by TERENCE REPELENTE
Portraits by PINGGOT ZULUETA
With a career spanning five magnificent decades, Nestor Olarte Vinluan remains a respected force in the Philippine art scene. His triumphant career, his influence as an artist and as an educator, can be likened to a strong gust of wind or a torrential tidal wave or a gushing landslide—the same natural elements that have inspired him.
In his latest exhibition at the Crucible Gallery, “A Sphere, a Line, and Other Recent Works,” Nestor employs the same transcendent style. This time, however, he adds a little bit of technical augmentations. “Technique-wise, it’s part of a continuing process of working on layering, playing with two dimensional and three dimensional works,” he says.
Dominant in the works are the images of a sphere, a figure that has always fascinated Nestor. “This isn’t the first time I’ve repeatedly incorporated the sphere. In fact, I’ve always been fascinated with it, even during my UP Fine Arts days,” he says. “There’s just something about it, something spiritual and mystical.”
“Mysticism” is a word that has always been associated with his works, especially his abstractions. Nestor recalls how he developed the distinct style he has now: “When I was a student, I did a lot of figuration—everyone does. Later, I moved on to impressionism and expressionism, inspired by Van Gogh and Monet. Then when I got to know myself better, I started to be more philosophical.”
Reading tons of philosophical books and subscribing to writers such as existentialists Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche, and Kafka, eventually led Nestor to the dream-like world of surrealism, with big influences such as Marx Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico. Among all these, what hit him the deepest is the ancient Greek aphorism: “Know Thyself.” This was when he had become serious with his art. “My works became a bit darker,” he says. “I was starting to find my own form, something that’s different from what other artists were doing.”
Knowing himself, however, brought him back to his roots in Pangasinan, where, as a kid, he often spent afternoons in a sugarcane farm they owned. “We lived in the town, but I remember always wanting to spend time there. I can still remember the quaint river near that farm,” he recalls. “I guess that also heavily influenced me. Maybe that’s why I often subtly render landscapes, horizons, mountains, white spaces in my works.”
It seems like Nestor has gone full circle—or spherical, if you will. “Nature was the starting point. After that marami akong dinaanan (I went through a lot),” he says. “But I am still perennially inspired by the natural world. I will always be. Now I just add more elements such as geometrical figures and horizontal lines.”
Nestor admits that there can never be one definite interpretation of his works, that’s the way he intends it to be. “It can be meditative, whimsical, minimalist, or it can even explode with elements,” he says.
In A Million Gestures, Nestor invites the audience to breathe and look at the works closely. “Are you looking at a mountain or a rock formation or an explosion? Breathe. It takes a while to work,” he says. Ultimately, Nestor aims to go beyond the frame. He wants the soul and texture of the work to jump out of the canvas. He wants his art to move, to flow, to transcend.
“When someone looks at my works, I want them to see themselves. We’re all different, so it’s never definite. It can be a landscape if you want it to be, it can also move like a stream,” he says. “I want people to reflect. The same way I reflect when I pick up a stone or a dried leaf just to hold it and feel its texture. I want people to look at it like how they look at a cloud that’s changing form, slowly moving, radiating, flowing, transforming.”
In his many years of working and developing his unique style, Nestor has perfected his layering technique. Evident in the exhibition is his meticulous and precise dots, brilliantly layered, and contrasted with illusory elements such as stairs, spheres, and the horizontal lines. People often joke about how his works are so perfectly detailed that they looks like they were created using a machine.
Another secret is that when he paints, he moves a lot. He calls it “flowing” form after all. “I’m sort of an action painter,” Nestor says. “I just like how I approximate the process of doing my works by moving. And when it’s all done, after the dotting, layering, coloring—the result is something extremely gratifying. I feel happy after realizing I have created something. I am fulfilled.”