FYA! Ira Almeda makes a name for herself as an artist, one brush stroke at a time
On our search for youth artists around the Philippines, we bumped into Ira Almeda. She is a young, talented painter who surely is someone to look out for, as she makes her name in the local art scene as well as all over the world one brush stroke at a time.
Ira grew up in Manila, and is currently enrolled at the Savannah College of Art and Design in the US, pursuing a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree in Painting, with a minor in Graphic Design and Art History. She spent the past three years attending university at her school’s Hong Kong campus, and is currently back home in the Philippines due to the global pandemic.
Ira has worked as a gallery intern at different art institutions and has been involved in producing more than six exhibitions in Asia. Throughout her practice, she has created commissioned pieces for several collectors in Manila, and has participated in exhibitions such as the 2018 YODEX Art Fair in Taiwan, The Opera Gallery Hong Kong in 2019, and the 3Ms Atelier and the Wheetlock Lounge in Hong Kong of the same year.
She currently works at a London-based company and is exploring more opportunities and fields to master.
Oh, and guess what. She’s only 21.
With all her experiences, we just had to ask her some questions.
How would you describe your art and yourself as an artist? What kind of art styles do you work with?
IRA: I’d like to say that my work explores both objective and non-objective subject matter spanning through themes of the human figure, and the exploration of nationalistic Filipino culture through the integration of historical concepts with current and modern methods of art making.
Through my work, I celebrate the human, treasuring culture, history, and meaning through the depiction of this in figurative settings and in subtle abstraction using color, technique, texture, and language. My work with semantics provides importance to the coexistence of the old and the new, and reflects my own cultural identity in a world that connects ancient and modern Eastern and Western cultures.
I enjoy employing both oil and acrylic mediums, and my works touch on traditional and contemporary figurative portraits, expressive abstract paintings that traverse deliberate strokes, child-like mark-making, and written text, to the abstraction of the human form.
Often grounded in exploration and aesthetics, my projects remain experimental, constantly attempting new techniques.
Where do you draw inspiration for your works?
IRA: I quite enjoy ancient and cultural anthropology, history, and current culture, so a lot of my works and projects are inspired by these themes. As I mentioned, combining the old and the new through subject matter and more modern ways of artmaking or vice versa is one of my favorite things to incorporate in my work. I’m just deeply intrigued by the development of a culture through stories of the past, and the narratives that make our human history, and I base a lot of my work on this. These stories of the past are so closely interwoven into the present that they continue to influence and shape cultures for generations, and I want to make art about it.
Another part of my work is deeply inspired by the more traditional practices of art making. As someone part of a fine arts organization, I was constantly taught traditional painting techniques for still life, portraits, etc. This is another segment of my work that I consider more for my own mastery and learning, but I deeply enjoyed them nonetheless! In university, I was blessed enough to have the best mentor (we call him sifu/shifu) and he was like an art dad to me. Most of the things I know now about art was due to his influence and inspiration, and I trust his judgement more than anything!
He also inspires me to create the art I want to create, and to use the skills he’s taught me to make them.
Do you have a particularly favorite piece that you’ve done? Which is it and why?
Ira says that she has no favorites—like many “tortured” artists, but she does have a piece in particular that brings a lot of sentimental value.
IRA: This piece was called Kawalang-tinig ng Isang Henerasyon, but I needed it to make sense to my then international audience to say: Lost Voices of a Generation. This was a piece that started out in my Art of Tomorrow class, where I began experimenting with the whole idea of time and history interwoven with more modern techniques of art-making. I decided to create a non-objective piece that incorporated ancient Baybayin script.
I learned the script for the first time and funnily enough, it was almost like I was making a connection between the modern-day filipino and our ancestral past. It was a new kind of experience for me, and learning the script just sort of broke the barrier of all those years of colonization and whitewashing in our Filipino history. This, I assume, is what most people experience when they learn Baybayin for the first time. Many countries in Asia had their own distinct script, and all my life I wondered why we didn’t? Learning it gave me a newfound sense of Filipino identity.
The painting was left in the cubbies of the studio for a whole year until one day, an art curator came by the university to look for alumni work for a gallery show coming up.
She immediately consulted my mentor and he didn’t know any alumni work to show, but he did have my Baybayin painting. The curator showed up and I explained my work. Next thing I knew I was exhibiting in the Opera Gallery as a lone student artist alongside many accomplished abstract painters like Pierre Soulages, Zao Wou-Ki, Hans Hartung, and others.
Because of that painting, I had my first ever professional group show by a world-renown art gallery, gave my first artist panel talk, and was even on the South China Morning Post for the first time ever—something I never even imagined would happen as a student! It was a surreal experience, and I am deeply grateful for my mentor and art curators for that.
What is your personal opinion about young people pursuing arts, whether as a passion or a profession?
You’re going to encounter people that will tell you where you should go, where they think is right. And although they come from a place of love and concern, ultimately it’s your decision and your decision alone.
You have to learn other things, take other jobs, and work in different fields to see exactly where you want to go, how you’re going to do it, and what it’ll take to get there.
You need to take different avenues, learn different skills, not just so that you can bring food to your mouth and a roof over your head, but to truly grow as an artist and as a person.
Go take jobs you completely have no experience doing, you’ll learn on the way, and gain essential skills that’ll come in handy to get you closer to that point in life where you’re fulfilling all your passions.
Any message you want to give to aspiring artists?
Don’t box yourself into this “I’m an artist” identity. It’s good that you embrace it, but don’t let it be the only thing you brand yourself with. What’s going to happen is you go to art school, or finally get commissions, and you find yourself painting or doing art just for the sake of fulfilling deadlines and not because you love it. You’ll see people better than you and instead of aspiring to get better you get jealous or frustrated with yourself because you branded yourself too closely to being an artist to the point where if you aren’t the best, then what are you? Have other things you’re passionate about, and don’t pressure yourself too much.
You will get a job. Trust me. Even if it isn’t related to art, your skills will come in handy. This is why I said earlier that it’s also important that you build on other skills: communication, marketing, copywriting, history, whatever you want to get into. Your first jobs may not be related to your art passion, but it will also open doors.
Publish your art out there on Instagram, Dribble, Behance, your own website, etc. Make yourself seen.
[email protected] | IG: @ira.almeda