was the special niche Seattle occupies in attracting glass
sculptors. It is the home base of well-known glass master
Dale Chihuly, whose works are in over a hundred museums around
the world including the Metropolitan Museum of New York and
the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
show was also the inaugural exhibition for the Bryan Ohno
Gallery in Seattle. Ohno is a well-regarded presence among
glass connoisseurs. He has been closely associated with the
management of Dale Chihuly's art. He regards Chihuly as truly
a master of this, century and, moreover, Ohno calls both East
and West his home; his commitment to Orlina's works embodies
knew Orlina's works before he met him. Ohno said: "I have
known and admired Orlina's work for many years. My first encounter
with the artist was at the new Singapore Art Museum, formerly
a colonial style Catholic school historically designated and
slated for renovation. Orlina was commissioned to replace
a large stained-glass window in the chapel damaged during
the World War II. In replacing the stained-glass, he created
a sculpture that now captivated light from a contemporary
point of view."
made Ohno more determined to introduce the works of Orlina
to the United States. But then, opening borders is something
Orlina takes as a matter of course. Before his Seattle exhibition,
he had made the Asian borders so porous he was exhibiting
in Manila, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and doing
commissioned pieces throughout Southeast Asia. And when one
of his exhibitions opened at the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong,
collectors from Singapore and Taipei flew in to make their
reservations for his glass sculptures. Even his lifestyle
embodies a rather open viewpoint. He married a Malaysian barrister,
Lay Ann Orlina, whose roots can be traced to China. And to
his first-born, he gave the name Naesa - ASEAN (Association
of Southeast Asian Nations) backward.
participation exhibitions are equally far-ranging. These include
the Tokyo International Art show, the Osaka Triennale in sculpture,
and the Suntory Prize Exhibition in Tokyo. He also exhibited
in the National Museum of History in Taipei and the National
Museum of Singapore. But his most exotic exhibition appearances
came at the VII Biennial International De Arte Valparaiso
in Chile and the XII Grand Prix International d'Art Contemporain
de Monte Carlo in Monaco.
cosmopolitan stance also carries nonconformist tendencies.
Except for his Bryan Ohno Gallery show in Seattle, his solo
exhibitions were mounted in what can be termed as alternative
spaces - mostly hotel lobbies - away from the artist-gallery-collector
circuit but not excluding established museums or institutional
galleries. It's a tension-charged stance so palpably present
in his sculptures, too.
clay, glass is possibly one of the oldest materials to accept
man's vision. Glass is traditionally blown into shape while
hot and malleable. This is the method used by American master
Chihuly who has given glass a most contemporary feel. Glasswork
can also be cast, in the same way as bronze. The foremost
practitioner of cast glass sculpture is the Czech Stanislas
Libensky. But Orlina does not follow the usual way of handling
glass. He neither blows nor cast his works. Instead, he molds
the glass as a sculptor would a piece of marble or any stone.
Often by painstakingly grinding each work into the shape or
form he wants. His mode is the oldest way of making sculpture
although not necessarily that of working glass.
uses recycled industrial glass. Once in a while, Republic
Glass in the Philippines is closed in order to clean up the
accumulated glass droppings - known as cullets - on the factory
floor. They come in boulder-like blocks, in various sizes
and configurations. He then studies the blocks before deciding
what form his work will take. In the true sense of sculpture,
the finished work is ineffable melding of material and Orlina's
idea or vision.
the very size of the available cullet limited not only the
form but the scale of his works. So his early sculptures were
intimate and small in size - table pieces. Occasionally, commissioned
works demanded a more monumental scale such as the mural -size
commissions similar to the Singapore window. His handling
of glass then shifts to the material as paneling or sculptural
eventually Orlina explored modular combinations of units which
gave him more freedom in working with large-scale pieces.
He also discovered alternative sources of crystals and glass
blocks which now gives his work a grater range of colors.
he works his abstract forms. This leaves his art without any
cultural hang-ups and readily acceptable from culture to culture.
This is true, but only to a point. There is actually an underlying
sensibility which is partly a legacy of the Philippine Neo-Realist
movement - the group who emerged immediately after World War
II led by three modernist vanguards, Vicente S. Manansala,
Hernando R. Ocampo and Ceasar F. Legaspi. All of them were
eventually grouped as National Artists. Yet their legacy was
as role models - passing on to successive generations of artists
a mode of vision which abstracted reality by reducing what
was seen to its essential form. This was of course in a Western
context the legacy of Cubism. But it was Cubism put into Filipino
Orlina ventures into a more pronounced reference to reality
- such as his series of torsos with vivid suggestions of generously
nourishing breasts - the sense of abstraction can still be
felt in the fluent swing of the enveloping line. And sometime
he ventures into more explicit imagery, conjuring an image
echoing into infinity.
with the past filters into his works. There is a sense of
place, an address, a sort of anchor in an otherwise freewheeling
world of endless portability. Like more artist in Asia, his
roots provide the uniqueness in his work. Yet as the Zen master
will ask: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" So tradition
and a global vision are sometimes reduced to pure form. From
bereft of a sense of place. Sometimes even from purposely
devoid of personality. And form free of national borders.
Yet it is possible?
are aspects in Orlina's glass sculptures which lend themselves
to pure form - and contemplation. There is an immediate allure
inherent in glass as a material. But the ultimate defining
factor is how the artist made his work exist with light. Not
simply the light embracing and revealing the form with glass,
but also it penetrates the work. And changes its form.
elements, by themselves, may entail a lifelong pursuit. And
they may open the door to globalization. But that will be
a matter of "one hand clapping". Fortunately, architect Ramon
Orlina, now glass sculptor par excellence, continues to handle
both tradition and innovation in perfect ten harmony. That's
the hallmark of a master.
Monday, Jan. 13, 1997