WEARY of decorating walls and ceilings with Old World techniques, Jose “Tata” Montilla takes his skills to the next level.
He combines gilding and chemistry to produce artworks of floating colors on copper and silver sheets. The results are abstractions on canvases that are warm and calming, inviting the observer to look closely and appreciate the subtle overlays of colors and changing hues.
“I fuse the old and the new. I integrate gilding and oxidation, and present the process in a contemporary setting. I want to modernize these decorative finishes and not keep them where they are,” he says.
On his coming solo exhibit titled “Minerals” at Warehouse 17 in Makati, Montilla has produced abstractions that apply techniques in painting and interior decorative finishes.
Like a painter, he primes the canvas with paint, lays out his design by stenciling rectangles with masking tape, gilds the surface with copper or silver, and then applies chemicals.
The effect of these chemicals on the metal and the other elements produce either a mottled effect or a marble-like finish of different colors.
Montilla explains that when he does a decorative finish for a project, he has to make the color very even. In his artworks, he lets himself go as he experiments with the process to get interesting results.
“The results depend on the temperature of day and the exact mix of chemicals,” he says. “You tune in to the chemicals and watch how you react to each other. Sometimes, you can get vibrant blues and pinks from copper.”
One copper leaf abstraction has produced washes of yellow-green, orange and pink. Another shows dispersions of gold, brown and russet.
He also pays homage to Old World décor by making two mirrors using verre eglomise (French term meaning gilded glass). It is a traditional way of covering the reverse of a piece of glass with fragile metal leaf, and engraving patterns into it.
“All you see are the squares of the silver leaf,” says Montilla, who once had a client ask him to use 24-karat gold for a verre eglomise project.
Creative at heart
For many years, Montilla—a veteran equestrian—was known in Manila Polo Club for giving polo players their riding basics and teaching dressage.
A creative person at heart, he followed his instincts and took up decorative finishes with American mentor JoAnne Day in San Francisco.
When the Hunt-Phelan home, a historic mansion in Memphis used in the American Civil War, was being restored in the mid-1990s, Day asked Montilla to join the restoration team.
Returning to Manila, Montilla sharpened his skills by way of his friends’ homes—on condition that he could show their walls to prospective clients. This brought him jobs for model units and residences.
In the early 2000s, Montilla went to Bangkok to learn to speak, read and write Thai. Falling in love with its culture, he lived in Bangkok for seven years, working as an instructor in riding schools and doing decorative finishing for clients and learning about plants.
After the novelty of Bangkok wore off, he again came back and started doing landscaping and turning his decorative finishes into art.
Now he plans to study Japanese calligraphy in Kanazawa. “I want to learn the technique not so much as to write Kanji but to use the materials correctly,” he says. “I could infuse this with what I’m doing. I follow my passions and never stop learning.”
Tata Montilla’s exhibit, “Minerals,” is on view at Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Compound, 2241 Chino Roces Ave., Makati City; e-mail [email protected]; tel. 4781717