Tess Ureta Aligaen
September 19 -27, 2022
There is a Buddhist saying which goes “the deeper and thicker the mud, the more beautiful the lotus flower blooms.” This appears true to Tet Aligaen, whose exhibition at Art Lounge Manila appears to have been rooted in the loss of her daughter in 1996. As they say, there is no greater love than a mother for her child, and therefore, no greater grief. And her grief took her through a journey of art, to be able to cope with the loss. It brought her to move to a new house in Antipolo where her garden brings her inspiration for her paintings at first, and her sculptures later on, as well as teach watercolor to select students. It also allowed her to join the Antipolo Thursday Group and find a community with the likes of Inday Cadapan, Fred Liongoren, Lino Severino among many others, who, in one way or another, also sought peace through their artmaking. The muck of life made her wield her brush again, and allowed her to find solace, and with time and patience, bloom.
As a child, Maria Theresa Ureta was precocious. Finding a natural love for drawing during her elementary days, at the height of her mania for drawing, she would finish a notebook a day, filling it drawings from everything she saw. She drew her teachers, her hands, the cartoon characters in newspapers and magazines; anything in fact which caught her fancy.
When her mother told her to take up Nursing at the Philippine Women’s University, she only lasted two years, as she felt the need to transfer to Fine Art, which was real passion. As a Fine Art student, she flourished and she even got to work as an illustrator for the Yellow Pages Company, while studying. After graduating, she went to work full time for the company, and also became a background artist for Opti-fex Animation, and joined some exhibitions until she got married and had to stop to take care of her family full-time. As a wife, and as a mother, Tet Ureta Aligaen rarely took up her painting. But she was able to express her creativity in other things closer to home, such as taking on a fancy for textile collaging.
In 1992, inspired by some wonderful printed elements in fabrics she got, she bought P15,000 worth of DMC thread and started making the enormous 9 x 8 feet tapestry which is the central work of this exhibition. Working on it sporadically for a few years, cutting elements from different fabrics and stitching them on cloth with other patterns and images she saw from other fabrics, and embellishing them with different types of stitching, she filled her quiet personal time, which is far and few in between for full-time mothers like her, with this sewing project. She only stopped in 1996, with the loss of her daughter to dengue. Setting it aside in a box, as she transferred to Antipolo, she misplaced it for several years. After her husband died in 2010, she found it serendipitously. Taking it on again brought her focus during the little spare time she could muster, as then she had to take on both the role of mother and provider for her family. Now that her children have grown, and have become artists in their own right, she was able to finish it, roughly 30 years after it was started.
Honing her craft in watercolor, both as an artist and as a private teacher since 1996, her mastery is evident in the sureness of her strokes and in her signature wet on wet style that relies on a very careful understanding of the medium enough to anticipate the flow of color over water to ensure the right transparency and placement to create layered washes, both over and under the flowers which became a signature of her work. For this, surely her work as a background artist for animation surely has helped. So good was she at watercolor that one of her works nearly became the grand prize winner in the GSIS Art Competition, had it not been for a technical issue of its size. With the friends she made in the art groups she joined in, like the Antipolo Thursday Group and the all-women Floral Artists of Manila, she has exhibited regularly in group exhibitions in local galleries and in Singapore, where she used to visit regularly on account of having a sibling there. Many of her works are in private collections, as well as prestigious hotels here and in Singapore. It was in one of the annual Floral Artists of Manila exhibitions that she got to work with Art Lounge Manila in July 2020, during the strict community lockdown of the entire country. And with the quality of her work, and the avid appreciation she got from the gallery and its collectors, she got invited again in 2021 to a plant-inspired exhibition Plantitos y Plantitas, which was a nod to the plant craze that was a product of the pandemic. So prolific was Aligaen in that exhibition, with approximately twenty works of pure watercolor and watercolor paintings with origami, that she took a significant portion of the gargantuan wall of Art Lounge Manila Podium to herself, when most could only create one or two given the schedule. For this feat, she was invited again to exhibit, but this time to have this solo exhibition at Art Lounge Manila- Molito which she so deserves.
This exhibition is a celebration of the creativity and exceptional skill of Tet Ureta Aligaen. With 21 watercolor paintings, some of which are of an extraordinary size for the watercolor medium with 72 x 24 inches for the long formats as the longest, and some with origami; 3 time-consuming and heavily detailed tapestries, and 4 metal / ceramic and metal sculptures, this exhibit showcases an artist extremely adept in different media, with her style remarkably expressed in watercolor, metal, ceramic and cloth.
In her watercolors, a selection from 2011 to 2022 are presented, to show both her consistency and her evolution, which are marked mostly by both choice of colors and theme, with the ethereal blue series of which the lotus flowers are prominent, expanding to watercolors of leaves which are complemented by cutouts which give her works an interesting three-dimensionality, to the more recent bird-themed works which are expressed simultaneously in watercolor and origami.
Her brass sculptures of philodendron leaves find expression in pure bronze sheets shaped realistically with her intricate knowledge of these plants which grow so profusely in her garden. Each bend and cut highlight not just the leaf, but also how it moves as it grows, or flutter or fall with the breeze. One work is of a monstera climbing up a teetering chair, lopsided chair, cleverly balanced with the weight of the brass sculpture providing the counterweight. The chair is a nod to her, and her friend Magel Cadapan’s enterprise, the creative upcycling of wooden furniture under the label “Tet and Maggy,” which has been operated since 2010.
Her tapestries are not just the product of cutting and stitching printed fabrics and lace, but also of her passion for patterns which allowed her to acquire textiles from all over the world. And since her family and friends know of this, they have helped her over the years by gifting her with textiles from Europe, Asia, and other places around the world. It is another of her skill to remember what patterns and prints she needs to create her tapestries, on top of the patient cutting and sewing skills. Making the tapestries has physically altered her as some of her fingers have calloused from regularly pushing needle through often thick thread.
There is a sublime and pure quality in all her work, in the various media she creates them with. It is a product not just of technical mastery which is very evident in precise all her works are, with no stray elements or mistakes visible, and the natural way her washes flow over her flowers and leaves. Nor are they purely of her precocious creativity, which she has continually cultivated since her childhood and has been supported by her family, teachers, and friends since then, and which she continued to hone over the years despite the demands of being a wife, a mother, and a professional and entrepreneur. The purity of her work and its sublime quality are of all that combined with a depth that blooms pure from the wellsprings of her life experience that has transmuted love from grief into Art. In Tet Ureta’s solo exhibition, we could see that truly, the deeper the mud, the more beautiful the lotus flower blooms.
The exhibition will run from September 19 – 27, 2022 at Art Lounge Manila – Molito in Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa City. The opening reception held on September 19, 2022.
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Words and images courtesy by Art Lounge Manila.