Cover My sister, Rica—“Still” by artist Plet Bolipata

At 28 years old, Filipina contemporary artist Plet Bolipata picked up her first brush. Years later, her striking pieces enjoy big spaces in some of the country’s most sought-after auctions and exhibitions. In this exclusive interview, we delve deeper into her artistic intelligence and sensibilities

"I am a painter! That's who I am," Plet Bolipata declared in the atelier of the late National Artist Federico Aguilar Alcuaz. Not so long ago, she was but a humble dreamer whose determination pulled her into a world she enjoys today.

"I was 28 years old when I picked up the brush. I taught myself how to paint in the basement of my parents' home. It all happened when I went to pick up the sons of Tito Freddie [Alcuaz] in the late '80s. He is a relative by affinity because his sister married my mum's brother. The sons were visiting from Germany, so I offered to take them out to dinner since we had known each other since we were kids," Bolipata recalls. 

"Strangely enough, out of nowhere, as soon as I entered Tito Freddie's studio, I recognised something—the smell of oils. I looked at him and said I wanted to paint. He burst out laughing. He was taken aback. So was I," she continues. 

Bolipata's pursuit of visual artistry was not just a momentary decision; the same evening, she asked Alcuaz's sons to help her gather everything she needed to start her latest venture.

"Tito Freddie's sons are painters too. So that night, I asked 'all of my sudden desire to be a painter' questions. 'What do I do?', 'Where do I go to buy materials?', 'What kinds of paints should I use?' I ended up buying everything from National Bookstore and started with Maries oil paint. There began my meet-cute with painting!" she tells Tatler

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Bolipata came up with a rather unconventional  answer when asked about her inspiration. The artist holds that a painter needs motivation more than inspiration.

"Something I learnt when I started painting every day is that you do not need inspiration. What you really need is MOTIVATION," she discusses. "Motivation to paint. Painting is an active verb and, sometimes, a very lonely endeavour, so you have to muster enough strength and courage to be alone with yourself and face your fears. Being true to myself is what matters to me. It is all about honesty and sincerity. As long as you motivate yourself to sit in front of a canvas and pick up your brushes, you will create something."

Related: Artist in Focus: Rocky Cajigan Talks About Being Truthful in One's Art

As long as you motivate yourself to sit in front of a canvas and pick up your brushes, you will create something
Plet Bolipata

Despite her unique work philosophy, Bolipata admits that there are still artists she learned to love and look up to through the years. One of them is the French painter Edouard Manet whose artistry made her write and direct a short film titled Manet of My Dreams.

“If I must boast, I won some major awards in a local film festival in Zambales (CineZambal), including Best Director and Best Picture,” she shares.

More from Tatler: Art Fair 2022: Featured Artist Aze Ong on Weaving the Threads of Life

On her art style and advocacies

Bolipata’s works had been offered in different auctions multiple times, with realised prices ranging from USD 1,077 to USD 2,797, depending on their respective sizes and mediums. One of her most famous paintings is A Midsummer Night which León Gallery sold for USD 2,797 in 2017.

“My style is very organic, especially when I do collages. But an important lesson I learnt was to think of painting like constructing a sentence. Complete the thought, then embellish the idea with colour or collage images just like using adjectives in a sentence,” Bolipata discloses.

“Form and colour make for good sentence construction in my visual language. They hound my waking moment. One without the other denies me to completely express myself with absolute sincerity. Without sincerity, there is no truth. I paint to reveal only what is truly me,” she stresses.

Without sincerity, there is no truth. I paint to reveal only what is truly me
Plet Bolipata

Bolipata is passionate about her female-centric advocacies. In fact, Little Red Ridinghood in Central Park Tableau, one of her art installations at the Art Fair 2018, tackled "sexual harassment and coming of age."

"I think now more than ever it is important to be emphatic about 'not talking to strangers', especially in cyberspace. There are no internal safeguards against sexual predators who lure gullible souls and offer false friendships and shoulders to cry on to earn your trust on the Internet," Bolipata says as she explains her work.

She adds that other issues she wants to amplify in the future are problems that concern females. "Mostly female issues. My early works talk about my bouts with fertility. Eggs and clocks ticking make up my visual language. Now it is about ageing and menopause."

Read also: Women Healthcare Services in the Philippines You Should Know

Plet makes amends with time

It is through art that Bolipata can really reveal her most genuine self. Her whimsical command of colour evokes strong emotions that transcend the medium and grip her audience's interest right off the bat. 

Raw, honest, and relatable, Bolipata paints today with her husband, Elmer Borlongan, who is also a celebrated figure among the local art circle. “He is my idol, and I want to emulate him—his skill in drawing, discipline, single-mindedness, and dedication to work,” Bolipata says of her partner.

The artist also shares how her married life with Borlongan “changed” and motivated her at the same time. Today, she uses art to mirror her life’s greatest vulnerabilities. 

“Married life and dealing with menopause changed me. The body and the many changes it is going through can sometimes become debilitating. Approaching my 60s has made me realise that I need to be kinder to myself and more understanding of my body’s weaknesses,” Bolipata reveals.

“But of course, the early stirrings of my dream of someday my work being at the Museum of Modern Art in New York keeps my creative vision alive.”

See also: Art Fair PH Featured Artist Bjorn Calleja on Navigating the Future of Art

Bolipata's secret lies in her determination. She takes pride in taking an interest in one thing and immediately jumps onto the first step of the ladder with nothing but eagerness and dedication. When she started her journey in the world of arts, she had nothing but a set of Maries. Today, an auction is almost incomplete without her name. 

"I do motivate myself every day. If I cannot be creative on my canvas, my garden, my home interiors, building structures in the farm, my table settings definitely benefit from my artistic touch."

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  • ImagesElmer Borlongan, Mutual Art
  • ArtworkPlet Bolipata
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