By Hannah Jo Uy
Images by Pinggot Zulueta
“I like how inspiration hits me like a ton of bricks,” said Aileen Lanuza-De Pio, “and I let it snowball from there. I need to feel it, to be in a stupor.” At the height of the artist’s immersion in this spontaneous experience, she fertilizes the seed of an idea through a solid foundation of research. “I surround myself with books, hole up in my library with my laptop and a tall glass of iced coffee with Milo powder on top, which my husband lovingly makes, and I’m good.” Supercharged and abuzz, she throws herself into the more cerebral aspect of creation by fleshing it out and unleashing it onto the canvas. “My hands at times tremble with a need to paint,” she said, adding with a smile, “and not because of the coffee. When I paint, there is a sense of this is where I belong.”
Ritual, for Lanuza-DePio, only exists in that every waking moment of her life revolves around painting. The artist is surrounded by color and art. “It may be a mess at times,” she mused, “but the chaos is still colorful. I’m very fortunate my husband is a painter, too. We paint side by side and I love him for just being there.” Over the years as the artist and her husband, Vincent De Pio, reinforced their position in the local art scene, their working hours have extended. Lanuza-De Pio, however, is quick to point out that “work” is no longer work once one knows it is what he or she is supposed to be doing. “Time truly does fly by and I try to make the most of my life by painting side by side with the love of my life,” she said.
That of course is no cause for complacency as Lanuza-De Pio stresses that evolution is integral to any artist. “Technically, you always strive to be better,” she said. “It’s never easy but that is part of the challenge. Accepting criticisms in stride is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow but overcoming that stubbornness takes you to a higher learning.” Conceptually, she goes where life takes her, embracing change, observing, listening, and studying minute details that life offers, “and in those moments, I find inspiration.”
The biggest change Lanuza-De Pio has embraced so far is finding herself in a new home, initiating her into a big garden and removing her former doubts regarding her lack of having a green thumb. “Everything I plant dies,” she said, “So nature was never much of an interest. But coming to this place where flowers are abundant in bright shades of pinks, purples, yellows, and whites, the beauty disarmed me.” This has unleashed a new primal instinct in the artist who finds solace in the calmness of tending to her garden and viewing the birds, butterflies, and the “four fat sausage dogs” that visit her secret Eden. This has cultivated in Lanuza-De Pio a newfound love for nature that has translated to her canvas.
This is an added layer to Lanuza-De Pio’s deep and integral love for vintage aesthetics, reflective of the old soul that resides in the modern artist. “My enamor with the Maria Clara is forever and everlasting,” she said. “It’s too beautiful to let go. My paintings are my way of preserving that tradition. For me, that is our loudest visual identity as a nation.”
In her latest show, “Piercing the Veil,” Lanuza-De Pio dives deeper into the depths of her soul. In this process, she found strength she did not realize she had in knowing that “love can really be a powerful thing. In moments of stillness,” she said, “I found something beautiful. A sense of calm and peace. Yet beneath that lies a fury of passion and strength of mind and character.” Lanuza-De Pio’s paintings conveyed the careful balance between stillness and strength, the inherent power of the feminine to be both soft and strong. “That there is a quiet fortitude beneath that gaze,” she said. “And that in that moment, she is perfect and beautiful.”
The works of Lanuza-De Pio resonates with the audience, with the message clear and poignant in her reimagining of the timeless strength within the Maria Clara icon. “Projecting the old Maria Clara is giving respect to our roots, which are the foundation of the women in our country,” she said. “Our history inspires me and gives me strength. I am thankful to all the women who fought for our rights. It’s because of them that we have established the respect and the importance of our being.” Raw, poignant, and mysterious, Lanuza-De Pio digs deep, inspired by the struggles of women today and the universal call to arms, such as those depicted in William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” a favorite of the painter.
Strength, the artist reiterated, is a state of mind and visual images can penetrate the subconscious in the most inexplicable ways. “I want my works to inspire courage and self-love,” she said. “I want people to relate to the power a painting conveys, that even a woman who stands alone cannot be broken.”