Q&A with Carmen Brias, painter and sculptor
Carmen Brias will be unveiling her latest works in painting and sculpture on March 3 in an exhibit titled “In A New Light” at Altro Mondo, Greenbelt 5, Makati City. Since her last Philippine exhibit in 2009 with her mother, the distinguished portraitist Betsy Westendorp, Brias has been full-force harvesting inspiration and credentials in Madrid, where she is based.
What have you been up to since your last visit to the Philippines?
Aside from painting regularly in my studio and experimenting with different techniques, I attended drawing classes at the Universidad Complutense. But after two years, I decided that drawing is not my thing although it is a very good exercise for anybody who paints, especially as a restorer.
I also started a sculpture group with my friend and teacher Eduardo Mazariegos who taught me all I need to know about wood carving. For a few years, I carved almost every day. We started working with pine logs and later tried other kinds of wood. We had pupils who worked in the garden with us, and during winter, we would dress up as though we were going to ski in the mountains. Wood carving is not easy but seeing the finished form after much hard work gives me a lot of satisfaction.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my family. I love horse riding with my daughter Carla, who is now in her second year in university. Whenever we needed respite from the city, my partner Jorge and I go to a little country house in Segovia, which is an hour’s drive from Madrid. I have two dogs which I enjoy walking in the park near our home. I also exercise by playing tennis regularly.
I also participate in reunions with former asumptionistas who went to the Assumption Convent in Manila and are now living in Madrid. We have an annual fundraising fair where we sell Filipino food and have games, lottery and activities for children. The funds and donations go to a children’s school in Malibay, Pasay. Madrileños love coming to our fairs because it is lively and a lot of fun compared to other fairs in Madrid.
How has living in Madrid influenced your art?
I keep up with the art happenings in Madrid by visiting as many exhibits and fairs as I can, and watching movies and visiting the theater.
However, as an artist, my soul is Filipino. Most of the inspiration for my art comes from my childhood in Manila. I remember spending hours observing tadpoles in the garden, which at first were white or light yellow eggs, then little swimming tadpoles before finally becoming frogs. That was my real life lesson in “evolution”. Also, the typhoons that visit the country has always made me wonder what happened to everything after they’re gone. How can nature be so cruel? What is its message for us? And why are people who have next to nothing more creative and kind?
What is the theme of your exhibit?
The theme of my exhibit will focus on the relationship between Spain and the Philippines, from my perspective as an artist. I chose this theme because, first of all, I love this country, it has given me so much. There is a lot of sense of humor here, too, which can also be found in my art. I have been very lucky to be born and raised as a child here.
At the same time, I also love Spain and would love for the Spaniards to know more about the Philippines. They are far away geographically but Spain and the Philippines have a past that has bound them together and both have influenced each other’s culture.
“In A New Light” is the name of the exhibit because colors are imperative in my paintings, especially bright colors. For me, color is as much of a language as music or form. Colors are born when the light of the sun penetrates the earth, so the color of green is made when the sky and the sun get together. I have been in the middle of colors all my life; they are a part of me.
What new things can we expect from your art?
Each one of my paintings is different, so each work is always new. Although they say that every artist always ends up doing the same painting, I can’t relate to that. I suppose what you can expect from my new works is more experience and humanity.
I have introduced new materials such as plastic, pigments, acrylics, and a synthetic resin to make the painting look transparent and shiny. Sometimes I add elements in the painting through pasting but lately, I must confess, I am becoming more of a ‘purist’; the less addition, the better. As artists, we sometimes have a destructive attitude towards art, and even to ourselves, which can manifest in “destroying” work that is already finished by adding unnecessary elements.
Why did you decide to exhibit once again in the Philippines?
Because Manila is my home. I was born here and went to school here. A great part of my father’s family lives here. The stories I grew up listening to include those about my grandfather during the Second World War living in Manila. My childhood memories are all set in the Philippines, like spending holidays at the beach in Matabungkay with cousins and visiting islands like Hermana Mayor and Pamalican in Palawan. I remember taking pictures at the Banawe rice terraces with portraitist Butch Baluyot.
Also because the opportunity to exhibit in a well-known gallery such as Altro Mondo is something I cannot refuse. I am very lucky to be here.
How did living in the Philippines shape you as an artist?
Being close to nature and the animal world growing up, I became sensitive to nature’s vibrations, of what is “unseen”, as in The Little Prince, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” I feel that the Philippines is placed strategically in a certain part of the word where energy vibrates in a different way; everything is more creative and always moving.
From my childhood memories, one of the most beautiful spots in Manila was located in front of Manila Bay. Our family used to live in an apartment at the Excelsior and we would rent a bangka at sunset and cruise around the huts where the fishermen lived. There is such magical beauty in these places, the way the houses are built and stood on stilts over the water and how the fishermen lived. Always there is air going through these houses, and they looked fragile. But at the same time, they are strong like bamboo. My mother painted a lot of these fishermen’s houses.
Who are your current artistic influences?
I think Miquel Barcelo is outstanding for his creation of a new and unique personal style. His inspiration and works take guts!
I adore the Flemish painters; I recently saw Van der Weiden at the Prado and it is perfect. I love Rousseau, Van Gogh, the Impressionists. I love Fernando Zobel’s paintings and of course, I admire Betsy Westendorp, who fortunately happens to be my mother.
Where have you exhibited your works previously?
1979: Group Show at the Centro Cultural de la Villa de Madrid.
1985: Group Show of Paintings Dedicated to the Animal World in Caja Madrid.
1992: Individual Exhibit with Filipino Furniture in Sotogrande.
1993: Group Show in Taller Arte G in Madrid.
1994: Group Show in Flecha 94, Madrid.
1995: Group Show of Mini Paintings at the Association for Sculptors and Painters in Madrid.
1995: Group Show of Filipino Painters in Spain at the Casa de America in Madrid.
1998: Solo Show at the Ayala Museum in Manila.
1998: Solo Show at the Crucible Gallery in Manila.
1999: Group Show at the M&R Gallery in Madrid.
2001: Solo Show at The Club Financiero de Madrid.
2004: Joint Exhibit with Isabel martinez Bordiu at the Colegio Santa Maria de los Rosales in Madrid.
2008: Solo Show at Archie in Madrid.
2009: Joint Exhibit with Betsy Westendorp at the Ayala Museum in Manila.
2010: Group Show dedicated to the Prado Museum with Filipino Painters in Manila.
2012: Joint Exhibit with Eduardo Mazariegos at the Centro Cultural de Aravaca.
2013: Group Show with the Association for Sculptors and Painters at the Vaguada Cultural Center in Madrid.
Apart from that I have worked as an assistant to photographer Eduardo Seca at the Ayala Museum for his book titled M'ai, which I enjoyed very much and also acted in Repertory Philippines in “Sound of Music” as Sister Sophia, and in a comedy “Let's Get a Divorce”.