ORCHIDS, HIS ICON
Acclaimed Spanish artist Manolo Valdes finds muse in Singapore’s national flower.
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.