, “Masterstrokes from a Young Artist,” the Philippine Star, July 26, 1995
  • Petronilo Bn. Daroy, “Mia Ongpin Herbosa; A Distinctive Young Talent,” Manila Standard, July 24, 1995
  • Cynthia Ongpin-Valdes, “In Great Grandfather’s Footsteps,” Sunday Inquirer Magazine, July 23, 1995

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