Pushing 93 in August, artist Elena “Morita” Roces is still strong as an ox.
Aside from being prolific with her functional and religious art, she rows a hundred strokes a day in her machine, does a mean Argentine tango replete with leg wraps and flicks, takes voice lessons, and can carry a three-kilo bag.
“At a certain age, you need to sing, dance, play an instrument to support your breath,” she says over a merienda of crispy homemade churros and thick Spanish chocolate.
Her real breath of life is her artwork— signature stone-encrusted Mother-and-Child tableaux and decorative paintings that are rendered on doors, chairs and tables. Her latest obra are foldable altars that can fit a condo unit.
Despite her poor eyesight, Morita remains a prolific artist. She manages a group of artisans to interpret her vision, and spends a lot of time revising the elements before a work is completed.
The subjects are either sketched from her imagination or appropriated from books. Her style is characterized by her liberal use of color and stylish details which enliven her subjects.
Morita uses acrylic and hints of gold to create eye-catching elements that resonate with the viewer. Her collection of doors not only tell a story, but also indicate the rooms; the door painted with lovers intertwined in a darkened area is ideal for a couple’s bedroom.
The painting of vegetables and breads on a wooden table indicates a kitchen door. A painting of two angels gazing at the light behind trees suggest a bedroom for girls, while the door with a painting of marine life is ideal for a male diver’s room.
On her fetish for doors, Morita explains that she hates to see flat, boring surfaces at home. Like Gustav Klimt, an Austrian symbolist painter, Morita masterfully combines a two-dimensional background perspective with three-
Modeling paste traces the silhouettes of her subjects to render the effect of a stained glass painting. Some mosaic-patterned doors are embellished with tiles for texture. There’s also a door with ornate carvings for the romantic homeowner.
Through the years, the Mother-and-Child tableaux has been Morita’s all-time bestseller, followed by the urns. Both works are decked with pearls, shells, semiprecious stones, found objects and trimmings.
The Mother-and-Child tableaux depict a serene Mary lovingly gazing at baby Jesus. Asked why she favors this classic theme, Morita says it symbolizes love and purity—qualities that she missed in her personal life.
Morita was born to an affluent family. Her father, Don Ramon Pardo Roces, established the komiks industry aside from the Manila Times. Her mother, Elena Hollman, died when Morita was very young. At 7 years old, Morita was left with her English nanny and was sent to boarding school at St. Scholastica’s.
From age 9 till 18, she lived in London. When she returned to Manila, she took up painting lessons with National Artist Vicente Manansala.
Morita was 19 when she married Dr. Mario Guerrero with whom she had three children.
She went on to venture into designing bridal wear and baby clothes, baking wedding cakes, decorating houses, painting placemats and boxes, and running a restaurant.
Since the late 20th century, Morita has been producing her functional art, coffins and urns included. She once told us that her art had encompassed major stages of life—from wedding to death.
Ultimately, art is Morita’s elixir of life. “Despite challenges, art is her sunshine,” says her close friend, sculptor Impy Pilapil.
Morita’s showroom is at 7 Pioneer Street Mandaluyong City; tel. 6339924