Inspiration from the outdoors and lessons from a National Artist

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ARTIST Ivan Acuña stands in front of one of his massive works at the New World Hotel in Malate, Manila.

PAINTINGS by National Artists Arturo Luz, Fernando Amorsolo, and Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera hang on the walls along the entrance hallway of Ivan Acuña’s apartment in Mandaluyong. In his living room, more of his painting collection is stacked on the floor. Across them are pieces of Chinese porcelain displayed above cabinets against the window. The collection of paintings and cityscape view from his apartment are where he draws inspiration for his own abstract paintings.

Mr. Acuña’s exposure to the visual arts began as a child when he made friends with his neighbor, Alex Baldovino, who happened to be a nephew of National Artist for Visual Arts Jose Joya.

From the first grade onwards, he and Alex would visit Mr. Joya in his studio on weekends to observe the late painter while he worked.

Mr. Acuña recalled that Mr. Joya would order 3M Pizza along with Fress Gusto root beer soda for them as they sat quietly to watch him work. “That’s where I started to accumulate the techniques and styles. Eventually, I grew to like abstract,” Mr. Acuña told BusinessWorld in an interview on June 14 in Mandaluyong city.

As an abstract expressionist who took note of the techniques of a National Artist, he adapted Joya’s impasto painting style or the application of thick paste to create texture.

“There no plan. From a white blank canvas to a heavy impasto colored canvas,” he said of his creative process.

He draws most of his inspiration from the outdoors, citing walls of old buildings, and old cities as scenes with “a lot of character.”

Mr. Acuña pursued a degree in Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines. In the 1990s, he attended art workshops in Brisbane, Australia. His notable exhibits include one at Prestige Motors BMW in Makati in 2004.

Since then, Mr. Acuña has specialized on beautification of spaces.

As an artist, he prefers to collaborate with designers, architects, and real estate developers rather than hold exhibits in galleries. His paintings are often collaborations with interior designers Budgi Layug and Anton Mendoza, and architect Gil Cosculuela.

“It has something to do with my photography,” he said, stating that he began his career as an interior photographer before trading the camera for the canvas and paint brush.

One of his memorable works with which he noted the use of an “accidental technique” was his a canvas in his Metalscape series of 2006.

Sometime in the 2000s, he had to travel from Baguio (where he was based at the time) to Manila to show a sample painting for a hotel. He was driving a pickup and placed the painting at the back of the vehicle. The artwork only needed a final layer which he planned to finish in Manila. “But what happened was, the canvas fell on the road in Pangasinan. After more than a kilometer, somebody noticed that the canvas fell [off],” he recalled.

Pag kita ko, napunit (when I saw it, there was a tear on the canvas). But I had no time. When I reached Manila, I had to present it.” He had to quickly cover the torn portion with thick impasto.

Mr. Acuña showed this writer a photo of the artwork on his phone. The gold canvas had a straight cut off on one side. When his client saw the work he said, “Fantastic!”

The canvas is on view on a wall above the escalators at the lobby of New World Manila Bay Hotel.

“Basically with abstract, wala naman figure ’yun eh (There is no figure in it). So you have to let your audience feel [it] and call their attention,” he said.

Mr. Acuña’s ongoing series — titled Metalscape and Hamilo Coast — are distinguished by the use of gold paint and a combination of bold color accents.

Falling off a pick-up truck is not part of their creation. For more information on the artist and his works, visit — Michelle Anne P. Soliman