By Terence Repelente
In her upcoming exhibit, “Revelation,” Michelline Syjuco reveals, or rather reinforces, what many of us already know—that she’s one of the most versatile, most promising young artists today. An emerging lioness in the contemporary art scene, Michelline is merely growing dragon wings and extending her phantasmagorical kingdom. She holds numerous achievements and accolades under her claws. At the age of four, she became the youngest screened participant of Art Association of the Philippines. She has been a finalist for the Ateneo Art Awards multiple times. She has been selected as a representative to the esteemed Sungduan Art Exhibtion. She has exhibited alongside great artists like National Artist Arturo Luz. Her works, often thematically grotesque and dark, have found themselves praised by the international fashion and art community, like at the Maison et Objet Paris.
Often named one of Manila’s most stylish women, Michelline is widely known for her gift of marrying art and fashion, her sculptural jewelry, and sophisticated wearable art. In contrast, “Revelation” shows an unfamiliar side of the artist, a medium different from her past works. During an interview with the Manila Bulletin, she shares what is being ‘revealed’ in her most recent set of works.
“I decided to entitle the body of work ‘Revelation’ because it really is a revelation of sorts. Most people know me as a designer of wearable art and as a sculptor,” she says. “And, although many of my works in the past incorporate my handpainted elements, this is the first time that they will see the side of me that is purely the painter.”
“I’ve been painting ever since I can remember. I’ve joined many group shows in the past, but this is the first time I’ll be showcasing an entire body of work that is purely my own,” she muses. “I had to set aside time in 2017 to completely focus on just painting. I had to cancel a show in Paris and another one in Japan, just to be able to finally see this dream come to fruition.”
According to Michelline, however, the creative process in “Revelation” and her sculptures and usual pieces is not dissimilar. “I use my hands and my imagination to create something very personal, something that I can share with the world,” she says. “When I do wearable art pieces, I work with semi-precious stones, brass, and silver. When I do sculptures, I work primarily with wood and high gauge metals. When it comes to painting, I work with paints, canvas, and boards. The medium may be different, but the execution is the same.”
A Family of Artists
The eldest daughter of experimental artists Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco, Michelline grew up in a family of creative minds, which she considers the biggest influence that pushed her to be an artist.
“My parents definitely had a great deal to do with my becoming an artist myself. As a child, I saw them go through a lot of hardships, but I also saw how liberating it was to be true to one’s self. They always encouraged me in all my creative ventures, whether in music, design, or visual arts,” she intimates. “They have always been supportive, and would have been just as happy had I pursued a different career path altogether. My siblings are all artists as well. My brother A.G. is based in Chicago, the composer for the band Jack of None. My sister Trix is an abstractionist/performance artist based in Vancouver. My other sister Maxine is a poet, visual artist, and vocalist for Jack of None. And my youngest brother Julian is also an abstractionist and guitarist.”
For her, being around such creative energy brings in even more creativity. “My parents raised us to be very close to each other, so we discuss our different projects and gather input from each other all the time,” she says. “We also try to help each other out as much as we can. Maxine for instance, designs my posters, brochures, and catalogs. I in turn, do backup vocals for her art band.”
Michelline has always been at her happiest when she is doing something creative. There was a time, however, when she saw her parents struggling as artists, that she had second thoughts about pursuing art, even if in her heart she knew she was born to do it. “In the end though, the heart always wins, and I knew it was inevitable for me to end up following in their footsteps,” she reveals. “In the ’90s I was the lead vocalist of the band Faust, and I thought my future was in music. Later on however, I returned to my love of creating things with my hands, and I got back into sculpting, which was something I had been doing since childhood. I suppose the pivotal moment would have been when I wore one of my sculptural creations (a beaten sheet of metal welded onto a bracelet) to an exhibit opening. There, it was spotted by National Artist Napoleon Abueva, and he encouraged me to create more pieces. He even recommended me to replace him at an exhibit featuring wearable art. A year later, I presented my very first wearable art collection, where he was the guest of honor. This moment was a turning point in my career, and after this, many new doors and opportunities opened up for me in the art world.”
The Love for Dark Fantasy
Evident in her works, Michelline has always been inspired by fantasy, sword and sorcery, phantasmagoria, and fairytale. As a little child, her mom would religiously read her fairytales every night. This is where her obsession with fantasy started. “My favorites were always Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Later on, when I grew up, I became intrigued with the dark origins of these fairytales,” says Michelline. “Growing up, I also developed a love affair with films. My favorites were always fantasy based such as The Flight of Dragons, Beast Master, Conan the Barbarian, etc. I would marvel at the costumes and the sets, and I believe this is what has influenced my aesthetic and my sensibility as a designer and an artist.”
And this is why in “Revelation,” Michelline turns into a lighter theme. “I believe everything has both dark and light sides. What is beautiful can be grotesque, and vice versa. Even a rose has its delicate petals intertwined with its dangerous thorns,” she says. “Some of my wearable art pieces have been described as gothic in the sense that they depict the darker side of fantasy. My paintings, on the other hand, which are characterized as abstract landscapes and avant-garde floral motifs, represent the lighter side, which is ethereal and mystical. Both the dark and the light sides represent different facets of my creative being.”
Michelline possesses an artistic soul, but she crafts like a Chimera: multiple fantastic beasts fused into one a mythical creature. Her talents, however, are far from myth. And no matter what form her art takes, it will always be representative or a reflection of who she is. “My personality has many facets. Like every other person, I have both a dark side and a light side. As an artist, I find satisfaction in exploring both sides and expressing them in different forms, using different mediums.”