Colors, houses, and broken tiles

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If somebody had told Ihvonie “Tey” Sevilleno 10 years ago that she would be a serious visual artist with a handful of exhibits, she would have laughed that full-bodied laugh that she has. 

Tey, to most friends, is known as a theater artist, and is better known for projecting director’s visions on stage via production design.

But even before she tried her hand at being a (serious) painter, there was an artist already wanting to emerge; she would make scribbles and doodles on pages of her textbooks, for instance, or paint as a hobby (the resulting painting sans any signature).

And then came the trigger.

For most of us, there is always a life-changing decision that would make us choose the path we didn’t think we’d travel.

For Tey, who was living a corporate lifestyle in Manila, it was triggered by a heartache.

“I was depressed,” she tells DNX, depressed from what she calls “love issues”, plus the emotional strain of living in a place away from home, Manila which was “too metropolitan” for her.

And then four years ago, she was travelling to the Ayutthaya in Thailand, where she saw a woman perched on a rock, painting the ruins of the historical site. 

It gave her an idea.  When she went home, she took the plunge into the unknown.  She quit her corporate job, went home, and immediately bought a single paintbrush, a set of paints, and started getting serious about her art.

Now, four years later, she is thick in the midst of her seventh solo exhibit.

And there’s no signs of stopping her.

Playing house with brushes

Tey is now in the middle of her exhibit called Balai-Balai (stylized spelling of balay-balay, or roughly translates to “playing house”) in Modern Hut Café near the New Government Center.

True to its theme, the exhibit is all paintings of houses – under the moonshine, by the seaside, with neighboring houses.  The artworks reflect the artist: Tey is after all bubbly, colorful, larger-than-life.

The qualities of the artist have spilled over to the works of art; there is nothing flat, or drab, or somber about the paintings.  Each canvass features a house that recalls those colorful vinta sails that dot the seascapes south of the country.

There is a careful merging of backdrop and subject, of all colors in the prism almost represented (the brighter, the better), with each house a celebration of the heritage and culture of a given ‘scape.

Tey also readily credits her artistic inspiration on the creator of the sarimanok motifs, national artist Abdulmari Imao.

The paintings are visually breathtaking; the mosaics are something else.

With half the tiles laboriously hand-cut (“I refuse to have it machine-cut; that’s cheating!”), the mosaics are every inch a labor of love as they are works of art.

We said “half”, because the other half is already broken.

“I always ensure that 50 percent of the tiles I use are already broken,” she says.  She would have preferred to up the proportion of broken vs hand-cut, but the quality of the mosaics could get compromised.

The mosaics HAVE to be seen to be believed.  The play with colors, the matching of tile design to subject, the finishing touches so that every hand-cut tile seemingly fits like a puzzle to the one next to it.

Small wonder Tey claims these are a lot harder than her water-color and acrylic paintings.

No turning back

Seven solo exhibits in four years. 

For somebody without any formal training in visuals arts, what Tey has achieved is indeed impressive.

And now, art for her is more than just a means to de-stress.

It has become a lifestyle.

“Yes… it still is de-stressing for me, because when I work one of my paintings, I really put all my attention to it.  There’s 100 percent focus,” she says.

However, she says, her artworks now are not dictated by her “mood”, unlike certain artists who would pick up an easel or a pencil only when the mood strikes.

“I think this is what separates a hobbyist from a serious artist.  You cannot call yourself an artist when you (pick up a paintbrush) only when the mood strikes you. You have to do it for yourself,” she says.

A kind word, a gasp of admiration, a sign of approbation.  All these are just “bonuses”.

“Even when my paintings are not selling, that’s all right with me,” she says, “Art has become part of my lifestyle, and that is what’s important.”

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