A cascade of flowers and flesh

Published April 1, 2018, 12:05 AM


Text by Terence Repelente

Portrait by Pinggot Zulueta

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It’s been four years since Heart Evangelista, the actress, first revealed her talent, her passion, and herself as Love Marie Ongpauco-Escudero, a visual artist. In those early years of self-revelation, she was met with success in the form of exhibitions (in and outside the country), collaborations, sales (even before officially releasing her works), acclaim, and appreciation. But today, evident not only in her works, but also on how she views life, Love Marie becomes a different type of artist, a flower that’s finally in full bloom, reflecting a different kind of luster, brighter and free.

In her new exhibition, the first for the year, “In Full Bloom,” where the works are bolder, the colors are brighter, and the textures more varied in nuance and emotion, Love Marie goes all out.

“I used to be a bit shy about what I was doing, I wanted everything I did to be so perfect in my eyes,” she says in an exclusive interview with The Manila Bulletin. “But with ‘In Full Bloom’ I feel like I allowed myself to be me, and not be so conscious about the rules an artist needs to follow. I had no control, and I enjoyed it. I just painted what I wanted to paint, and I wasn’t strict about following certain patterns.”

“In Full Bloom,” flooded with petals and other floral elements, is a garden of emotions. An image of a woman, akin to a goddess, a nymph, an earthly siren, all of whom, according to Love Marie, are imbued with something autobiographical, her artistic signature, haunts the garden-like collection. “I really enjoy painting women. In a way, I feel that it’s also me in the painting,” she says. The women in the works, with identical looks—faces partly veiled or cropped; bodies folded; eyes, if not shut, adrift on oceans of thought, smoldering with dreamy, misty longings—convey the particular emotion prevalent as Love Marie painted them.

“The faces, the works represent my emotion and my feelings. I used to able to paint only when I was sad, I still do, and I find it a very good time to paint. When I’m alone, when I dream of something I feel I can’t achieve, my insecurities as an actress—the works represent my sadness at times. It’s my way of expressing those emotions,” she says. “You know as an actress, you go on a lot of emotional rollercoaster rides ever day. You feel that you’re not good enough, you’re not pretty enough, etc. I think that reflects on some of my paintings. But at the same time, I’ve made the colors bright, which kind of signifies hope, a celebration of life.”

The inclusion of flowers, bright and colorful, uplifts the mood of the collection with symbols of confidence and strength, and womanhood, as well as a positive glimpse of the future. Love Marie finds the vines, the spirals, the swirls, the thorns, the very shape of petals and leaves very liberating to paint, because they are free-flowing. Only the wind of emotions dictates how they curl or strengthen or sway to certains direction. They just go everywhere, all out, all over the canvas. “The flowers are really significant in the series. They may symbolize what I’ve conquered, some of my fears, or where I’ve come into my own as a woman. I’m also preparing myself for motherhood, so there’s something hopeful, something celebratory of the power of a woman to give birth to life, to propagate life,” she muses. “I’m just really celebrating the woman I am today, which is why I thought ‘In Full Bloom’ would be the perfect title.”

The first work of the series was revealed early, two years ago when Love Marie’s good friend, author and Manila Bulletin lifestyle editor AA Patawaran, used it as the cover artwork for his book Hai[NA]Ku and Other Poems. “It was the very first work under ‘In Full Bloom.’ It wasn’t even ‘In Full Bloom’ yet,” she recounts. “I didn’t really know that it was going to be an entire series. But it was the first work where I was blunt about the texture, I enjoyed doing it, and when AA saw it, he really thought that there was a certain emotion that I was able to capture and present, which would be perfect for the book.”

The very act of painting and creating gives Love Marie a sense of freedom. “I’ve been acting, following the script, following the rules, and signing contracts that bind me for a long time now. I never gave in to my wants in life. I kind of feel that, in painting, I have full control,” she says. “It wasn’t really something that I planned to show. It was just really something for my house, for myself. But I really felt that it was my way of expressing who I really am, telling the world this is me, I am Love Marie. That’s why I don’t want to use Heart as my name, the name I’ve been using to play my roles as an actress. For my art, which is me, which is me beneath the image, my authentic self, I wanted to use Love Marie, my birth name.”

Even with the success that came with her relatively new career as a visual artist, Love Marie claims that it isn’t like everyone likes her art. “But among those who did like it, I felt really appreciated for who I was, and I may not be as young as 18 anymore and on top of the world, but I feel that I could leave something behind that people would really treasure and remember me for,” she muses.

In the eye and standards of the showbiz industry, Love Marie believes, that everyone is a dime a dozen. “There are so many actresses, so many beautiful people, more beautiful than you, taller, better, they just keep coming,” she says. “Sometimes you feel like you’re the forgotten one. But with painting, I feel so special about myself.” In fact, she confesses, there was a time she just wanted to paint and not act anymore, but it wasn’t something very realistic to do. Given the choice, however, Love Marie chooses being a visual artist above all. “I still need to act to pay for my bills. But I really enjoy painting, and it’s something I want to continue until I’m old. I hope to be remembered as a painter, not necessarily as an actress.”

Right now, Love Marie is ablaze with inspiration. She possesses the willingness to learn, while creating prolifically. She gathers inspiration from her emotion, but she heightens it with different activities such as travelling, infusing it with other interests such as fashion. She draws inspiration mainly from people like Mexican artist Frida Khalo de Rivera, who, like her, was known for doing self-portraits and covering them with colorful, floral elements; Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt who dressed women in gold and texture through his works; and French artist Henri Émile Benoît Matisse, who was known for both his use of color and his fluid and original draughtsmanship.

Love Marie is currently working on a new series, which will be released sometime next year. Another leap in style, but her signature elements evidently remain. This particular series, still untitled and unfinished, was inspired, according to her, by Paris Fashion Week. “Seeing all the couture dresses inspired me to make these new works, because fashion is also art. I have so much love for it, not just the street kind of fashion, but the couture,” she says. “I think something in me just lit up, and I started painting.”

When asked about her future both in acting and painting, Love Marie answers in uncertainty, but assures herself that she will take a certain path. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not planning anything extreme. All I know is that I’ll keep painting until I’m old. Painting brings me so much excitement,” she says. “I used to overthink everything, but now I like my life the way it is, the ups and the downs, being stressed and being upset, because it affects me and it affects my painting. I just enjoy life more now. I’ll be doing this forever.”

Love Marie Ongpauco-Escudero’s ‘In Full Bloom’ runs until April 14 at Artist’s Space, Ayala Museum.