Text by Paolo Vergara; Photos courtesy of the artist. | Art+ Online Exclusive
There is something in our evolutionary blueprint that makes appealing the idea of teasing the boundaries of comfort, of acting on instinct, of facing the unknown, of travelling lightly. Perhaps it’s the subconscious imprint of a wilder, more rustic time, when the creature comforts and conveniences we take for granted today were barely in the ken of imaginations then.
Today, from the comfort zones of home and routine, on our screens, we gape in awe at larger-than-life fiction, and also at real-life daredevils. Small wonder backpacking is so popular among many people.
This primal verve is what drives emerging artist Tammy de Roca, as we witness her break into the Philippine art scene. Her first group show to her upcoming shows reveals how fearless independence led her to good hands down the road.
In her early years in California, she remembers being drawn to coloring books where most of her peers “preferred dolls.” She laughingly recalls how she used art subjects to leverage her grade point averages each semester. The independent spirit of the West Coast, as well as the ethos of leaving the nest at an early age, would leave their marks.
Returning to the Philippines in her late teens, art was no longer just a hobby, but took a new urgency for Tammy. Here, she began feeling an unspoken pressure, common in many Filipino families, to excel, especially if it was a field of her own choosing. And art was not what was expected of her.
While they supported her basic needs, she did not “want to use their money for her art career.” And so the hustle began. While she didn’t have the resources to accept a grant at an art school abroad, she entered UP Diliman’s (UPD) Studio Arts program. In between school work, she took on many side jobs as her taste matured, realizing that good paint and canvasses didn’t come cheap. From commercial modelling (including a Miss Earth stint) to graphic design for various magazines to commercial art commissions, Tammy worked to build foundations for a full-time art career.
Over lunch, her no-nonsense attitude is ever pronounced. She talks straight and maintains eye contact, sober but not stiff. She’s been scouting for condo units in the north of Quezon City to be closer to the galleries there. She’s with another artist today, as they’re preparing for a group show.
Tammy cites Elaine Navas and Mark Rothko as recent influences and such is clear in her latest works especially in terms of texture and flow. With regards to early inspiration, Tammy mentions surrealist and hyperrealist works, especially those by Camille Dela Rosa, Jon Jaylo, and of course, Ronald Ventura. She also mentions Filipina artists like Yasmin Sison and Geraldine Javier as favorites.
While the subject matter in her oeuvre in the last years remains the same: oceans, bodies of water, one can see how her treatment has moved from depicting water towards suggesting “the movement of waves, how sound affects the ripples.” All this aligns with how art making is, aside from her bread-and- butter, a meditation practice. For her, creating works, immersing in brushstrokes, and allowing intuition to guide her hand have helped clear her mind amidst recent upheavals in her personal life.
It was in a group show in Erehwon Art Center in Quezon City, organized by UPD artist-alumni and teacher Jonathan Olazo, where she gained first exposure. Weeks after the show art scouts visited the UP campus, saw Tammy’s plates then asked if she wanted to do more shows.
Soon enough, she did a solo show in Vinyl on Vinyl in 2017 and another in Mono8 Gallery the following year. She also took part in major group shows such as Art Fair Philippines (2017, under 1335 Mabini and in 2018 with Vinyl on Vinyl) and Art in the Park PH 2017 and 2018, also with the above galleries.
This year, she finds herself already booked, starting with backroom contributions to Art Fair Philippines 2019, followed by a more intimate group show this March at Manila House.
For her, the well-worn notion that there is “no money in an art career” is a myth. Today, she strives for balance between breadwinning and enjoying art: “I know it’s a bad thing to think solely in terms of the market,” especially in an increasingly commercialized scene where creators may get lost in the current of trends. Tammy is slowly realizing that works staying true to the both the artist and milieu they emerge from are what last.
Now, Tammy, also a mountaineer, manages to give back, as the proceeds of many works go to environmental causes. Her proceeds also help friends and family suffering through loss or illness, an act of solidarity for this individual pruned by struggle.
Having just turned 24, Tammy is at an interesting juncture: where many her age are learning how the market operates, she is at a point where she wants to step back from commercial interests and rediscover the visceral joy of art making. Her focus then has been to prepare for the climb, now, she wants to pause and enjoy the view.
For a glimpse of her works, visit @tammyderoca on Instagram. Her latest show, together with other emerging Filipina artists like Poeleen Alvarez, Faye Pamintuan, and Jem Magbanua, opens at Manila House this March 16, a special for Women’s Month.