is creation, creating something new, something original, something
different and doing something to change a subject, to build."
-Ramon G. Orlina
The first thing that hits one who is confronted with the glass
sculptures of Ramon Orlina is that of sheer stupefaction:
how can such beauty result from such an ordinary material?
After all, it is merely industrial glass, the type that is
shaped into sheets for window louvers, skycraper facade cladding
or dining tabletops.
If one is sensitive enough, though, like peering through the
thickness of your tabletop, you can see the same aquamarine
green that animates Orlina's sculptures like a living sea
organism. The prismatic effects of glass as it bends light
is also evident as one peers at the rough texture of louver
glass, but enlarged due to the piercings and cuttings that
Orlina makes into the block of glass, which is then contrasted
by the crystalline finish, done by bathing the surface with
acid, and then polishing it smooth.
Achieving the material alone is laborious enough, requiring
the cooperation of the glass foundry (in Orlina's case, the
Republic Asahi Glass in Pasig City). First, the glass furnace
where the material comes from must be shut down, which only
happens once every five years (for servicing, and relining
the furnace with the specialized refractory brick material
that guarantees the furnace's constant efficiency). It is
then allowed to cool down for at least two to three months
before the glass has safely "cured" or condensed
into solid form without cracking.
By "glass" we refer to the waste glass that pools
on the bottom of the furnace when it produced kilometers of
sheet glass used by various industries, like construction.
This often achieves pooled depths of up to five feet. The
properly cured glass, called slag, must then be removed by
jackhammers from the furnace, and trucked to Orlina's studio
in the heart of Balic-Balic, Sampaloc.
It is here that the miraculous
process of transforming "junk glass" into works
of art is achieved. The first step is to size up the shape
of the drilled blocks of glass that fits to a design pattern
that Orlina is trying to achieve. Because of the nature of
the glass breaking up during the drilling process, and its
fracturing due to temperature differences, no block of glass
can be bigger than six cubic feet. Most are often no bigger
than two cubic feet, or ten-by-eight-by-twenty inches. This
is then traced with pen markings to indicate the shape, and
grinded or cut to the proper proportions. The final steps
are then the acid-bath and polishing.
Developed in the late 1950's
and early 1960's in America, the studio glass art movement
has found its most faithful Filipino proponent in Orlina,
who practices a variant from the normal process of hot glass-making
utilizing a cold-glass carving technique. Practicing since
the mid-1970's, Orlina combines his veteran eye for stability
(architecture was his first profession until 1974) and sensuality
in form and execution.
With the above-mentioned process, Orlina has made a name for
himself in the very rare field of glass sculpture, which is
still shaking off the reputation as a "mere craft,"
due no doubt to the still-attached discrimination of glass
figurine makers in Europe and America as craftsmen, not artists.
One such reason for this is the perception of craftsmen as
inherently ignorant of design, often doing the glass piece
to an artist's specification. In this case, though, it is
Ramon's mind that still generates the design, being no art
ignoramus himself (graduating as an architect at the prestigious
University of Santo Tomas in 1965, and having as a school
friend the sculptor Eduardo Castrillo). His apprenticeship
with glass art started in 1975.
With the loss of clients due to the effects of Martial Law,
and the economic crisis spawned by the oil cartel embargo,
Orlina shifted from architecture (being a staff architect
of the legendary Carlos Arguelles) to Fine Arts via an initial
exhibition of paintings done on sheet glass, titled "Reflections"
at the Gallery of Hyatt Regency, which caught the eye of Republic
Glass executives, and led to an offer to educate him in glass-making.
Orlina accepted a revised scholarship on condition that he
could learn and apply his glass making skills in any field
he wanted, either locally or abroad. Thus was born a collaboration
between glass maker and glass sculptor, whose relationship
remains sound today.
In 1976, Orlina got his first break via an offer from the
Enriquez owned Silahis International Hotel, which commissioned
him for an artwork that would grace the hotel lobby. The result
was Arcanum XIX: Paradise Gained, which was a revolution in
the way that sculptural relief was to be treated in the Philippines.
Instead of the usual hardwood, metal or stone bas relief,
Orlina made an assembly of interlocking glass blocks fit into
a hexagonal bronze frame, which was then cantilevered from
the lobby wall, creating a space for them to bounce off the
marble wall, and reflect through the glass block.
From that point on, there was no looking back, as local and
foreign institutions vied with one another to get an Orlina
commission: the Manila Hotel (Arcanum 7, 1977); Makati Greenbelt
Chapel (Dove of Peace, Mudras Cross, Tabernacle Altar, and
God the Father, all in 1983); Singapore's Forum Galleria (Fertile
Crescent, 1985); the ASEAN Sculpture Park in the CCP Complex
(Oneness,1987); Benedictine Abbey Church in Ayala Alabang,
Muntinlupa (Stations of the Cross, 1987); Mandaluyong's Our
Lady of EDSA Shrine (Crucifixion, 1989); and the Singapore
Art Museum, (Quintessense,1995).
Through his studies in glass, Ramon was able to visit and
compare notes with glass sculptors abroad, notably in Czechoslovakia
in 1983, and more recently in Seattle (1996), where he was
able to meet up with two of the most famous glass sculptors
of the Pacific Rim: the American glassblowing master Dale
Chihuly, and the Swedish glass casting expert Bertil Vallien.
But it was primarily through important exhibitions in the
late 1970s and early 1980s that really established Orlina's
reputation as an artist of serious import. Among them was
"Trends in Sculpture" at the Museum of Philippine
Art (MOPA), and "Five Directions in the Philippine Art,"
also at the MOPA, both in 1980.
Another was his qualifying entry as the Philippine Representative
to the prestigious XII Grand Pix Internationale d' Art Contemporain
de Monte Carlo in Monaco (1977), and the VIII Bienal Internacional
de Arte Valparaiso in Chile (1987). Most importantly, it was
his victories at the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP)
Annual Art Competitions in 1982 (Best Entry in Sculpture)
and 1983 (Gold Medal, Photography) that convincingly cemented
Ramon Orlina's reputation locally.
Leading the AAP as its president since 1992, Orlina has also
exhibited extensively with his glass sculpture. His more recent
exhibitions since the 1990s have all concentrated on themes
revolving the human body, animals and abstract curvilinear
and cubical shapes, such as his Naesa (1988), NingNing (1992),
Lumba-Lumba (1994), Emerald City (1996), and Kalayaan (1998)
series. Despite the many challenges and hassles that go with
the job of being the leader of the largest, most prestigious
artist organization in the Philippines (founded in 1948, with
current membership at 1,000).
Orlina still finds the time and effort to continue on with
his glass sculpture, helped by his wife Lay Ann (who serves
as his executive secretary), and inspiration from his children
and colleagues of the art industry.
The 21st Century is indeed a time to look forward, as Orlina
not only brings the dreams of the AAP (such as its own Art
Center) to fruition, but also the completion of his personal
dreams: the modern studio being finished next door to his
home, and the encouragement of glass sculpture in Manila,
through a possible school.
In this, as in all things, Orlina's defining style and elegance
will be the catchwords to a better tomorrow in modern sculpture
in the years to come.
AN A&A INTERVIEW WITH RAMON ORLINA
(Glass Sculptor / President of AAP)
A&A: What is your personal definition of art?
Art is creation. Creating something
new, something original and something different. It is doing
something to change a subject, to build. Art is life. It is
creating life on a material and making inanimate objects to
have life. To create art is to give life.
A&A: What made you decide to become a sculptor?
Actually, I started as an architect.
Sometime before, when I was 31 years old, somebody asked me
when did I became an artist. I looked up in deep thoughts
and answered, "thirty one years ago!" I believe
I was born an artist. My artistic inclination was quite evident
even as a young boy when I started drawing. I may have inherited
my artistic genes from my great grandfather named Antonio
Pintor. During the time I took up painting, sculpture and
architecture classes, my classmate asked why I became an artist
when all of us are architectural students. I remember in our
freehand drawing class, I was the only one exempted during
prelims and final plates, making my classmates conclude that
I am more of an artist than an architect or sculptor. Nevertheless,
I continued with my studies in architecture and it became
a good background for me and helped me a lot in doing things
I want to do. If you look at Renaissance artists like Michelangelo,
Donatello and Donalesi, they were architects, sculptors and
painters combined. Artists should not be limited in one field
but must be adept at other artistic fields as well. I think,
I became a sculptor because I met all the requirements to
Did you undertake any formal training?
No, not really. I work on the
glass medium, and in Southeast Asia, there is no tradition
of glass sculpture. Glass is more of blowing and casting.
What I do is sculpting glass in the same manner that one sculpts
stone, marble and wood. My work is totally different because
of my medium.
When Republic Glass allowed me to visit its factory and observe
glass, I was granted a 3- year scholarship to study anywhere
I want to go but I decline the offer because I know there
are strings attached to it. It is also a good thing that I
did not accept because if I did, then I would have been influenced
by what I will see. I trained on my own through trial and
error, so I had no influence or a master to follow. I was
able to go on my own direction and for me it was a good training.
It was all determination, invention and improvisation, everything.
One must always be creative. When I create, it is all from
within myself. I create on my own and did not learn any technique
or style from anybody or any school, though there are some
influences of course. All my techniques and styles can be
considered an innate and homegrown. When I was in Czechoslovakia,
people there were amazed with my work because I have proven
that I did not copy anybody's work and that for me was good
and very fulfilling.
A&A: Have any artist(s) in particular influenced your
A lot of sculptors have influenced
me particularly on the different periods of my work. I like
linear before so I admire linear sculptors. Then changed into
curves. I liked Arch, then Henry Moore. Influence is according
to what you maybe doing at a certain time. I also changed
in my stages of development. This development is very angular,
to very cubists, to very curvili-
near. Then I tried texture because of the sculptor La Gucci's
work having textures. All of these somehow influenced my work.
We are now living in a world where everything we see especially
in the Internet can influenced us. But of course we must try
to be original in our creations. With La Gucci, his textures
were good but different from mine. In his work, you can see
the texture only on one side while in my work, I can see the
texture from more than one side because of the glass medium
A&A: If given the choice of sculpting like any sculptors,
past or present, whom would you choose?
I don't have any choice in particular.
There are a lot of sculptors like Arch, Moore, La Gucci or
Calvel but for me, I don't really look on one aspect of what
they do. I try to look at things I perceive to be a source
A&A: What motivates you to do sculpture?
I do sculptures because of my
yearning to create, to make something alive, something that
can give happiness to others. These are things that satisfy
me as an artist. I don't think much about money. Money will
come. For me, it is more on the creation wherein there is
a process. Innovation, process and other significant things
that I put into my work motivates me. My family, my wife and
my daughters always inspire me.
A&A: How do you select your subject matter?
I base my subject matter from
my environment. There was a time (eight years) when my wife
was breastfeeding our daughter and because of this 'exposure'
to her role as a mother, I came up with a series of busts
sculptures I called "Ningning" series. I am happy
being married and my family is my inspiration. I also like
to do birds, fish and preferably 'abstract' things.
A&A: How do you begin a glass sculpture?
When I work on a glass, I look
at it on all its sides, front, left, right and back as I study
all the angles. I start working on the glass without any preconceived
ideas of what it will come out. Exceptions would be my work
on "Ningning" series. I just look and feel the glass
and let my work lead me into something that would pop up in
my mind during the process.
A&A: What do you regard as the important element in your
Element is actually oneness
of the materials involve. Though my medium is glass, sometimes
I also use support for it like stainless steel or cast bronze.
But most importantly, is the element of transparency or translucence
is hard to find in marble because it is limited to one face.
With glass, it is very important that I meet the challenge
of seeing the transparency in all directions and angle. A
distinctive element in any sculpture is light. Shadow is important
based on the amount of light. In my sculpture, light can go
into my glass medium thereby creating another light inside.
A&A: Do you keep or throw away any sculpture you think
did not meet your standard?
I just keep them. I have a lot
of unfinished work for the past 2 or 3 years. When I'm doing
something, I sometimes stop and start a new one. Usually,
I go back to continue and finished most of them.
A&A: Do you have your own style and how did you develop
As you can see in my work, my
style has developed since I started in the '70s. From prismatic
to curve, then frosted. I did a "Naesa" series with
polished and frosted effect. I also tried works with holes,
with attachments and other different approach. I don't really
change my style but trying different things is part of my
development as an artist. I want to see all the possibilities
of my medium because my medium is still new in a way and still
unexplored compared to others.
My style depends on the development I can apply on my medium.
The textures, with its effects, the frosting and the acid
etchings are done to produce variety. As an artist, my work
evolves from my artistic knowledge and emotions together with
the technical style I learned from my on going process of
working with glass.
A&A: How long does it take you to finish a glass sculpture?
It varies depending on the size
I'm doing. For example, a medium size of 16 to 18 inches will
take me 3 days to one week to initialize preliminary work.
Then, it will be ground and smoothened by my assistant. On
the 3rd week, it will be polished and returned to me again.
By this stage, I can now visualize one side and work on it.
On the 4th week, it will be polished again up to the 5th week.
The longest period is two months due to the cutting, grinding,
smoothing, and polishing stages. Some simple process I entrust
to my skilled workers but supervise them intensively until
we finish a sculpture.
A&A: What do you expect a person can derive if they view
Of course, what I expect is
for people to appreciate my work. For them to touch it because
it adds up to more communication than just the visual kind.
When you hold it, there is a sense of touch that becomes another
sense of appreciating the artwork. Touching sends a signal
to the brain more than just looking at the medium. As glass
is a tactile medium, when you see it, the tendency is to touch
and feel it.
A&A: Aside from sculpture, what other interest(s) do you
I sing and dance. I play the
piano. I'm also fond of fortune telling. I believe my ESP
is intense. I have a background in science and physics. I
can also build a house.
A&A: Do you read art books?
I don't really read art books.
I just look at the pictures or visuals. I try to absorb the
artist's philosophy and appreciate the form of their works
as I make my own interpretations and judgements. I read what
the critics wrote but don't rely on their opinions. I believe
everybody has his/her own likes and dislikes and must not
be pushed to others. I read only to appreciate other artworks.
A&A: What does art/sculpture mean to your life?
Modesty aside, I think I started
this (glass sculpture) kind of work in the Asean region. I
represented the East by creating my glass sculptures as they
have Chihuly in America or the West. I'm proud that I was
able to pioneer something in the Asean and have been well
recognized in the world. It really means a lot to me to accomplish
this because I created this particular form of art.
A&A: Any future plans, goals and wishes regarding your
My plan is to finish building
my shop and employ apprentices for my work. I have an assistant
but no followers. Somebody who works for me in six months
will know my technique. But I cannot teach anybody my art.
One has to seek his/her own style and direction. I don't want
other people to copy or imitate me because art is creativity
and originality. If somebody copies me then he will just be
another Orlina and it would be unfair to that person. I want
somebody to be his own person and established his own identity.
A&A: Do you belong to any art group or organization?
I was the former president of
the Society of Philippine Sculptors and since 1992, I've been
the president of the Art Association of the Philippines. I
did a lot specially in helping the young artists. I'm happy
doing those things even though it takes a lot of my time.
When you help people, the blessing that you give out will
come back to you more than you ever know. I can say that I
have no regrets in helping people despite the intrigues. In
the end, what matters most is what you did for others and
not limited just to yourself.
A&A: Could you give advice or words of wisdom to any aspiring
or amateur artist?
Art is a hard struggle. Maybe
an artist shouldn't marry early. In my case, I married a bit
late because I established myself in my work and I did not
encounter problems in bringing up my children. You have to
see that you are stable with yourself or you would be easily
discouraged and put down by others. If in the beginning, you
are still unsure where you are going. Then the struggle would
be hard in achieving your goal. What's important is to create,
to make something new and original.
As an artist you have to make
your own mark and develop an original work for you to become
known. If you tend to copy other style, techniques and medium,
you will be just a second rate artist. Of course with dedication,
hard work and definitely an inspiration from God ( the most
important), success will eventually come your way. Don't forget
that God keeps everything in control.
1st One Man Exhibition,
Paintings on Glass, The Gallery,
Hyatt Regency, Manila
1976 PAINTINGS ON GLASS
Citibank Center, Makati Metro Manila
1980 PRISMATIC GLASS SCULPTURE,
City Gallery, Manila
1983 GLASS SCULPTURE
All frosted finish of the
Ayala Museum, Makati Metro Manila
Lopez Museum Gallery,
Pasig Metro Manila
Le Meridien Singapore, SingaporeNAESA CHIAROSCURO II
National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia1990 BATANGAS CULTURAL EXHIBITION
San Sebastian Convent Exhibition Hall,
Lipa City, Batangas,
FORMS OF LIGHT
National Museum Art Gallery,
1993 PREVIEW OF A TOUCH OF GLASS,
Gallery III, Ayala Museum, Makati
A TOUCH OF GLASS
The Grand Hyatt
1994 RECENT WORKS
The Art Corner
Lobby, Rufino-Pacific Tower,
1995 ORLINA IN DAVAO
Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines
1996 RAMON ORLINA
Bryann Ohno Gallery
1998 SALAMIN NG KALAYAAN
George Sison Gallery,
Shangri-La Hotel, Manila
Awards / Merits
1982 BEST ENTRY
35th Art Association of the Philippines (AAP)
Philamlife Building, Manila
1983 GOLD MEDAL
Art Association of the
Photography Competition, Main Gallery
Cultural Center of the Phils.
STUDY TOUR GRANTEE
FROM THE MINISTRY OF
Visited Studio Glass Artists of
Hlava, Soukup, and others
CERTIFICATE OF HONOR AND MERIT
From the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP)
for invaluable contribution to Philippine Art
1985 NATIONAL MEMORIAL OF THE PHILIPPINES
2nd Place Winner together with Eduardo Castrillo for design
OUTSTANDING THOMASIAN AWARD
In the field of Arts and Culture,
University of Santo Tomas, Philippines
1988 ARAW NG MAYNILA/MAYNILA DAY CULTURAL
AWARD FOR SCULPTURE
By the City of Manila,
1993 ASEAN AWARDS FOR
Conferred by the Asean
National Committee on
Culture and Information at
the Third Asean Awards
Ceremony for Culture,
Communications and Literary Works,
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam
1994 THIRD ASEAN ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS FOR VISUAL ART
Conferred by the ASEAN Business Forum.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
1996 DANGAL NG BATANGAS AWARD
Awarded by Governor Hermilao I. Mandanas of the Province of
Batangas on the occasion of the 415th Batangas
THE PRESIDENTIAL SPECIAL AWARD
Bestowed by the United Architects of the Philippines
for Excellence of Sculpture at the Shangri-La's Edsa Plaza,
Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila
RIZAL COLLEGE OF TAAL, PLAQUE OF
RECOGNITION IN THE FIELD OF ARTS
Bestowed by the alma mater of the artist.
OUTSTANDING TAALEÑO AWARD
Presented by the Ang Bayan Kong Taal for excellence in the
visual arts. Philippines
1999 Mr. F. Price
Tayamura International Sculpture,
Some of his works
- "Nasa Pugad II"
- "Kasabay ng Hangin"
- "Ring of Life"
- "Kaisou," 1991
- "Silver Moon"
- "China Doll"
- "New Horizon," 1999
- "Golden Sun"
- "The fountain Hero"
- "Emerald City II"
- "Quintessence," 1995