One might be tempted to call Paulina Luz Sotto an “accidental artist”—if her grandfather wasn’t National Artist Arturo Luz.
“I had zero plans,” says the 27-year-old painter, the daughter of television host Vic Sotto and former actress Angela Luz.
“I thought about it for a while,” she admits. “I thought about taking up Fine Arts in college, but then I thought, ‘What are the chances that I’ll become successful like my grandfather? The chances are so slim, I’m not even going to risk it. I’ll just go for something safe, like Advertising.’ But I guess it still found me. I guess it’s in the genes.”
Sotto eventually graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Communications and a plan to work in the advertising industry. But before buckling down to the daily grind, she decided to take a year off.
“During that gap year I focused on my hobbies,” she recalls. “I was dancing, singing, I was playing badminton, and then I started doing calligraphy, because that was the time the calligraphy trend started, with Abbey Sy.”
Call it nature trumping nurture, but her calligraphy soon began to morph into abstract paintings.
Not surprisingly, her early efforts bore a striking resemblance to her grandfather’s iconic works, with their cleanly executed lines and restrained color palette.
What is surprising is the fact that Sotto says her grandfather never taught her anything about painting, she never saw him at work, either. Any influence was absorbed subconsciously, by osmosis. She is completely self-taught, learning how to paint from the internet, and by trial and error.
Sotto started posting her paintings on her social media pages, where they found an audience. People started asking if they could buy the paintings. Eventually, she decided to focus full-time on her art.
Three years, three one-man exhibits and five group shows later, she’s finally sharing the stage with her grandfather as part of Rustan’s for the Arts showcase for 2019. The retail chain has been supporting the arts since its inception.
The exhibit, which runs until April 30 on the 3rd floor of Rustan’s Shangri-La, pairs her paintings with limited-edition prints by Arturo Luz.
Lifestyle caught up with the artist at the opening of the exhibit.
Choice of color
Lifestyle: How has your art developed over the years? When you were starting out, the influence of your grandfather was very apparent in your paintings, even in your choice of colors—black, white, red, ochre …
Paulina Luz Sotto: … and gray. That is true. It was three years ago that I started and I really limited myself to those colors. For some reason, those were the only colors I was attracted to. People who wanted to commission paintings started asking, “Can you make a blue one? Can you use green?” And I was like, “No, I hate blue and green!” For some reason, I started adding one color, and another, and one day I said, “I want to do a rainbow painting!” From then on I started appreciating different color palettes and departing from what I started with.
The Arturo Luz “less is more” approach, that’s where you started from?
I’m still doing that now, I still believe that less is more, that simpler is better. But compared to my works before, they look a little more … busy. At the same time I still like to keep it simple, with very neat lines. One of the hardest parts for me as an artist is knowing when to stop painting. Sometimes it becomes a little too much and I have to restrain myself.
Are you moving toward making a complete break from that style, the Arturo Luz style?
I think it’s very different—it has the same vibe but very much on its own. I see other abstract art like [Ivan] Acuña, and I love it, and I always think, “Maybe I should try it.” But people already know my art—the neat lines, the very clean edges—and I’m very hesitant to depart from that, just because it’s what I’m “known” for.
How do you relate to the contemporary art scene?
The art scene is booming, specially modern art. I’m just trying to stick to what I know. There are so many good artists out there, but I’m quite successful with what I’m doing, so I’ll just keep on doing it and hopefully, people will keep relating to what I paint.
Did your grandfather ever teach you directly, like tell you what he likes or doesn’t like?
People assume that because I grew up with him, he would teach me things or that I would watch him work. I’ve never seen him work. He’s never given me any piece of technical advice ever. We’re both Scorpios, we like to be alone when we work. But he never tried to influence me in any way to be an artist. When I told him this was happening, he was so surprised, because there was nothing. I think subconsciously I was absorbing everything. I think that’s what happened. But he never really taught me anything. He does tell me that he likes a certain painting, and he’ll ask me questions like, “What’s the first line you drew here?”
Did you ever feel intimidated by the fact that your grandfather is a National Artist?
Just being here, with my works beside his, for sure. Of course it’s intimidating. But the thing that keeps me going is, my family and my husband [Jed Llanes] are so supportive, so I don’t feel that pressure.
What’s your game plan for developing your artistic practice?
I just hope that whatever I’m doing now I’m still doing in the long-term. But specific plans—just keep painting, follow what I’m feeling. There are some days I wake up and I don’t want to paint, so I just don’t. But there are some days, like lately, that I have so many ideas, so I just keep on doing it and doing it. That’s what my lolo tells me also—just keep on painting, just keep on making more art. If it’s not broken, why fix it? Because sometimes I would go to him and say, “It’s so hard to come up with new ideas,” because you have to keep evolving. And he says, “Why do you need to come up with new ideas? What’s wrong with your old ones?” He gives me little pieces of advice like that.
Arturo Luz and Paulina Luz Sotto are on exhibit on the 3rd floor of Rustan’s Shangri-La until April 30, and on the 5th floor of Rustan’s Makati on May 3-15.