By Hannah Jo Uy
In a world where most people ask why, Eleanor Giron courageously steps forward and asks, “Why not?”
As a visual artist, Eleanor exhibited exemplary aesthetics in anatomical representations, but what sets her early artwork apart were the dark sexually-charged atmosphere she created within the canvas, which often depicted nude self-portraits in compromising positions.
Bold and eager to push herself out of her own comfort zone, Eleanor has successfully used art as a platform of empowerment and a catalyst for self-knowledge. She bares herself to the canvas, literally and figuratively. As she strips, both layers of clothing and the preconceived notions of identity, she weaves poignant narratives in arresting scenes that evoke myriad emotions among viewers.
“Painting yourself naked in the Philippines is a little bit like crucifying yourself,” Eleanor admits. But the onslaught of harassment and name calling she was subjected to for exercising her right to express herself only serves as an even greater motivating factor that reaffirms the importance of her art. “It hurts,” says Eleanor with regards to being “slut shamed” for her work, “at the same time it’s amusing. I’ve learned so much because I chose to paint and share what I did and I grew up a lot, too. People react because it makes them uncomfortable, and it makes them think, somehow.”
“It was and is a practice in claiming myself as my own,” she adds, “to use my image and my body how I want and see fit. I don’t see any harm in it. I find it so interesting when people say they think I am brave, because I am thinking, isn’t everyone’s body image their right to do what they will? Especially women. You’d be surprised at how many women message me asking me to paint them naked because it’s always been their dream to have a nude, but they can’t because of what their family and friends would think, what society would think, and so on. I think it’s an important discussion and this is how I add to the dialogue.”
The response she has garnered, both positive and negative, provides valuable insight on contemporary Filipino society, and humanity in general. To be persecuted for nude self-portraits while it is perfectly acceptable for women to be presented nude by male artists, makes her work particularly powerful and provocative. More important, it represented her own shift away from the expectations imposed upon her.
“It didn’t make sense to me to paint someone else when I knew myself better and I had full control over myself, the situation, and the painting. The first time I had ever done a nude painting of myself was in college and it was for very personal reasons. I always had to be the good child in the family, I got good grades, never went out, and did everything expected of me and yet, inside, I so badly wanted to be free, to say that I didn’t believe everything that was being shoved down my throat about how women should be. So, I made a series of nude paintings that were quite gory. I felt so guilty that I wanted to burn them after because I was afraid my mother would see them.”
She kept the paintings, following the encouragement of her college professor and classmates, “It was very cathartic to get all of it out on canvas,” she says in the end.
The power she exhibited in the very creation of her works is a candid disclosure of her personal journey. Her art reflects her maturity, evident in the evolution of her style as well as the more noticeable mindfulness within the work, which stands in sharp contrast to her former paintings which were darker, emphasizing neurosis and abject imagery.
“It was from the eyes of someone very naive and lost, trying to make sense of the world and the turbulent life I lived,” she recalls, “I want to change that and focus more on human growth and understanding one’s identity through reflection, history, and physiology. I painted a lot about death, now I want to paint about life. I painted a lot about loss now I want to celebrate triumphs through little joys on the canvas.”
These days, the artist is reflecting more and more about what it means to be a woman and how women are represented in media, society, and at home. “The roles we are expected to take and the boxes we are put in. I want to empower myself through my practice as well as my loved ones. Visual art challenges me to think and work.”
Eleanor knew from the moment she held a pencil that she was meant to live her life for art. Initially driven by her love for Sailormoon and Powerpuff girls, she had first dreamed of becoming an illustrator and animator, which led her to take up Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines. But following her discovery of traditional and contemporary artists led her to shift to a Painting degree.
Portraits remain to be her forte, as she believes they chronicle a person’s soul: “I love faces,” she gushes. “Sometimes when I’m out, riding a jeepney or walking in the mall, I stare at people and how the light falls on their faces, the tiny lines at the edges of their eyes and mouth, little scars and marks. I see them as stories, indications of how they live their life, maybe even their diet and routine, and it’s all beautiful and fascinating to me. All the things you can imagine and discover through the physiology of one individual’s face. You can see beauty, expression, loss, sorrow, happiness, victory.”
With eight exhibitions to date, and multiple group shows annually over the years, Eleanor has slowed down, enjoying a slow and steady pace within her practice. From her former sexually charged paintings, she has also evolved to exhibit a more sophisticated treatment of sensuality, “They are two very different things. It’s a wonderful thing to be in tune with your senses since we all feel, smell, hear, and taste. I feel that some of us are so out of tune with ourselves that we forget to check whether or not we’re doing okay, and we get off balance. Painting is like meditation to me as well as reflection so it reminds and makes me aware of these things. “
This was evident in her latest solo exhibit at Pinto Art Museum entitled “Metamorphosis” where she tackled the painful transformation caused by heartbreak in a representation of death and reincarnation, tapping into her own personal experiences.
“Make no mistake; the work is not about pain,” she says, “It’s about transforming that pain into a new self. It is about regaining a new identity and self-worth. It is about letting go of control, and getting consumed by emotions and circumstances. I was hurt and I lost myself through what people might deem as silly and mundane as a heartbreak. But it isn’t mundane; it brings about new discoveries and a new self. For those lucky enough to realize it, it is a celebration of a higher consciousness and a new adventure. I was shedding my skin, taking on grotesque, maybe even ugly forms in the process, to transform into something more solid and defined, and maybe something beautiful. In darkness there is light. It is about honoring both and understanding and respecting what they have to offer. I am honoring the past, the process, and present through deliberately creating a future.”
In addition to her professional artistic career, Eleanor is also a passionate art teacher at Asia Pacific College, committed to helping budding artist bloom into their own following her own educational framework and approach on art-making.
It is evident that Eleanor Giron embraces life, and all the anarchy it offers. She has welcomed each new phase for the discoveries it has brought her. She pays tribute in her own expansion of knowledge in art theory and ideation as well as her assimilation of new techniques and materials. She serves as a conduit to the wide array of emotions that the world can bring, and this provides her with infinite reservoir that has consistently fueled her unbridled creativity.
“Ideas will come and creatives are vessels for which they come into physical being. We have a great responsibility to act and share our ideas and discoveries. Art chooses who it wants and it is an honor to be among those people,” she says, “I believe that you should constantly create and push yourself to learn new things and take action on new discoveries and ideas. No one will ever be able to copy your work if you are authentic and no one will ever be as good as you at your own craft. So, keep working, keep creating, be proud of yourself.”