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IF MAN’S BASIC NEEDS are food, clothing and shelter, then perhaps we can say that the most basic materials are cloth, metal, and wood. The weaving and embellishment of cloth, the mining and forging of metal, and the cutting, carving and burning of wood have all defined human civilization.

W17, the eclectic and exquisitely curated home store, hosts Cloth/Metal/Wood, the first group show of lighting designer Mark Wilson, former fashion denizen Ian Giron and multi- hyphenate (construction business owner-riding instructor-surface material expert) Tata Montilla.

Mental images

Tata Montilla wears many hats, and he says he owes it all to organization. “If you give me any date of the year, I can tell you exactly what I will be doing on that day.” He shuttles between Cebu and Manila, and never feels any sort of displacement. Mentally, he knows when to shut on and off. And yet, there is so much more inside his head than his jam-packed calendar.

Of his artworks, he says, “I have these images in my head, and I just want to make them real. My training is in material surfaces, and one of our subjects was gilding. Gilding is a very ancient process, but I wanted to do something fresh with something old. I like the mix of media. I love the look of an object when it has aged. And so I do the gilding and then expose it to corrosive chemicals.”

The process forms graceful, abstract images in subtle tonalities. When asked what his artworks reveal about himself, he agrees with my observations that he likes to look at some- thing from many points of view, from the deepest to the most superficial, from the serious to the silly. He smiles, not a wide smile, and adds, “I think that what really attracts me is the simplicity of life. I don’t come from a deep, dark place.”

The exhibit is being held in a home store, where the artwork is hung in vignettes of interior. Would he be offended if a buyer tells him that the piece was bought to complement a sofa? “Not at all,” he says. “I don’t have that attachment to the work.”

Contemporizing traditional embroidery

Ian Giron worked with Josie Natori for many years, and of his exit from the Natori lifestyle empire, he says, “There was no drama. It was just time to open new doors.” But Ian did not stray too far from his roots in fashion, which began with studies at Parsons School of Design. He says, “I really wanted to support our local embroiderers, specifically those from Bulacan, because that’s where I’m from. Embroidery itself came from Europe, and brought here by the Spanish colonizers, but we have been able to make it our own. And so, when Europeans see our embroidery, they are astonished.”

Ian wanted to integrate our traditional embroidery, and reinterpret it in a fresh and contemporary way. And as he was a bit weary of the fashion world, he thought to create coromandel screens, but in an updated way. One screen is Italian silk embroidered with a mix of classical Oriental motifs, Filipino tribal symbols, and random musings in Ian’s own handwriting. “I was inspired by the Dadaists, but if people ask me what it means, I just say that I wanted to show the range of the embroidery that we could do!”

Another screen is done in florals reminiscent of the manton de Manila, of black thread on a vivid red silk. He did it half-height, so that it is not the stature of a traditional screen and can define a more intimate space. “Screens can be so versatile,” he expounds. “One lady wanted the screen to be a headboard. It can go into a boudoir where it was usually used for dressing. We can customize motifs and sizes.”

The warmth of wood

“Yes, it is very primal. I just love wood. I love the warmth of it, the grain, and I’ve been collecting wood for a long time,” confesses Mark Wilson, who is the prime mover behind this exhibit. “I’ve bleached the narra so that the wood’s grain and gradations really come out; bleaching is a 24-step process.

“But more than narra, my favorite is balayong, which is a wood I think every Filipino should know about. Just as huanghuali is the more popular wood for Chinese furniture, and zitan was reserved for the emperor, the balayong, with its brown purplish color, is a more exclusive material.”

Mark retrieved an old narra conference table from his dad’s office that was going to be given away. “The people clearing it didn’t recognize it as narra, and that’s why they were willing to let it go. I work with Claude Tayag for the wood treatment and with Mike Aguas for the metal, because I like to work with the masters,” Mark reveals. “I believe in upcyling and adaptive reuse, and so I want to use old wood, but make it more contemporary.”

The melding of these three friends’ personal histories and the heritage of their artistic journeys show the fine blend of art and history.

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