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Quintessential Orlina
Monday, October 30, 2006
Quintessence. Classically, from "quinta essentia," or the fifth and highest element of which heavenly bodies are made of in contrast with fire, air, water and earth. It is also the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form containing its rarest virtue and most essential constituent. Quintessence is the perfect example of its kind.

In the hands of Ramon Orlina, glass becomes the medium of sculpture’s quintessence. And in celebrating his 30th year as an artist, he embarks on easily one of his finest shows with a show that is so appropriately held at the Ayala Museum’s Glass Wing.

Having been friends with Ramon for years and having followed his growth as an artist, a visit to his atelier never ceases to amaze me. When I last interviewed him four years ago, he was telling me that there was still so much to do with glass and still so much to learn. At that time, I was thinking to myself "What else could he possibly do with a chunk of glass?" Apparently, the answer is "plenty."

One of the highlights of the exhibit will be the presentation of studies and a scaled replica for what will certainly be one of the most important commissions of Orlina’s career. "Tetraglobal" is an 8.6-meter structure of cast bronze and glass that will tower over the Alumni Park of Orlina’s alma mater – the University of Santo Tomas to commemorate its 400th year in 2011.

Reaching for the sky are four human figures – a male and female student, a Dominican priest and an academician – who represent the university’s four stakeholders throughout its 400 years. Upon their collective hands rest a globe in the center of which are four pieces of glass again representing the university’s four centuries of existence. Like the Earth, the globe tilts at 23.5 degrees perpetually pointing its apex towards the North Star, which has for centuries acted as a beacon and guide for travelers the same way the ideals of the university guide its stakeholders. From the globe flows a ribbon inscribed with Latin inscriptions representing the various ideals that the Thomasians are proud to aspire to.

The bronze portions of "Tetraglobal" will be cast in Bangkok, which immediately presents the logistical nightmare of shipping the huge sculpture to Manila. But Orlina quickly points out that they really needed to have the best quality. Although there are cheaper and easier ways of doing things, those shortcuts will manifest themselves as defects in maybe 10 or 20 years when the finish of the sculpture is no longer smooth or cracks begin to appear where joints are welded. He says that there is no substitute for casting pure bronze.

Even the sculpture’s lights are laid out to maximize the best features of "Tetraglobal." Orlina says: "A lot of times sculptures are not lighted properly. Usually they are just lit without considering the shadows and how it affects the surrounding areas. When we were working on the sculpture outside Wisma Atria in Singapore, we even had a lighting consultant. We had to adjust the lights so it didn’t spill around the sculpture. So if you are walking on the other side of the sculpture, the light won’t hit your eyes."

In any sculpture, light plays an important role. However when you are talking about glass where translucency is an additional factor, then lighting becomes even more important as the artwork’s internal highlights and shadows play a major role in overall appearance. But in the case of Orlina’s new works in black glass, the lighting becomes crucial. In ordinary light, black glass appears opaque. But with proper lighting, the subtleties of the sculpture come alive as dramatic shades and changes in the color’s gradation become clearly visible.

Next year, Orlina will also start casting his glass sculptures into bronze and edition them to bring down the price. He says because the medium is different, it is important to choose pieces that are appropriate to an opaque metal vis-à-vis the translucency of glass.

More and more, it seems like Orlina finds himself experimenting and working with other materials such as bronze. And it is ironic that it is this very same metal that gives his new works in black glass its unique characteristics. In working with this color, Orlina found an opportunity to use some of the colored Swarovski crystals he had kept from one of his previous shows. Whereas he used to find them too small to use for any significant artwork, he came up with the idea of combining them with the black glass to create something more substantial. These combinations he has created with the variedly colored crystals resting in balance atop the black glass are some of the most visually dramatic pieces I have ever seen Orlina produce.

As in our interview four years ago, Ramon Orlina once again told me that there is still so much to do and so much to learn. I didn’t quite believe him before and I was proven wrong. Perhaps this time I shouldn’t be such a non-believer as Orlina is obviously a well of creativity with boundless imagination.

Without a doubt, "Quintessence" is quintessential Orlina.
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"Quintessence: 30 Years of Sculpture" is on view until Nov. 9 at MuseumSpace, second floor, Glass Wing, Ayala Museum, Makati Ave. Admission is free. For comments, email me at
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