Last October, printmaker Ambie carefully prepared her application dossier for the Alliance Française de Manille-Philippine Artist Residency (AFM-PARP) grant. It offered a three-month, all-expenses paid scholarship to France.
After some research and exchange of e-mails with friend and pioneer printmaker Ofelia Gelvezón-Téqui, she wrote her proposal to study the print technique of color viscosity at the atelier La Taille-Douce in Paris, where Gelvezón-Téqui herself had once studied. At the same time, she was busy preparing an exhibition of her works for February 2011 at Alliance Française’s Total Gallery.
Mid-January came, she realized upon arriving at AFM that the interviews were scheduled alphabetically according to the five finalists’ surnames. She was to be the first! She was interviewed for about 45 minutes.
The next day, she got an e-mail from the president of the AFM board of directors informing her she had been selected to receive the first AFM-PARP grant!
Everything went very fast after that. Her exhibition at the AFM Total Gallery titled “Surface,” and subtitled “Explorations with Woodcut and Painting,” ran on February with a good number of sales.
Present among the large crowd at the opening was friend and mentor National Artist and former dean of CFA Napoleon “Billy” Abueva.
The author, who is president of the board of directors of Alliance Française came, also in a wheelchair, to open the exhibition. She had just arrived the day before from a meeting in Paris and was suffering from a severely painful lumbar problem. In her brief speech, she said she had to come because she had promised Ambie, and to formally announce that Ambie had been chosen to receive the first-ever AFM-PARP grant.
With Ambie’s permission, here follow excerpts and photographs from her e-mailed letters to the author over a period of two months. As expected, they abound with exclamations, as she discovers the Paris which printmaker Pandy Aviado calls the “Mecca for printmakers.”
It is my hope that this account will interest, inspire and guide the artists who will subsequently be awarded the AFM-PARP grant in the years to come:
May 7—Settling in at the Cité
I’m actually in Paris, Deanna!
Danny is such an angel!
[Danny V. is a Filipino who has lived in Paris some 30 years, a close friend of the author whom she asked to “take care” of Ambie.] It made all the difference that he was there to pick me up at the airport and welcome me to Paris.
We took the RER to Châtelet and walked to the Cité so he could introduce the city to me. It’s magnificent! The historic architecture, old churches, charming outdoor cafés, cobblestone walks, pocket gardens, pigeons… and perfect weather, too! Wow, talaga!
After settling my registration at Cité (my room is on the 5th floor facing Seine River from where I can see the Notre Dame towers! How much nicer can it be?), he took me to his house and fed me lunch—sinigang na baka [a Filipino dish of boiled beef in a sour tamarind broth] and rice!, then cake and Hawaiian coffee.
We then went to the Immigration Office to have my visa stamped—all went well. I got a lot of tips on how to get to places, where to go for what—survival information! He is wonderful!
Ofie also called to check on me, make sure everything’s good. [Ofelia T., an accomplished Filipino painter and printmaker now living with retired French banker-husband Marc in the Périgord region, southwestern France.] She also called Françoise to tell her I was coming. [Françoise B. is proprietor/teacher/printmaker of atelier La Taille-Douce].
The following day, I went to Françoise’s studio and met Laurence and her other students. She’s an amazing woman! I went that day just to make arrangements with her but she gave me trial plates and right off I learned about deep biting, which got me excited. I will go to her only on Thursdays and Saturdays—the only days she is available. I paid her 400 euros for the three months.
May 10—Getting acclimatized, initial contacts
I bought some wood from BHV (Bazaar de l’Hôtel de Ville department store) so that I can make some woodcuts—very surprised at the price. When it comes to materials, Filipinos are luckier.
May 12—Meeting other artists
Things are getting better in terms of making connections. I went to an exhibit here at the Cité the other night and a free concert afterwards (very good French guitarist and Russian pianist). I met a young artist from New York who studied printmaking at a workshop I know of in Manhattan. Yesterday there was an artists’ reception where I met some more artists from all over… at least those who speak English. Then went to see an Impressionists exhibit at the City Hall with two Argentine ladies.
I also spoke with Mr. Ovejero and have arranged to go to their place on Saturday after my class. We will be going to an exhibition. [José María and Chantal Ovejero are close friends of the author. He is a painter and she is an art historian and writer].
Danny took me to the palengke (market) near Chinatown in Belleville. It was a lot of fun… and I have rice now!
May 25—Touring Paris sites, news of ACC grant I have met with the Ovejeros who are really very nice—they took me to their friends’ place in Meudon, who regularly open their house for art exhibitions. It’s a lovely area, with beautiful houses of stone and brick. Then I met again with Chantal for Mass the following Sunday at Saint-Séverin [not as conservative as Saint-Gervais where I went the last time].
There was a barbecue and free lunch with the community. There we met some nuns who had been to the Philippines and knew my aunt who was also a nun.
Then Chantal arranged for me to go to Versailles with José María and their friend Claire for a picnic. Claire and I were able to visit the palace for free as she used to work there. Seeing Versailles provoked my interest in French history—the monarchy, and how the aristocracy had lived the way they did and how it affected society.
Yesterday, I had not just a pleasant time with Christiane, but a valuable encounter with a sensitive person. Our visit to the Couvent des Bernardins and Institut du Monde Arabe, and conversation might have been for just a couple of hours, but quite valuable and timely for me. I will join her and her American friends tomorrow. [Christiane S. is French, a retired teacher, and is the best friend of the author.]
There were moments of solitude and isolation, especially in the beginning, but I take it as an important part of the learning process. It provokes me to think, to question, and gives me a chance to introspect and be more conscious of the self, perhaps toward a deeper understanding and appreciation of identity and a strengthening of a sense of self. It is a struggle, but it’s a part of the process and there will be an appreciation of that as well, I suspect.
May 27—Practice plates at La Taille-Douce
I will soon be starting some of my own images in Françoise’s class. Meantime, all I have been working on are practice plates—that’s the way to learn, she says, and I see the value in that.
When I first got here, I thought that inspiration for what I would be working on would sink in immediately, but it was not the case. I still have just a vague idea of what to work on. I trust that it will come in good time.
On Monday, I will be giving an artist’s talk and demonstration to a small group arranged by a friend I met in class, around seven people composed of psychologists, an artist and some of their patients.
Have also spent some time with Gaston—he invited me for dinner last Wednesday. I admire him for being a grounded and serious artist—still truly Filipino in spite of being away for a long time. [Gaston D. is a Filipino artist living in Paris. He exhibits his work in Manila occasionally.]
May 28—Discovering Montparnasse
I joined Christiane today as she toured her friend Liliane and her group of young, well-mannered American students in Montparnasse. Very interesting to know how the area was such a significant place for very important artists—Modigliani, Picasso, Hemingway—artists and writers alike… and to discover Rodin’s “Balzac” at a very unassuming space along the boulevard Raspail. Fun and informative!
June 4—Exhibitions at the Grand Palais
I spent the afternoon with Christiane, had a great picnic at Bercy… later saw two exhibitions at the Grand Palais—poet Aimé Césaire, Wilfredo Lam and Picasso in “Nous Nous Sommes Trouvés” and “Nature et Idéal.”
I enjoy Christiane’s company a lot—I learn much from her and our exchanges open new things for both of us. I think we agree that getting out of your country, and an encounter with another, widens your perspective and deepens your appreciation of your own—there is a renewed spirit of being [Filipino] and a desire to take part more actively and conscientiously as a citizen. Christiane also gave me a little lesson in French.
Class at Françoise’s was a little tough yesterday. I made some mistakes in the method of etching as I had been so used to a different process in the Philippines, something opposite to her process—it can be confusing. She told me, “Ça va aller.” Christiane explained to me what it meant, and in what context.
June 13—Learning new techniques at La Taille Douce
Things are going better with my classes at Françoise’s. We had some sort of misunderstanding last week. It turns out that the practice of some techniques in the Philippines (at least, how I learned them) are quite different from what she does. She expected me to know the way it was done here, but I could not deliver accordingly.
Later, I think Ofie talked to her over the phone about the problem. Am still on some practice plates but will soon do some of my own images (not abstract, thank God), yet she still discourages portraits (which I intended) as they will be very difficult apparently.
She thinks, for a beginner, the portrait can be a complicated image for color viscosity printing. It involves different levels of biting by the acid and it is difficult to determine how the image will come out.
I take her word for it and will abide by her instructions as she is the teacher and I’m sure she knows what she’s talking about. Will be doing simple images, perhaps some architectural details.
I have started to collect stuff from trash I come across on the street and the Métro, the discarded wooden fruit trays from which I can make woodcuts. Although I cannot make big works from them, they are of manageable quality, very easy to cut.
With your permission, I would like to later buy some oil paints, brushes and tools from the money you sent.
June 14—Discovering affinities with Latin American art
I have found some good deals on books in English. The most expensive is 40 euros (not on sale), on Mexican printmaking, particularly woodcut and how they used it as a means toward social and political reforms.
It has always amazed me how the sensibilities of Philippine art identifies closely to that of Latin American art more than our own neighboring countries. Of course, it has to do with being colonized by Spain for hundreds of years, yet we don’t identify with Spanish art itself. Perhaps it is rooted in parallel experience and identity issues, the sentiment for and interest in similar issues.
There are similarities of choices of hues, strength or subtleties of lines and forms. Yet each has a uniqueness all its own.
Discussing our histories, way of life and present issues with the Argentines and my Ecuadorean friend makes it clear to me that expression is not solely individualistic—that we cannot separate our being an individual from our being of or belonging to a specific history or society with a collective experience and present disposition as a result of that experience. It has enlightened me a bit on why it is not so easy to blend and ground oneself immediately in a remote and different setting, as I have experienced during my first few weeks in Paris.
Regarding the stipend, I would say it is sufficient and can go a long way if one knows how to budget for food (thanks to Danny’s valuable tips). For the next PARP recipient, I would be most willing to share my own experience should he or she welcome it.
Regarding your query about the Cité des Arts building, it might have been built in the ’70s or ’80s, and, like other buildings of its kind here, it favors simple lines and forms— unlike the more daring and explorative forms of contemporary architecture in the US, Singapore, or even the Philippines.
I find them quite odd standing amid the centuries-old buildings that hold the charm of Paris.
Nevertheless, I have the best view from the balcony of my studio—River Seine with the Île Saint-Louis on the left; the Panthéon a distance across; the Notre Dame and Tour Eiffel to the west. What more can I ask for—it’s soooooo Paris!
I have collected printed paper from shops or souvenir catalogues, bread paper wrappers, disposable paper placemats and bought some posters to print on.
June 21—Visiting the Louvre, making more friends
Yesterday, I went to the Louvre with one of my Argentine friends. It has such an amazing collection—but it can be a visual overload!
One can only take so much. We were there for at least six hours!
I enjoyed very much the featured exhibition of Rembrandt paintings, drawings and prints. It was so exciting for me to see the actual copper plate from which he printed “Descent from the Cross,” and spent a while studying it. I even had to explain the process to one of the visitors who was curious as to what it was.
I also liked an exhibition of works on paper and the landscapes of Claude Lorrain.
I have gone back to the Grand Palais to see Anish Kapoor’s installation “Monumenta 2011”—couldn’t get enough of it!
On Saturday, I went to the Festival des Droits Humains et des Cultures du Monde in L’Haÿ-les-Roses with some Arab artists from the Cité—Tunisian, Palestinian and Moroccan. I had a good conversation with the Palestinian and have learned about his sentiments as an artist from Gaza.
Exposure to art and artists from a different culture makes me see how art is naturally drawn from present conditions and realities, and makes me even more curious how art relates to and affects viewers.
Chantal called me on Sunday and I met her and José María at the Saint-Séverin Church, where there was a feast. We had lunch with the community in the garden. I met a few people, two of whom were Filipinas. I took photos of some others for future reference for portraits.
Chantal walked me to the Musée Cluny, telling me all about the Middle Ages, and said she would take time to bring me there next time. It is such an amazing building! I appreciate the company of both Chantal and Christiane as I learn much from their knowledge of history, and they are both so kind to me. I feel so blessed.
June 22—Shopping at JoopStoop, artists’ paradise
Danny accompanied me to JoopStoop yesterday. How I enjoyed the store with all the printmaking materials most of which were not available in the Philippines—it was a sort of paradise! I bought ink, roller, carving tools, linoleum and paper—oh, but expensive! I spent 108 euros. There was a small etching press but too expensive.
After that, we went to his house and as expected I had a feast with his gourmet dinner. Then we went to the Latin Quarter to check out the celebration of the first day of summer and Fête de la Musique. It did not rain, but it was rather cold. It was fun.
June 30—Printmaking Fair at Saint-Sulpice, galleries at Bastille quartier
Yesterday, I went to Place Saint-Sulpice to see a huge printmaking fair—La Taille-Douce had a space there. It was pretty much like Art in the Park, but this one had prints only. I was wowed!
Today, I went to visit the contemporary-art galleries in the Bastille area with my Palestinian friend and new neighbor from Abu Dhabi. The shows vary widely—some are very well curated and serious exhibitions while some are mere displays of what seem to be amateur painters (excuse the term).
Some of the spaces are huge, and would be exciting to use for installation works.
There was an exceptional exhibit by a 37-year-old female artist from Germany. It had guns, bullets and bombs juxtaposed with Smarties candies and fine things she missed as a child which she realized only after the Berlin Wall was torn down.
The owner of the gallery was very pleasant and spent some time talking to us. We asked for calling cards from each gallery for future reference.
Also saw some Marcel Duchamp.
Ambie Abaño will leave Paris for the Philippines on Aug. 19 after three months and a half in France. She will have an exhibition and an artist’s talk at AFM in 2012, either before or after her ACC residency grant.
Deanna Ongpin-Recto is president of Alliance Française de Manille, and has been awarded the Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.