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The complexities of Love Marie.

As a celebrity and visual artist, a darling of two worlds that are superficially at odds, Love Marie Ongpauco Escudero's (popularly known as Heart Evangelista) artworks invite the viewer to pore over the struggles, triumphs, sorrows, and elations of her life that are so public people think they know them, too well. But to contemplate Heart's work on canvas or on an HermAaAaAeA?s Birkin or on couture clothes--so detached fr her work on TV or film or music--is to appreciate that we do not know her at all, at least not enough.

Images by Pinggot Zulueta

'Let her do what she wants.'

Heart has always been an artist. If that commercial agent didn't spot her in that mall all those years ago, then her first solo exhibit at the Ayala Museum, "I Am Love Marie," (which sold out an hour into its opening cocktail party) wouldn't have been Manila Bulletin's "scoop of the year," a revelation that stunned everyone from the showbiz, fashion, lifestyle, and art circles. If she had gone uninterrupted in pursuing this craft, her true passion, from a little girl drawing on the walls of their house to a young lady eager to bare her soul on canvas, then her signature LM wouldn't rouse any sneer or snigger. But then, her artistic journey, her coming-out party in the art world, wouldn't be as cathartic.

"I've been painting since I was a kid," Heart says. Her mom would get mad at her for painting on their walls but her dad always obliged. "'Let her do what she wants, she's going to be an artist,' he'd say," she recalls. She had short summer art courses at Ayala Museum when she was 11. At 13, she did formal art training with the highly acclaimed reclusive artist Ivan Roxas who gave up on her on their first session. "He said I was too hardheaded," she laughs. "He said I had a certain style he didn't want to touch. We became good friends after that."

Her showbiz career took off several years after. She was a bonafide pop star--an actress, a VJ, a model, a singer--her painting had to stop. "I would still do one or two paintings but very small ones. I guess I needed to go through life. I needed to be hit by a coconut on my head and really feel what true pain was in order for me to come out of my shell," she recalls.

She needed to conquer her fears to fill up that big canvas. She needed to own a vulnerability that forms part of her shape-shifting, always camera-ready faAaAaAeAoade. She needed to find herself. So she painted agai

"Looking back, all of my paintings are meaningful because they symbolize the periods of my life that were significant: I went through changes, I became independent, I explored the world and really saw what it was. Through my paintings I immortalized what I was feeling at a certain time," she says.

When she ran out of walls to hang her paintings on, her friend and mentor Ivan said it was time. And no matter the complexities of crossing over to the cutthroat business of the arts, no matter if she was too shy, no matter the little to no respect of the public to artistas, no matter the "little talks" ("So she's a singer with an album and now she's an artist with an exhibit? What's that?"), Love Marie took the leap and never looked back.

'I don't know they must be me.'

"I went to different galleries and they turned me down. I felt that people were judging me right then and there. They said Ayala Museum was full until the next year. Then all of a sudden, after a week, I got a call. The curator saw my work and liked it. I think it was more of they were surprised I could paint. Apparently, an artist backed out and they had a space for me the next month. At that time I already had 18 paintings. I was working on my 19th piece and I was so inspired and excited I finished it so quick. The next thing I knew, it was my first exhibit," she says.

Soon enough, her "girls," the sad yet contemplative women who popped out of the canvas amid dizzying prints and patterns, shapes and colors, flowers and fishes, were framed, sold, and shipped to their new owners' homes. "It was so hard for me to give away my paintings at first because my girls represented a certain emotion I was feeling when I painted them," she says. Her girls, however, were no self-portraits. "I don't know, they must be me, but I look at each painting as a friend," she muses. Or they were her daughters, borne from her blood, sweat, and tears.

Letting go of them meant she needed to give birth to more. She started painting more often. She developed a kind of discipline where she wouldn't allow herself to slack. She painted in her dressing room during tapings. She painted at home, which is also her studio. She found time even when there was literally no time (She's an in-demand celebrity, endorser, model, and a vice-presidentiable's wife, after all). "When I start painting it's hard to stop. It's obsessive. Once a specific girl or pattern comes to my head it stays there. It won't let me sleep."

But her creative process was nothing as "oppressive." She would start with a nice glass of wine. She'd put on music ("Dancing" by Italian singer-songwriter Elisa is one of her current favorites). She likes painting alone but sometimes, unlike other artists, she enjoys having people around while she works. "I like the chat. I like the stories. Maybe it has to do with me being an entertainer. I'm used to people watching me do my thing. I find comfort in it. I don't lose myself in my work too much."

'I will paint until my last breath.'

For her creative influences, Heart looks to Gustav Klimt, especially his gilded masterpiece The Kiss. She also loves Frida Kahlo and her multitude of colors. "I am attracted to Klimt's use of gold. It looks so elegant. It gives a sense of newness to anything even if it's really old. I like the idea of colorful paintings like Kahlo's. Even the saddest oeuvre becomes eye-catching when it's bursting with colors. I'm also inspired by Paul Klee." Her painting style, however, is influenced largely by her love of symbols. Her canvas is a dizzying, dazzling convergence of symbols, many of them possessed of the ambiguity prevalent in the Symbolist movement, an outpouring of intensely personal emotions and dreams and memories articulated by seemingly random icons and figures and splashes of bright, bold colors.

Next year, she's coming out with her second solo exhibit, "Oceans Apart," which will run from Jan. 30 to Feb. 10, 2016 at the Artist Space at the Ayala Museum. This time, each of her work is an expedition into unfathomable depths, heralded by fish adrift in the colorful currents and swirling through dazzling surfaces. "I love painting fish," says Love Marie. "It's just a never-ending flowing idea, a fantasy place where so many colors exist." And then, as if drawing from her fondest memories, she reveals that "my dad and I used to go fishing. It was kind of our thing."

Indeed, four years after Heart timidly posted photos of her paintings on her Instagram account, her works have gone bigger, bolder, braver, more collaborative. Last October, she illustrated the children's book Daughter of the Sun and the Moon written by designer Rocio Olbes. Her paintings will also provide the visual flavor to AA Patawaran's first foray into poetry in a book to be released by Anvil early next year. As early as now, she's working on a new series of her girls who are up for exhibit in 2017.

"I was told that any artist worth his or her salt needs to produce at least one exhibit every year. That's what it takes for galleries and collectors to take you seriously, they said. And I'm seriously pursuing my art. I've never been more sure and serious about anything in my life," she says.

In the end, the purpose of Heart's paintings goes down to one thing: immortality.

"I want to be remembered. Yes, I am an actress. But it would take a lot of effort to search for my movies and teleseryes, much more to finish watching them. I want somebody, anybody, to just look at my painting and see me, instantly. Like ripping a page out of my diary, putting it out in public, and letting it stay there for everyone to see. I want people to feel my sorrow, my happiness, my story from my own strokes. I will paint until my last breath. And I will be immortalized by my own paintings. My legacy. What a beautiful death," she beams.


Oceans Apart, oil on canvas

Water Dancers, oil on canvas
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Title Annotation:Arts & Culture
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Dec 28, 2015
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