OR­CHIDS, HIS ICON

Ac­claimed Span­ish artist Manolo Valdes finds muse in Sin­ga­pore’s na­tional flower.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Contents -

Ac­claimed Span­ish artist Manolo Valdes finds his muse in Sin­ga­pore’s na­tional flower.

It’s early af­ter­noon and Manolo Valdes is lead­ing a group of jour­nal­ists down the heart of Or­chard Road when he de­lib­er­ately steps over the fenc­ing sur­round­ing eight of his Reina Mar­i­ana stat­ues and other sculp­tures.

“There shouldn’t be any chains here. Peo­ple should be able to take a close look,” he says, his Span­ish words trans­lated by his ac­com­pa­ny­ing wife. He reaches out and gently touches the bronze sur­face of the ef­figy in­spired by 16th-cen­tury Diego Ve­lazquez’s fa­mous por­trait of Mar­i­ana of Aus­tria.

Em­bold­ened by the artist’s dis­re­gard for bar­ri­ers, we fol­low suit and closely sur­vey the life-sized sculp­tures of Queen Mar­i­ana in a vo­lu­mi­nous dress. Var­i­ous edi­tions have made their way to the col­lec­tions of pres­ti­gious mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the Guggen­heim Mu­seum Bil­bao and The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art. This dis­play marks Valdes’ first ma­jor art ex­hibit in Asia, hosted by Opera Gallery, and just in time for visi­tors who’d ar­rived to watch the re­cent For­mula 1 race here.

The spir­ited 75-year-old, con­sid­ered to be one of Spain’s most im­por­tant con­tem­po­rary artists, is no stranger to sub­ver­sion. Dur­ing the reign of Span­ish dic­ta­tor Fran­cisco Franco, he founded in­flu­en­tial pop-art group Equipo Cron­ica, with artists Rafael Solbes and Juan Toledo, ques­tion­ing op­pres­sive gov­er­nance with con­tro­ver­sial art­works de­pict­ing pro­test­ers and po­lice. Though the group dis­banded with the death of Solbes in 1981, it con­tin­ues to play a piv­otal role in de­vel­op­ing Valdes’ aes­thetic style: His unique con­flu­ence of clas­sic sil­hou­ettes with brightly coloured col­lage struc­tures as­so­ci­ated with pop art.

To­day, his works are less mo­ti­vated by po­lit­i­cal vit­riol. He ad­mits that his ob­jec­tive for cre­at­ing Equipo Cron­ica was to push for democ­racy, not so­cial jus­tice or other more com­pli­cated is­sues. “I don’t be­lieve art is ad­e­quate to re­solve and deal with the com­plex­i­ties so­ci­ety faces to­day,” he says. Now, for in­spi­ra­tion, he looks to na­ture, with which Sin­ga­pore abounds. He says he is drawn to our “par­adise of or­chids”.

He adds: “When I travel, I al­ways look for some­thing dif­fer­ent. I saw the or­chids at Botanic Gar­dens in 2004 and knew they were it.” The flow­ers can also be found in New York,

where Valdes re­sides, but he was amazed by the va­ri­ety in Sin­ga­pore. Since then, he has been work­ing on proofs and cre­ated two sculp­tures this year, one of which – the Orchid II (an alabaster fe­male bust with a head­dress of or­chids) – is avail­able at Opera Gallery.

He plans to make larger sculp­tural pieces and have one dis­played in Sin­ga­pore per­ma­nently. Dur­ing his visit to Gar­dens by the Bay the day be­fore, he bought artis­tic re­pro­duc­tions as ref­er­ence on com­po­si­tion. The or­chids he ren­ders, how­ever, will be in his style. “The goal is to cre­ate some­thing beau­ti­ful and let peo­ple fall in love with or­chids, just like Vin­cent van Gogh did with sun­flow­ers,” he says.

He’s also in­spired by nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als, shapes and pro­cesses, from cut­ting up burlap can­vas in his por­trai­ture for di­men­sion to leav­ing nat­u­ral in­den­ta­tions or tex­tures of ma­te­ri­als in his sculp­tures. The Fiore Iron bust in Or­chard Road is made with steel and left to rust nat­u­rally, the head­dress of curly ferns blaz­ing red over time.

At the mo­ment, cu­ri­ous pedes­tri­ans are stop­ping to take pic­tures of the sculp­tures. Their in­ter­ac­tion with the works will hope­fully change with the re­lo­ca­tion to Gar­dens by the Bay on Oct 15. “It’ll be a friend­lier and more emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence,” Valdes says.

He re­calls be­ing de­lighted at an out­door ex­hi­bi­tion where chil­dren were climb­ing on and touch­ing the Reina Mar­i­ana stat­ues. “You won’t be al­lowed to touch them at the mu­seum, so now they are on the streets – why not?” he says with a laugh. “The patina is good for it any­way.”

Manolo Val des In Sin­ga­pore will run at Opera Gallery till Oct 15, and at Gar­dens by the Bay till April16nex­tyear.

“THE GOAL IS TO CRE­ATE SOME­THING BEAU­TI­FUL AND LET PEO­PLE FALL IN LOVE WITH OR­CHIDS, JUST LIKE VIN­CENT VAN GOGH DID WITH SUN­FLOW­ERS.” MANOLO VALDES

01, 02 IN ALL SHADES Valdes’ aes­thetic style in­volves clas­sic sil­hou­ettes and col­lage. 03 FLOWER POWER Valdes fell in love with or­chids dur­ing his 2004 visit to Sin­ga­pore. He aims to launch a col­lec­tion of works fo­cused on the flower.

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