Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Flashback to a Swiss summer

Tonight my friend Marivic and I went to the opening cocktail reception for Urban Phalanx, an art exhibition of Swiss-born society jeweler and sculptor Hans Brumann and Italian modern painter Kiki Gervasoni at the Galerie Hans Brumann on the third floor of Greenbelt 5.

Hans' powerful wood sculptures

It was a very nice show featuring powerful sculptures in wood, mother of pearl and metal by Hans, and oil paintings of scenes from everyday life by Kiki. Galerie Hans Brumann is not very big, but it's cleverly designed so that you can view works mounted on sliding panels, and therefore the gallery can actually hold more paintings than it seems. Hans' works are truly beautiful sculptural pieces that would add depth and dimension to any home. I was especially enamoured by a wall piece which he calls Untitled III, which is basically six different strips of wood juxtaposed against each other, and combined with mother of pearl.

Kiki's composed and restrained paintings

Meanwhile, Kiki's works were all thought-provoking and made in a style that is so unusual in the Philippines. For me, having seen all the emotions and angst in Philippine art, Kiki's lovely paintings are so composed and restrained -- so very Northern European.

Seeing her works is like viewing a scene from life from a window or a car, wherein you are conscious of what you are seeing but at the same time you aren't involved at all in the scene. I would love to have one of them for my home, and was especially drawn to a painting called Berlin which features a boy in what looks like a coffee shop, as seen from the street outside. The painting even takes in the reflection of the glass and the image of an electric pole in front, as reflected in the glass.

I really liked this painting save for the fact that it was entitled Berlin, and this is a city which has little emotional connection for me. If the painting had been called Rome, Paris or Istanbul, I probably would have been drawn to it more. But it was a very interesting piece nevertheless, in terms of composition and technique. Easily among my favorites!

Memories of a wonderful Swiss summer

Urban Phalanx might have been just another exhibit opening save for the fact that, for me, there's some nostalgia involved with these two artists. Together with Hans and his wife Maria many years ago, Marivic and I attended a painting workshop in a mountain hamlet in the Ticino region of Switzerland, which is the part of Switzerland closest to the Italian border. We all stayed at a very charming inn run by a countess, and had our lessons in her atelier just off the hotel courtyard.

At this enjoyable workshop, Kiki had been our teacher. Kiki is actually her professional name, and Marivic and I knew her then -- as now -- as Margherita. She was an artist and art teacher who lived in Milan and who spent the month of August every year in Switzerland, holding art workshops in the village of Soazza, which is about an hour's drive from Bellinzona.

Beauty in the littlest things

Each morning we would gather in the atelier and Margherita would demonstrate a particular watercolor technique and create a painting on the spot. Then we would all go off on our own all over the village -- which was not very big -- to find a spot to sit and paint or an interesting view to paint. Being from Asia, it wasn't difficult to find subjects to paint in this quite ordinary village (by European standards!) as every single thing was interesting to us. I remember painting a scene of tea cups on the window sill of a house that looked like it was about to fall apart from age, and one of a rocky pathway in between two wooden sheds. The colors and the light were different, and the weather was just absolutely beautiful every day.

It was on one of these forays that one of us bumped into a Filipina living in the village, married to a local engineer. We were of course very surprised to find a Filipina living in these parts, but were quite glad for a bit of home. We'd been living at the hotel and subsisting everyday on a mixture of Italian and German food -- and the Italian food was on the heavy side since this part of Switzerland is close to Milan. So there was a lot of meat and heavy risotto. This Filipina very kindly cooked us some Philippine food and rice in her compact and simple apartment.

Interestingly, Margherita was from Italy and she only spoke Italian, German and a bit of French. Most of our fellow students, including Hans and Maria, spoke German, so they got along fine. But Marivic and I spoke neither Italian nor German, and my French was more of the shopping and restaurant variety; so I still don't know how we got through lectures and one-on-one tutorials. But perhaps art is a universal language that needs little translation.

Straight from Milan

Well, tonight, Margherita journeyed all the way from Italy (she now teaches art in Lake Como) for the opening of her show, together with her beautiful young daughter Alice who told me she worked for the Switzerland office of a sports company based in Taiwan. They had come only for four days, just for the exhibition and to see a bit of the Philippines.

Margherita had not changed at all, and she was every bit as lively as I always remembered her from long ago. And happily, she recognized us quickly. "So you're the suprise!" She exclaimed, upon seeing Marivic and myself approaching her. "Maria told me she had a surprise for me tonight. I am so very glad to see both of you."

Having Hans and Maria, and Marivic and Margherita, all in one place brought back many memories of that wonderful summer in Switzerland and Italy. We'd walked through the flea markets of Zurich and dined in a lakeside trattoria on Lake Maggiore, and even crossed over to Italy for shopping in Milan and an evening at Verona's open-air coliseum for a magical performance of the Aida. I've been to so many places since then, and even returned to many of our haunts, but this girls' trip remains one of my favorite holidays to date. And having us five together in one place tonight instantly compressed the very real distance of time and place posed by 13 years and thousands of kilometers. It was like that Swiss summer was just yesterday.

Hans Brumann and Kiki Gervasoni

at the Galerie Hans Brumann

3F Greenbelt 5

6-30 October 2010


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