The slow and steady grace of exiting isolation

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SOCIETY effloresces in “Slowly We Unfurl,” a solo show by painter and sculptor Katrina Cuenca at Galerie Joaquin Rockwell in Makati City that captures the feeling of re-emergence. 

The exhibition, which runs until Nov. 25, features paintings and sculptures of flower-like forms on the cusp of blossoming. Petals rendered in muted, soothing shades move with steady grace and gently awaken. 

“We were very afraid and stuck at home most of the time [during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown],” Ms. Cuenca said over lunch at the gallery on Nov. 18. “Now it feels different. It’s something that I wanted to celebrate.”

“My figures go outside, either from outside to inside the canvas or from inside the canvas going outside, instead of the figure just being from inside the canvas,” Ms. Cuenca said. “It’s a symbolism of blossoming of humanity back into the world, into society and back into some sense of normalcy.”

“Slowly We Unfurl”is lighter than Ms. Cuenca’s previous work, in keeping with its hope for brighter days.

While the series retains elements of Ms. Cuenca’s signature style — the use of gold leaf along with flowing waves inspired by her mother’s love for the movement of betta fish — she also experimented with different materials.   

A few pieces feature a special black paint that absorbs 99.8% of light, resulting in a matte, dark finish. Others have a prismatic dichroic film attached onto an acrylic box, adding a holographic dimension when light hits.

Copper sculptures, which she began working on in 2020, are joined by blossoms painted on copper sheets.

The sculptures, which took her a year to figure out with the help of her artist friends, are three-dimensional versions of wave figures seen on her paintings. The copper sheets are cut and folded, then coated with seven layers of paint to achieve the desired luminosity and iridescence. It is then heated and left to cool off. The sheets are secured with brass rods standing on a base made of resin.

“It’s a different mindset. You have to make sure that it’s nice from all angles,” she said.

Ms. Cuenca, a self-taught painter and sculptor, has been drawing and painting since childhood. However, she took up finance instead of fine arts in college, and, upon graduating, took on jobs related to her course.

“After a few years of that I found more creative job opportunities and it was like I was being called back to what I really wanted to do,” she said.

Ms. Cuenca’s first dive into the art scene was in 2010, when she received an invitation to her first group show, but it wasn’t until 2015 that she regularly started exhibiting.

Since then, Ms. Cuenca has had multiple well-received solo exhibitions and has participated in ManilART in 2020 and 2021.

“I like art that speaks to me or has a story to tell, or pieces that spark a certain emotion or feeling,” Ms. Cuenca said. “I like that with abstract art you have to dig a bit deeper to understand what the artist is trying to convey. I believe that modern contemporary art conveys the zeitgeist of our generation and I enjoy seeing the different points of view of different artists.”

“Slowly We Unfurl” runs until Nov. 25 at Galerie Joaquin Rockwell. For more information, like Galerie Joaquin on Facebook and follow @galeriejoaquin on Instagram. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman