By Hannah Jo Uy
Portrait by Pinggot Zulueta
“Filipinas are the world’s most beautiful women,” says Hermes Alegre, “not only in terms of how they look but more especially in how they see the world and act on it. White beauty is obsolete, it’s just not as important anymore. We’ve grown past it, finally. Filipinas are strong enough to embrace color, identity, and their place in the world.”
Alegre is known for having unleashed the unparalleled beauty of the Filipina coquette, presenting her endearing shyness, enticing playfulness, and compelling gaze in organic settings where she is portrayed as wild force of nature, indistinct from the cacophony of flora and fauna she emerges from.
Alegre’s interpretation of organic elements was largely informed by the stunning natural sights he witnessed growing up in Daet, Camarines Norte. Alegre’s deep understanding of women, however, is of no surprise, having been surrounded by great women all his life, such as his wife, fellow artist Helena, who has served as his muse on more than one occasion. He has channeled his appreciation of women to the canvas, as it provided him with the unique ability to render seduction and elevate it beyond the physical.
“The issue of women empowerment is obsolete,” Alegre insists. “Because women have always been empowered, one way or another, and always more than they let everyone else think.”
In his hands, seduction is a feminine power that beguiles the mind and spirit, as much as the body. It is authenticity that gives the women of Alegre their unique and timeless allure. They are without pretensions—pure and untethered to worldly concerns inviting viewers to drown in the bliss of simplicity. They are uninhibited, with no hint of self-consciousness. Bearing luscious lips and ethnic features, she is every one and no one, all at the same time. She is an idea, a fantasy that remains immortal.
In a departure from his previous showsfeaturing oil and pastel, Alegre has tackled his favorite topic through pen and ink culminating in a collection aptly named, “Works on Paper,” which was recently unveiled at the East Wing of Shangri-La Plaza Mall, facilitated by the Saturday Group, which Alegre has long been an active member of.
“Once every few years, I work on paper,” he explained, “to take a break from working with oil and canvas. It’s a good way for me to focus and release my fixations, because I can go as detailed as I want, with lines as fine as I wish.”
The result was a series of drawings that presented his female subjects in unique aesthetic forms, highlighting his meticulous and backbreaking focus in the sharp and particular lines. When asked how long it took him to make each piece, Alegre said it takes more or less a week “depending on the season, the distractions, the food, and sleep or the lack of it”.
Rather than simply hinting or alluding to their mythical quality, in these works, the women have embraced their otherworldly characteristics as they are depicted, bodies intertwined, being admired, adored, and almost worshipped by unknown creatures.
The drawings presented another world. Familiar yet mysterious, it is a world we touch the edges of, though it remains seemingly out of reach. It is wild, spontaneous, a parallel universe filled to the brim with possibilities. “It’s more of dreams, more of the creatures in my head,” he shared, “they’re not really based on anything.”
Alegre extends this surreal experience in his choice of color or, more specifically, his exclusion of it. “Black and white are the only real colors,” he said, “and they’re actually more vivid than actual color. We remember things in black white. Memories are in black and white.”
As a renowned Filipino local artistlauded by local and international audiences, Alegre, while distinguishing himself for his craftsmanship has also imparted his lighthearted approach and humor throughout his works sharing that he remains constantly inspired by many aspects of life. “Street culture and life’s hidden symbols,” Alegre said when asked what else calls him to the canvas. “The ridiculous ones, the ones you don’t normally want to see, and of course, all the shades and colors of real life. They’re the true abstractions.”
Over the years, Alegre has continued to create exciting pieces that carry the knowledge and experience of his time, while always providing a unique perspective on things otherwise overlooked, borne from his deep contemplations. “Evolving as an artist may have to do with patience,” he shared, “waiting for ideas to unfold, stories to unravel. I’ve learned to sit still and wait. Or, maybe evolution has a lot to do with how people perceive your work, if they find more meaning in it and maybe when you grow older, go through more of life, that’s what happens.”
Indeed, Alegre remains open to embracing the mysteries the artistic life offers, believing that, at the end of it all, the best formula for a fruitful artistic profession includes consistency, patience, learning how to sit still, watch and listen and, most importantly, appreciating “a lot of doing nothing at all.”