Recently I had the opportunity to meet and interview one of the Philippines most successful artists, glass sculptor Ramon Orlina. Following is the article I wrote from the interview, which I published in a magazine I am affiliated with here in Manila.
Ramon Orlina – The Glass Master
Ramon Orlina is excited; we are standing at his office window overlooking the hills of Tagaytay, pointing into the distance he says: ‘Look at that, there’s a house, see, with a green roof?’ I stare searchingly in the direction he is pointing, into the hills, and then I find it – a greenhouse: ‘I had it painted the other day so you couldn’t see it’. Quite like the way Ramon cuts the blemishes out of his glass, so too this ‘blemish’ on the landscape has been seemingly erased, returning the landscape’s aesthetic to its true form
When you meet Ramon you are taken with his sparkly eyes and dapper style. He met me outside his gallery in Tagaytay after returning from a long lunch. Welcoming me with a warm smile he led me through the gallery, upstairs, and into his private office where I was met with his other passion, VW Beetles. One wall of his office has a floor to ceiling display cabinet housing brightly decorated miniature cars. On his desk a couple more, one on a revolving pedestal. ‘My first car was a beetle’, Ramon offers with a large grin and a laugh. In the corner behind his desk, on a higher and more commanding pedestal, sits perhaps my favourite of his glass sculptures, a beautiful piece in smoked glass. The light filters through the grey mass making it command your attention, almost as if it is in competition with the cars, making a point that this is the glass place, take heed.
As Ramon speaks his gesticulates with his hands, which I notice are baby smooth. That surprised me for someone who has been cutting into glass for the past forty years. Ramon is somewhat of an entrepreneur, one of those people with strong desires and that ability to persevere and put himself out there to get what he wants. He uses the word ‘luck’ a lot in talking about his life and successes. But I don’t necessarily agree with that. I learnt about a man with drive, vision and a desire to achieve. Someone who worked hard, stood firm and made his own success.
Ramon started out as an architect. He always had a passion for creating, even as a child he would create sculptures out of bits and pieces he found lying around. When Marshal Law hit in the seventies, he lost most of his business. This was an opportunity, and Ramon took to experimenting in secret, painting on glass. He approached galleries asking for an exhibition but refused to allow anyone to see his artworks. So sure was he, that what he had been creating was unique and he did not want word to get out, for fear of being copied. Finally, his cousin’s girlfriend, who was the curator of a gallery, was able to convince the gallery owners to take a risk on this no-name artist who refused to show his work before the opening. That risk paid off and in the first day, over 70% of the artworks were sold.
When you look at Ramon’s sculptures you notice the green hue of most of them. That is caused by the iron content in the glass. You know when you look at the side of a sheet of glass and it is green? A block is dark and it is only by cutting holes and ridges through it, letting the light in, that it becomes luminous.
Currently, he is using a lot more optical glass he imports from Europe and America. Ramon prefers this glass as it is clear, there are no cracks. ‘It is perfect’ he says. This allows him to use a different style in his sculptures, creating pieces that are radiant, solid, and that blind you with their purity.
These days Ramon splits his time between his studio in Manila and his gallery in Tagaytay where he enjoys meeting visitors and talking about his works. Across three levels, the gallery houses Ramon’s vast collection as well as hosting exhibitions of local and visiting artists. A sculpture garden and amphitheatre provide space for concerts, or if you are visiting the gallery, just a pleasant place to sit and reflect for a while. As you wander through the gallery, taking in Ramon’s sculptures against the backdrop of Lake Taal, you can’t help but consider the juxtaposition created. Was that intentional? Placing perfect, unblemished objects against a perfect, unblemished landscape? I’ll let you decide.
Hours: Tuesday to Sundays 10am – 6pm
Admission: PhP 100.00
Address: Hollywood Subd. Rd. Brgy. Tolentino East. Tagaytay
There is a sign at the intersection of Sta Rosa Highway and Tagaytay Ridge Rd.