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RAMON Orlina with model for 8.6-meter “Tetraglobal,” for UST’s quadricentennial in 2011



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30 years in the embrace of light

By Lito Zulueta
First Posted 00:11am (Mla time) 10/23/2006

Published on page D1 of the October 23, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

IT HAS BEEN 30 YEARS SINCE Ramon Orlina, leaving his architecture practice in 1974 and turning to the visual arts full time, found splendor in the glass. He tinkered first with painting but later on stumbled upon sculpture.

It was not really a radical shift since his architecture training at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and his own practice had made him predisposed to the tactile and architectonic dimensions of sculpture. But as the story went, there were sculptors and sculptors. How could a neophyte carve his own niche in such a crowded galaxy?

Of course, we know what happened. In 1976, Orlina found the light! Used to manipulating space as an architect, he turned to glass sculpture as a way to maneuver light, the progenitor of space.

Aside from his architecture background, the choice of medium owed to his innate artistic sensibilities. After all, the best painting is a play of light and shadows, and glass, with its inherent qualities of reflection and refraction, is a medium that has the best potential to play tricks at the space around it, casting it in a new light.

Of course, Orlina was also breaking new ground. Although glass is an old medium, he did new things with it that stamped his name on the genre.

While glass is blown into shape when it is hot and malleable, Orlina molds glass like a sculptor would, grinding and shaping it into abstract forms that assume organic integrity through sharp bends and sleek curves. The work is no joke since he massages glass into shape, making them animate light.

The light is manipulated or trapped in such a way as to provide “value lighting” to the contours and outlines that are defined by the sculptor’s kneading. The result is art that transfixes, that mesmerizes.

Orlina is one of our most adamant practitioners of recycled art. Since the start, he had formed a partnership with Republic Glass (and now, with Asahi Glass) to clean their factory of accumulated glass droppings on the floor. Known as cullets, the large blocks of glass come in various shapes and configurations, and it is Orlina’s artist’s eye and architect’s discipline that re-conceive and reconstitute the raw throwaways into monuments of light.

It is also an art that is multidimensional, a quality that is again the outgrowth of “light play.” The sculptures can be viewed in the front or the back or whatever position. The light ensures whatever part the viewer chooses to see seems spot-lit.

Orlina also relieves the pure abstraction by figurative etches while leaving most of the parts polished, smooth and seemingly inviolable. The pristine quality masks the obsessive handling and carving that have rendered the work into an altar of grace and impenetrability.

But the fact that Orlina is an architect and a craftsman and he has an army of artisans and workers (who transform into a basketball team and cheering squad during the summer league in Sampaloc, Manila, believe me) should remind the audience that a thing of beauty is also a thing of hard industry and dedicated artistry.

Glass master

Because he has made his unique brand of glass sculpture his own, Orlina is perhaps one of the best-known Filipino artists abroad, the “glass master” if there was one. He has been carried by prestigious galleries in the West and gotten commissions abroad.

“Quintessence,” the title of his forthcoming anniversary show at the Ayala Museum, is originally the title of his glass-window installation that is the centerpiece of the Singapore Art Museum. At the turn of the millennium, he won the “Mr. F Prize” in the 1999 Toyamura International Sculpture Biennale in Hokkaido, and the following year, the first prize in the sculpture category of the Biennale of Basketball in the Fine Arts in Madrid.

For his anniversary show, Orlina promises more of the same and more. The exquisite gossamer shapes remain, but the artist appears more venturesome in colors.

“Damsel’s Silhouette” is bronze, and in a number of crucial pieces—“Sapphire Ring,” “Rising Amber” and “Diamond Sky”—Swarovski crystals in liquid colors are sculpted in piercing and acute forms. Other works combine glass and steel.

The exhibit will also present studies and the model for Orlina’s most important commission of late, “Tetraglobal,” an 8.6-meter sculpture in bronze and glass that will soon rise at Orlina’s alma mater, in the run-up to 2011 when UST marks its 400th year as Asia’s oldest university.

The commission reflects Orlina’s achievement as much as it does UST’s. Orlina has gone global with his experiments and accomplishments in light, and whatever the vagary of history, the light, like the art, endures.

“Quintessence,” which marks Ramon Orlina’s 30 years in sculpture, opens Oct. 25, 6 p.m., at the Glass Wing of the Ayala Museum, Makati

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