Thursday, June 14, 2012

Albert Avellana's house of art in old Manila

The other day, I visited the art gallery of my old friend Albert Avellana in Pasay. I really like going here during the few instances that I actually have free time because it reminds me of the good aspects of life in old Manila.

It's not that I lived in those days; but the Chinese compound in Pasay – which is where his gallery is – is exactly how I imagine old-fashioned Manila to have been. It’s a very large compound and it probably has 15 to 20 medium-sized wooden houses dotted amidst gardens and trees. Everyone is friendly with each other and most of the houses are left open in the day so you can actually just walk in and explore them -- at least that's the impression I've gotten as I don't believe I've ever had to knock to get into a house here.


Some of these houses are just regular homes of people not connected to the artistic world, but a lot of these houses have been taken over by Albert and his friends, and they’ve turned these into truly picturesque galleries, boutiques and homes.

I’ve known Albert since I was a child as we used to attend art school together on Saturdays together with some pretty famous names now in the art world such as Elmer Borlongan and Ferdinand Doctolero. We were all just kids who loved drawing back then.

Anyway, Albert’s older than me, and – as he tells the story – apparently I was one of the younger kids in art school, and I used to throw sand at his paintings whenever the school would go on on-the-spot painting workshops somewhere in Manila. I was a kid having fun with art then, while he was already a pretty serious young artist.

So if you think about how far back we go, you can imagine that there’s a lot of familiarity here even if I really don’t see him often enough. He has an eclectic collection, and his exhibits are always terribly interesting. The last time I was here, he’d presented the works of an artist who’d meticulously glued grains of rice in a modern design onto large canvases – and the results were pretty mesmerizing in a Zen sort of way.


Well, this time, it was for the opening of the exhibit of a young lady who’d entitled her exhibit “Sci-fi.” I asked her: “Why did you call your exhibit “Sci-fi”?”

Apparently she loved the concept of space ships and aliens, so she used these for inspiration. For her actual installation works, she’d used everyday things like wires and the plastic tags for clothes – which she’d apparently bought in Divisoria – to create large installations that were extremely compelling to look at.

 I asked her: “Who buys these?” I liked them, but they were large and very strong in terms of design – the kind of stuff you either love or hate. And they would certainly take up space in anyone's living room. The artist shrugged. I think she was happy just to create something she’d envisioned rather than to sell her works. Scroll down to read about a lovely store within the same compound...


Then I went over to the houses across the street, which designer Eric Paras has turned into a series of beautiful boutiques of interior items. I hate visiting him, actually, as I feel like replacing so many things in my own home whenever I see his stuff on sale. He displays most of his creations and also the items he’s brought in from elsewhere in a home setting, so it’s like visiting someone’s home and seeing how everything comes together so nicely.

On this visit I saw a gold-lacquered wall candelabra and a dinnerware set with lovely filigree at reasonable prices. I kept thinking if I had a spare wall for the candelabra; and then later on, when I decided that I didn't, I had to consider the economics of suddenly changing one’s dinnerware set just because one likes the design of another one.


The poet Maya Angelou advises all women to have a proper dinnerware set for eight so they can always welcome people to their homes -- but having several sets is another matter altogether.

I can’t very well keep so many different sets of dinnerware, even if I do like entertaining at home. So I ended up going home without any purchases -- a rarity for me on a visit here -- but with my heart and mind full of art and beautiful things.

It was a truly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours in our city, and it was just another evening in our never-ending and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

2680 F.B. Harisson, Pasay City


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