Gallerist Tina Fernandez dreams of emptying her house and rotating works in her personal collection.


Tina Fernandez started her art venture—and adventure—with one thing in mind: debunking common misconceptions about art (among them, that art is intimidating and that it is easy to make). To this end, she put up a gallery in Greenhills called Artinformal (AI1) in 2004, in what used to be her family’s home, to help educate people about art.

“Not too many people were buying art that time,” she said, adding that the little interest that existed was  for “decor purposes only.” She continued: “They didn’t know what they were buying and they couldn’t understand why an art piece was nice.”

AI1 became successful over time, showing established and emerging artists such as Jose Tence “Bogie” Ruiz, Costantino Zicarelli, and Nilo Ilarde.

The desire to open a gallery was triggered by an experience that she still remembers vividly.

“I remember a lady asking out loud…or was she was talking to another out loud to another person?and saying ‘Bakit pinagkakaguluhan ’yung painting na ’yan? Anong maganda diyan?’ I asked her if she found it nice. She said she couldn’t understand it, and I told her it didn’t matter if you cannot understand or not. What’s important is if you like it,” she recalled.

“Sadly, a lot of people don’t have their own opinion. I have a lot of artist friends and I thought why not teach the public and maybe we can increase the number of people buying art since they already know and understand the process of art-making. They can feel confident because they now know the process behind an art.”

Artinformal in San Juan has expanded with a second space called Artinformal 2 (AI2), which opened in Pasong Tamo, Makati City, this February. Her efforts, combined with that of other gallerists, have paid off.

“We now do not hear comments like ‘Ang dali namang gawin niyan, parang gawa ng bata. Kaya ko rin ‘yan.’ To that I always answer—which is almost always sounding pikon‘eh bakit hindi mo ginawa?’ So they try. We had an abstraction workshop for people who said it’s easy to make. We asked them to copy—not even conceptualize their own—only copy, and they couldn’t. Now they understood that art is difficult,” she said, smiling.

The gallerist, who used to make art—“I don’t practice, I have no time. I think I’m a better gallery owner than I am an artist,” she said—also owns Aphro, a store that sells functional art pieces, including accessories (like earrings and bags) and furniture (like tables and chairs).

Aphro has an unconventional layout: locally made goods are displayed on bleachers (think of the Banaue Rice Terraces) flanked on one side by a slide meant for patrons who haven’t lost their childlike sensibility.

“In Aphro is everything that I like. It’s a reflection of my aesthetics, yes. It’s more fun. It’s meant to be like a jewelry box. When you open it, you see everything. The design of the story is playful,” said Ms. Fernandez.

Do you have a favorite artwork?
That’s the problem, I don’t have a favorite. But the first piece of art that I ever bought was a Tony Leaño painting. I was fascinated by the way he was able to confidently paint three women with so much character with minimal strokes. But that’s not my favorite—it was just my first.

“My favorite now, at this moment, is something I don’t even own.  It’s this work titled Picture for a Bee by Singaporean artist Robert Zhao Renhui. The reason I like it is the concept behind his work. It’s based on his research about the behaviors of insects toward certain colors. Blue, apparently, attracts bees and they love it so much that they stay there until they die. He created this blue [painting] in his studio.

“Another favorite is this work by JC Jacinto—an artist I represent—that he gave to me as a gift. It’s the painting of AI2’s downstairs when we tore it down and reconstructed it. This is what it looked like at ground zero.

And in Aphro, can you name some of your favorite items?
I have several favorites: Zacarias bags, and pottery and ceramics. Also works by Geraldine Javier. I’m also encouraging more artists to create non-gallery works that are functional and more playful. The Aquilizans have Fruit Juice Factory Studio. It used to be a fruit juice factory, thus the name, and it has been collecting Japan Home Surplus ceramics. What they do is they upcycle it; they look for interesting shapes and put them together to create functional art. It’s interesting.

Please name your favorite artists.
Emerging or established? I like to be part of the growth of their career. Let’s pretend that she’s still emerging: she is our latest artist, Nice Buenaventura. With an established artist, there’s no challenge anymore. I think having Jose Tence Ruiz is enough for me. I like working with him and we have a history, as far as exhibitions are concerned. I would rather add to my roster an emerging artist who will add something new in terms of creativity in using certain media. They show exactly what they want to show because it’s important, and not because it’s popular.

If I were to tour your house today, what would I see?
There are works by Johnny Alcazaren, Kawayan de Guia, Cos Zicarelli, Ling Quisumbing, MM Yu, the Aquilizans, Gaston Damag. A lot of objects like pottery.  Mark Valenzuela—wait, I’m walking through my house in my head—Maria Taniguchi, Nilo Ilarde, Marina Cruz, Rodel Tapaya, Manuel Ocampo, Elmer Borlongan, Erwin Leaño, Ian Fabro…  a lot!

My dream is to empty my house and maybe put few artworks up at a time and then rotate them, but my problem is I don’t have storage to put the others that are not in rotation yet. What I don’t want is to boast. I want to concentrate on a few pieces. If you put a lot, you don’t highlight the work but your collection.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.