This is an article that originally appeared in Art+ Magazine Issue 33 (2014). The article is republished here as part of #ArtPlusFlashbackFriday project.
Artwork photos by Xander Angeles; Artist’s photos by Pia Puno.
Shot on location at Art Underground. Juvenal Sansó paintings provided by Galerie Joaquin. Make-up by May Francisco. Hair by Tenten Rodriguez.
What pushes someone to be an artist? Of course, talent is one thing. Artists like Pablo Picasso or Salvador Dali were natural prodigies who were prolific throughout their careers. But there are also artists who are motivated by an unfettering and passionate need to express themselves and connect with people through their art. We admire the likes of Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, and Vincent van Gogh because they have this characteristic. In their art, we see the very nature of humanity and its need to be free.
By this standard, we should add Heart Evangelista to the list. Saying she is already well-known is an understatement—her face is on billboards throughout the country as one of the most recognizable artistas in the Philippines. But beyond the movies, teleseryes, and showbiz personality rises someone with the true soul of an artist. And we saw her artistic efforts come to fruition in her first one-man exhibition at Ayala Museum’s ArtistSpace, entitled I Am Love Marie.
If the title is a little straightforward, then it points to the essence of why artists create art in the first place: to assert their identity. “I started painting again because, you know, with acting there’s just a limit sometimes,” she says. “If you don’t get the roles you want, you really can’t express how you feel. But when I started painting again, I felt like I had total freedom. Nobody told me what to do, nobody yelled ‘cut!’ or ‘action!’ It was therapy for me.”
For Heart Evangelista, art wasn’t something she decided to do on a whim. “I started when I was really young, around 5 or 6 years old,” she explains. “I used to draw on my walls with crayons, because we had white walls. My mom would always get mad at me, but my dad was always very supportive. Later on, I joined one of Ayala Museum’s summer art workshops. It was a couple of sessions, and at the end, they exhibited everyone’s work. That was my first exhibition, and I had two paintings.”
And if these workshops laid the technical foundation, it was her friend, noted painter Ivan Roxas, who encouraged the burgeoning artist to keep at it. “My dad was into all these paintings by Ivan Roxas, so he introduced me to him,” she recalls. “And Ivan sat with me and he was teaching me techniques. But I was so stubborn, so he called my dad and said, ‘I can’t teach her since she has her own thing going on!’ And my dad was like, yeah, but her paintings are so weird, like cartoons [laughs]. But Ivan and I ended up becoming really good friends.”
Later on, however, art took a backseat to her career as an actress, a celebrity. It’s a label the artist sometimes struggles with in her visual art career. She signs her paintings “LM” – from her given name, Love Marie Ongpauco – because she sees in her art a more sincere side. But it took a particularly pivotal point in her life to come to terms with herself as a visual artist.
“I had a fight with my parents,” she explains. “I wanted to be independent, you know? Handle my life. I was in a very passionate, you-and-me-against-the-world phase, and I finally got my independence. That was actually quite recent, only three years ago.”
And it was the love of her life who proved to be the catalyst for her to take greater risks in art. “I started with a very small painting after fighting with my parents. And my boyfriend Chiz [Senator Chiz Escudero] said, you’re spending so much time on that small painting, why don’t I just get you a big canvas? So he has a niece who made me a huge canvas, and I woke up one day and I had a huge canvas. And I painted my first big painting, and after that I was just addicted to it. There was this high of achievement that I couldn’t understand. It was priceless. Then after that, I just started to paint everyday. I don’t want to work anymore, I don’t want to be an artista anymore, I joke sometimes when I threaten to quit.”
That gift also brought a certain amount of uncertainty, particularly because of her perceived lack of technical skill. “I would never get a chance to paint on big canvases though, because I was afraid,” she explains. “Because I was always concentrating on the face, and I was afraid I couldn’t fill up the rest of the canvas. I guess it had something to do with being sheltered. I think it’s a psychological thing. I’ve never been adventurous about anything. Even up to today, when I’m in a different country, I’m afraid to go to the bathroom by myself. I feel like I’d get kidnapped or something. So I guess it spilled over to my paintings. I was afraid to do big paintings.”
She got over it, of course, and found an aesthetic style that can be described as a cross between Art Nouveau and symbolism—echoing Vienna Secessionist Gustav Klimt. But the connection was merely coincidental: “I didn’t know mine was so similar to Klimt! So I’m afraid that I’ve subconsciously picked up patterns, and then people will say I’m just copying him.” There is also a strain of Expressionism in her works, no doubt due to her more explicit influences: Paul Klee, Frida Kahlo, and Juvenal Sansó. The artist explains how she chooses her subjects: “Sometimes, it’s just what comes to my mind. I really can’t explain it. I just started this new painting, and it just flows.”
“What I paint is emotion,” she says. “I guess it connects to me being an actress. We show our emotion through our faces, and it shows through my paintings. I just see a certain face. It’s in my mind, and I follow it. It’s not something I sketch on paper, I just go straight to it. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, there’s this image that I have and I just end up painting it.”
Painting everyday, Heart Evangelista eventually developed a large-enough oeuvre to mount her own solo show. The genesis of her Ayala Museum show, however, was unusual. “I always walk around Greenbelt, so one time I saw an exhibit by a friend of mine,” she explains. “He’s a director, and he suggested that I have an exhibit there. I inquired, and there wasn’t an opening in their calendar. So I was like, maybe in two years. I felt really bad, but I just kept painting and uploading my works on Instagram. But then, I got a call. It was Ayala Museum, and they said the curator saw my work and was interested. They said that an artist backed out and they had a slot open for the next month.”
The suddenness of the show took the artist aback. “I had works already,” she says, “but I didn’t think it would be the next month! But then again, I didn’t really expect people to go or buy my paintings. For me, it’s about expressing myself and making a connection with people, even if it’s just one person. That’s special.”
“It all happened so quickly, and on opening night I was nervous,” she admits. “But we got connected with Mr. Zobel [Ayala Corporation’s Chairman Emeritus Jaime Zobel de Ayala], who thought my work was nice. We asked him if he would like to cut the ribbon, and he was so nice to agree. I also had a lot of help from people, like my photographer friend Xander Angeles, and Ivan Roxas. And of course, Chiz.”
The show turned out to be a success, having sold out all 16 paintings. “I didn’t know many of the buyers personally, which is nice because it means they really liked my works!” she says. “I also experienced a bit of separation anxiety. There was this Singaporean collector who asked if I could sell one painting I didn’t want to sell. I realize that it’s not easy to part with your paintings. But I also realize that, whoever buys your works, they’ll always be yours. And they’re appreciated by someone else. That’s a nice feeling.”
So what’s next for this intrepid artist? “Someone told me you don’t really think about what’s next,” she says. “But I’ll be going to New York to see the art there, then maybe after, I can think about what I’ll do next.” We’re sure that whatever comes next will be as passion-driven as her first show.