MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ARTIST:
by: Christiane L. de la Paz
January 2009 -- It has become a commonplace in contemporary art that a work has to be compositionally busy or wisecracks in a variety of forms. In Roma Valles’ case, her technically ambitious but masterfully works, much of whose content seems to be an exploration of her personal history, proves that command in technique is never forsaken as it is one of the qualities she knows that endures. While her art is viewed as mellow and conservative, it is never sheltered from contemporary art. They are gorgeously sensual, thoughtful and powerful which gradually won her substantial following and inclusion in important exhibitions. In this interview, Roma Valles talks about her student years, her influences, her method in painting, her family, her interests and the joys of being a mother and an artist at the same time.
What kept you busy after graduation?
I was commissioned by interior designers and architects to do paintings for their projects. I also received commissions for portraits of retiring Supreme Court justices and other individuals. I gave painting workshops to children and adults.
Was Fine Arts your first course in college or did you transfer from another course?
Fine Arts was my first course.
5 x 7 feet, oil on canvas, 1989
What were you painting in those days?
I was under Roberto Chabet. We were trained to copy only what we saw. He made us look for objects to copy and make compositions out of them. I was particularly interested in painting details even back then.
During your time, would you say that the trend in painting was social realism?
Hmmm, I guess yes among students from other schools. But U.P. Fine Arts students were more conceptual. I’d say there were a few during my time at U.P. who were into social realism. But they were really just a few.
What is your view on artists painting social realism? Do you in any way share their vision or sentiments?
I respect their opinions and their reasons for wanting to express their views through visuals but I am not a social realist. I have never attempted to do a painting on social realism.
Whose works influenced you during your student years?
Mr. Chabet had a great influence on me. He was as a terror among the students at that time and like the other students I attended his class with fear. He used to stand behind me to watch what I was doing. That made me very conscious and scared of whatever comments he might say until one day he said to me that he liked my paintings. His words made me paint and attend his class with confidence. I also liked the paintings of the other artists under Mr. Chabet from the higher batches.
6 x 6 feet, oil on canvas, 1989
Who are your contemporaries in school?
Bernardo Pacquing is one of my batch mates who pursued painting. The rest went into advertising.
Was UP CFA encouraging students to be modern and contemporary in their outlook and forms in painting?
Yes, very much. We dealt with concepts to create our art pieces. We were given problems to solve through visuals.
What makes UP CFA different from other art schools?
Just like the other art schools, we had subjects in techniques, but unlike the others we were never taught the basics on painting and drawing. We were expected to have the talent for it. We just had to discover ourselves to express ourselves. The plates we did helped bring out what each of us had.
3 x 4 feet, oil on canvas, 1989
Did you apply for any job after school or did you have a show in an art gallery?
Even while in school, I was already invited to join group shows. I conducted art workshops at Kulay Diwa for 2 summers. Right after college I received commissions for paintings for offices and for client’s personal collection. I was included in group exhibits. I never applied for any job. Our family owns an agency for promo and merchandising services which I have since been involved in. But whenever I had paintings to work on, I gave priority to my paintings.
6 x 6 feet, oil on canvas, 1989
Do you remember the first painting that you sold?
I was in 3rd yr college then. It was a series of four 2x2s. I sold them for Php1,500 each. It had juxtaposed images of African art objects and masks mixed with modern art.
What was the first gallery that carried your works?
Tell me, for a newly graduate of fine arts wishing to have a show, what are some of the efforts you went through for a gallery to carry your works?
At that time, there were so many things that I wanted to do. Strange as it might sound, to have a show wasn’t an ultimate goal then. I was so content that I was earning from the paintings I was commissioned to do. But if I had to go back in time, I would be working to have shows right away.
Boy with a Horseshoe
6 x 8 feet, oil on canvas, 1989
Can you tell me some details regarding your first exhibit?
The first exhibit was for my thesis. I looked through magazines for photos that I wanted to turn into paintings. Many photos stand only as photos but there are some which I look at and sense how strong they would be when turned into paintings. My paintings were large scale works – 6’x 6’, 5’x 7’, 6’x 8’. I worked on even the carpentry of some of my stretchers and I stretched my canvases myself.
How long does it take you to finish one painting?
Hmmm, can’t really say. I work on smaller canvases now – 3’ x 3’s and 4’ x 4’s. With many other responsibilities, it takes me weeks to finish one painting. However on days when there are lesser interruptions, I work faster. I used to finish my large scale paintings in 2-3 weeks. Back when I didn’t have kids yet.
Portrait of Justice Cruz
20 x 26 inches, oil on canvas, 1994
Do you agree that the first exhibit of a painter could make or break his career? Did this apply to you?
Oh yes. Based on the first set of paintings I made, I’ve been branded for my style. It flatters me that people still remember my first works and based on those works I was able to get clients who commissioned me to paint for their personal collection.
Are you a member of any artist group?
I’m a member of the U.P. Artists’ Circle. Other members are Rock Drilon, Benjie Cabangis, Pablo Biglangawa, Pete Jimenez, Popo San Pascual, Bernie Pacquing, Mark Meily, Ranelle Dial, Poklong Anading, among others.
Have you ever won any important awards?
Not in any art competitions. I graduated a cum laude though in 1989.
They Never Posed After All
4 x 4 feet, oil on canvas, 1994
Do you think awards help in making the painter become commercially recognized?
Does this help in the value placed in the succeeding works after winning an award?
I believe so.
Portrait of Sally Cruz
24 x 30 inches, oil on canvas, 2004
Do you think a painter can commercially become successful without receiving any award in his career?
Is there any award that you wished you have won?
Nothing in particular. Though it would have certainly been an honor if I won in a competition but as I observed my works don’t have the formula to win in competitions.
What competitions have you joined in the past?
Metrobank, AAP, PLDT
16 x 20 inches, oil on canvas, 2004
How long does it take you to finish one work?
Depends on all other activities and responsibilities I have.
How long does it take you to complete the works for an upcoming exhibition?
Around four to six months.
2 x 4 feet, oil on canvas, 2005
And how do you price your work?
The price is based on the quality and the kind of work that I put into each piece and the size. When I’ve sold paintings at a certain price I maintain that price to protect my collectors. Somehow the price for my next works have to be computed to figure out the price for a particular size.
4 x 6 feet, oil on canvas, 2005
Are your works available for sale only in galleries or can collectors buy works directly from you?
Collectors can go to galleries for my works. Some also go directly to me.
Concrete Details 1 and 2
oil on canvas, 2005
What is your most exciting time to paint?
I paint any time within the day and even until the next day when necessary. But I particularly like painting when everyone in the house is already asleep. Usually my best time to paint is from 11 pm-3 am. But even though I like this schedule, when I’ve had a long and tiring day, I couldn’t work at this time anymore.
2 x 5 feet, oil on canvas, 2005
Roma, I have noticed that most of your works are photograph-inspired, how did this style come about?
It was because of the plates asked by Chabet for us to do. He made us copy only what we saw. From there, I discovered my style, choice of work and subjects I wanted to paint. There was a time when a friend challenged me to paint a close up black and white image of an angry pitbull. I turned it into a 6’x 6’ painting. That’s how my series on black and white started. A few times Chabet gave me suggestions of photos to paint which I found a bit too strong. He thought it was the kind of things I wanted to paint because of the angry pitbull that I did. This led me to search for more subjects to paint. The choice was just personal. I painted what appealed to me and those I assessed would come out very strong as paintings.
2 x 3 feet, oil on canvas, 2005
How tall are you? I can see that most of your works are taller than you. Out of curiosity, how do you manage to accomplish a 6 x 6 work? Do you use a ladder?
5’4”. Yes, I use a ladder. But I don’t do very tall paintings anymore. Usually up to five feet only.
Could you tell me the process that you go through in painting? Do you cut images from magazines and paint it?
Yes, I go through magazines and photos I personally took. Sometimes I paint only cropped images of them, sometimes the entire picture. Depends on how the images appeal to me.
Grandma's Heritage Captured in a Time-torn Book Cover
5 x 6 feet, oil on canvas, 2005
Are you a big movie fan? Do you have plans of painting a movie moment that can pass up for a good painting?
I’m not a movie fan. I just watch when I have the time. Sometimes, I just catch good movies on HBO and on DVDs. I’ve never considered painting a scene or a moment from movies. But if I’ll come across something that I feel would become a good painting material, then I guess it would be worth considering.
Is childhood your favorite subject?
Not really. The two images of children that I painted, I particularly like. Actually, I have photos of my kids that I’d like to paint too. But I haven’t had the time for that yet. Just as a carpenter could not build his own house, I too haven’t painted for my personal collection.
Your paintings remind me of Norman Rockwell’s works, how do you find his works?
Oh they’re very detailed too. I like them but I wouldn’t say that I had any conscious attempt to follow his style or to be influenced by him.
What subjects do you find enjoyable or even challenging?
Subjects with light and shadow, depth, texture and details. Subjects with rich and contrasting colors, and black and whites.
5 x 6 feet, oil on canvas, 2006
Could you enumerate any local painters who had an influence on your art?
I don’t feel I’ve been influenced by any local artist. I’d say my UPFA days led me to find myself and my style.
What about foreign influences? Who have fascinated your imagination?
I like the style of Gustav Klimt, but I can’t say that I was in any way influenced by his works. I just find his works very interesting. I enjoy looking through art books and appreciating the artworks of other artists. Sometimes, I consciously try to do a twist of something I appreciate however, like penmanship, my own style and personality still comes out in my works. I’d say my imagination for my paintings is inspired and fascinated more by photographs which I feel would look good when turned into large scale or even small works.
24 x 24 inches, oil on canvas, 2007
Do you like any American or British painters?
I like British painter Belinda Eaton; Robert Schoeller, but he’s an Austrian based in Florida; American painter Judith Pond Kudlow. Actually, there are many more American and British artists whose works I see and like. I come across their works in magazines and in the net.
Is there a conscious effort on your side to paint differently?
Oh, I premeditated this question (smiles). There were times when I tried to change my style to finish faster but I end up going back to the style I am most comfortable with.
What is that one painting that you wish you are the author of?
Nothing I can think of right now. But I like a lot of Renaissance paintings. I also like paintings of icons. I don’t know why. But I haven’t done anything influenced by icons yet. I’ve only done a work influenced by Da Vinci’s paintings.
24 x 24 inches, mixed media on canvas, 2008
What has been the most interesting art piece you have seen?
Really can’t say… I’ve seen so many that I greatly appreciate. Hard to pick the most interesting.
What do your parents have to say about your works?
My mom knows that I spend sleepless nights working on details. She suggests that I change my style to finish faster. My dad doesn’t understand why I paint macro images of stones. But otherwise I know they are proud of my works. They go to the exhibits I am a part of and invite friends too. They enjoy posing for photos beside my paintings. There was an image of a famous landmark in Split, Croatia, then Yugoslavia, that I painted. I got the image from my grandmother who was a Yugoslav. My mom was so proud of it that she sent a photo of it to our relatives there. Even though they have difficulty communicating in English, they were deeply touched that someone from here painted something that is a part of their heritage.
Ain't Summer Over Yet?
3 x 3 feet, oil on canvas, 2008
You mentioned of having relatives in Croatia, can you tell me about your family history?
My grandmother was Anka Blaskovic. We called her Mama Nona. Nona is Italian for lola. She was 15 when she married my grandfather, Leovigildo de los Reyes, a native of Indang, Cavite. He was in the U.S. Navy when he met Mama Nona in Yugoslavia. They communicated in Spanish. She did not speak English. Guess it was true love because both of them were not really very good at speaking Spanish. They got married there, went to the Philippines two years after. She lived in Indang until she died at age of 91. She never visited her hometown until she was 79. By that time all her siblings had already died.
I come from a big family. My grandparents have 11 children. I have about 40 cousins, almost all have families of their own also. A lot of us are artistic in different ways. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins into crafts, interior designing, music, sculpture, and painting too. My sons also paint. I see in them a natural talent. I find the innocence in their works very beautiful. I guess it is safe to say that our creativity comes from my mom’s side of the family.
48 x 48 inches, oil on canvas, 2008
Is Roma your complete name?
It’s Roma Anna. Anna is local for Anka. I would have wanted to be named Roma Anka instead.
Is becoming a painter the best decision you made in your life?
I always have a deep sense of fulfillment every time I finish a painting. I just wish I had more time to paint. I have two kids and I give a lot of my time to them. They won’t be kids forever after all that is why I spend a lot of time with them now. My kids say that when they’re older I’ll have more time to make more paintings.
Protect Me Not
2 x 3 feet, oil on canvas, 2008
Do you want your children to become an artist like you?
Sure, why not? I’d like them to be artists while doing other things also. My sons enjoy drawing and painting. I get amazed at the things they come up with. Sometimes they seem beyond their age. They have a natural sense of perspective. They have also discovered to do animation using the video on their cellphones. They make their toys move, or use clay and drawings for their animations.
How old are your kids? How are you as a mother to them?
My kids are 10 and 7 years old. I’m a super hands-on mom. I’ve given up so many things for them. I’m all out when it comes to my children’s activities and interests. I’m very supportive. When needed, I review them their lessons, check their homework, and make sure they have everything for school done on time. I cook for them, bring them to school, pick them up. I allow them to explore. I’m a friend to them but I’m also strict. We enjoy going out, eating out, going out of town.
I’m proud of my kids. They’re both doing very well in school. My eldest son is number 2 in class, while my younger son is number 1. My eldest is now with the Acts Society. They are preparing for their play “Once on This Island” which will be shown at the Insular Life in Alabang on Feb 12, 14, and 15. It’s a Broadway musical that was taken to the Philippines by Director Dulce Bayan. I take him to his rehearsals and pictorials. I’m not sure if it’s him or me who is more excited about this project.
What has been the best thing written about you?
My paintings have been on print but not me. I haven’t had anything written about me yet. So far, comments and appreciation for my works from gallery owners, collectors and artists are the best things I’ve heard about my paintings.
60 x 40 inches, oil on canvas, 2008
And what has been the worst?
Some have commented that my works are simply blown up pictures.
What can you say is your clear talent in painting?
I guess it’s being able to capture the reality of the images I put on canvas. I also get to put an illusion of depth in my works. Chabet once commented that my works are sharper than Photoshop.
That was flattering, have you always known that you have a talent in painting when you were growing up?
Yes. In fact I grew up knowing that I would be an artist someday.
How would you differentiate your works from your contemporaries?
There are many realists among my contemporaries. Each one captures the reality of the objects they paint. However, like I said, style comes naturally. I paint with thick paint and I apply the paint in a stippling manner. I wouldn’t want to compare my works with any of their works as each one has its own distinct character.
18 x 24 inches, oil on canvas, 2007
Let’s say you are not an artist, what painting will I see hanging in your bedroom or living room?
I can’t imagine myself not being an artist. Let me see, maybe something with texture and detail. Maybe something classical or anything that looks close to classical.
Any particular work of a painter?
I’d commission Robert Schoeller for a family portrait, but certainly I won’t be able to afford that.
You look prim…tell me about you?
Thank you. I like dressing up and looking good. But I don’t buy very expensive stuff. I am very practical when it comes to spending. I just buy what I need. Actually, I don’t mind spending for my kids. But when it is for myself, I think twice. I like staying at home, fixing things around the house and reading magazines on interior. I have a non-conventional style in decorating the house. I like unusual things but not weird ones.
What do you classify as weird things?
Hmmm, things beyond my grasp I guess, things that have a different impact on me. Unusual things are not necessarily weird. In fact unusual things can be interesting. All a matter of taste… kinda hard to explain.
18 x 24 inches, mixed media, 2007
Where were you schooled for your elementary and high school education?
St. Paul College Pasig.
What is a typical weekday for a painter like you?
I wake up at 5, prepare breakfast, get my kids ready for school, then drive and make sure they get to school on time. While they’re not home, I paint in between other activities, go to the office when necessary, pick up the kids in the afternoon, go to the grocery when needed, check on the kids’ homework, make sure everything is prepared for the next day, cook, try to get the kids to sleep early which is usually hard to do, paint till I can.
Anything interesting you do on weekends?
I’m with family on weekends. Either we go out or stay at home. I don’t go to the market. I get everything at Hypermart.
Aside from painting, what are the other things that interest you?
Architecture, interior design, current affairs and health tips.
9 x 12 inches, oil on canvas, 2009
You mentioned interiors, are you an interior designer?
No, I’m not. I just enjoy looking through interior mags.
Do you consider yourself a healthy eater?
Well, yes. I don’t eat meat much. I don’t like fatty foods. I like fruits. Though there are sweets I can’t resist, I try not to eat too much of them. However, I don’t have time for exercise and relaxation. Something I wish I had.
As a painter, you meet a lot of people, have you met anyone interesting?
Oh yes. A lot. Artists have a different sense of intelligence and ideas.
Have you met anyone that turned you off?
Do you like the crowd you move in the art circle?
It’s nice to see artists every now and then. However, my lifestyle now does not allow me to do so. I don’t attend openings regularly even if I want to. I have different priorities. I don’t think there is anything I like or not like in particular about the people in the art scene. When I attend art gatherings or see artists, I have my mind set on that particular event and somehow I know what to expect.
Pick One Too
9 x 12 inches, oil on canvas, 2009
Artists travel to other places to do shows, where have you been so far?
I’ve traveled to Europe, the U.S., and places around the Philippines but not to do shows. Hopefully, I’d be able to have shows in other places some time soon.
What should your collectors expect from you in the next two years?
More paintings, more shows.
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