Music & Culture
Music & Culture

Mynila Meets Artist Melanie Gritzka Del Villar

Mynila Meets Artist Melanie Gritzka Del Villar


Mynila Team April 23, 2018 Music & Culture

Melanie Gritzka del Villar, born in 1982 of German-Philippine parents, has lived, worked and studied in Germany, Spain, England, Thailand, the US, and the Philippines.

With a background in figurative painting, Gritzka del Villar has long been drawn to the use of found surfaces and mixed media processes. Her practice is shaped by an ongoing search for harmony out of disparate cultural, geographical, and environmental elements. She is particularly concerned with the state of living in an increasingly fragmented and vulnerable world. This translates into a sensibility towards cast away objects, forgotten (hi)stories and overlooked surfaces.

For Gritzka del Villar, these act as poetic portals and holders of latent possibilities for alternative narratives.

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La Siesta, collage on driftwood, 24 x 22 cm, 2013

In the last years you have been working a lot with recycled materials. Why have you opted for sustainable art?

It’s been a natural/organic progression. I’ve actually been using found materials since my student days in the UK. During that time, found materials such as cardboard boxes were readily available. Back in 2006, England was the third country I had lived in, hence the cardboard box was also a fitting metaphor for my own feeling of living in flux or “living out of a suitcase/box”. Since then, I have continued to be attracted to found objects and recycled materials wherever I’d find myself.

In recent years I have become more and more conscious and deliberate about addressing the theme of sustainability through the use of recycled materials. This is most evident in my project Hanging by a Thread / On The Line, which was on show at Altro Mondo Arte Contemporanea Gallery at the Picasso Serviced Residences in Makati in March/April 2016, as well as at The Bromo Seltzer Tower in Baltimore, MD, USA., in the fall of the same year. The works presented and materials used (driftwood, fishing wire, maps with data of endangered coral reefs) expressed my concern with the current state of living in an increasingly fragmented and fragile world. The themes I addressed in the exhibition were stringing together my personal experiences with larger narratives of what is going on in the world and on the planet. I strongly feel that new visual metaphors need to be created in order to raise awareness of our internal/psychic as well as external/environmental damages and risks we are facing as a global community. I do this by referring to the environments I have been most exposed to – especially those of Southeast Asia.

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Afternoon Poetry, collage on driftwood, 18 x 17cm, 2013

The use of recycled materials reflects my philosophy of trying to live as a conscious human being on an endangered planet. It is also a practice that helps me to stay aware of my surroundings and to appreciate what is there…to re-contextualise the discarded and to infuse it with new meaning. My driftwood series Traces is a good example here. By uplifting fragments from the flotsam and jetsam of our throwaway lifestyles, I hope to inspire audiences to challenge given hierarchies of value.

How does the environment that surrounds you influence your art?

My art practice is directly rooted in and linked to the environments I find myself in. I am constantly on the look-out for objects and surfaces that call my attention and then try to enter into a dialogue with these found materials and their (hi)stories. This applies to my early mixed media paintings produced during my time in Bangkok – from 2006 to 2014 – with their shouting colourful palette, elements of kitsch, stickers, found plastic, labels and packaging in all kinds of languages; as well as to more recent projects such as Re-tracing Roots/Routes, in which I used objects from Mexican flea-markets, Filipino driftwood and photographs to explore the theme of the galleon trade.

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Fantasia, early work, collage on driftwood, 22 x 22, 2010

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Sambai, early work, BKK, 80 x 60cm, 2010

Street art was another way for me to explore and engage more directly with my environment. A wall becomes a platform for direct, public activation and intervention; the murals I have produced since 2014 show my excitement with this medium.

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GRIT in Puebla, Mexico, 2018

What is the project you are currently working on?

I have just relocated to the Philippines and am rediscovering the art scene as well as testing my way forward with my own practice.

On the one hand, I am continuing my work with found driftwood in the immediate environment I find myself in, which is currently my home-base: the island of Boracay.

I’ve been exploring driftwood for the past five years and it’s an ongoing investigation. When I say driftwood, I mean fragments of the local bamboo outrigger boats called “bangka”. The fragments capture me because of the individual and unique shapes I find them in. I love their textured surfaces with different layers of paint. The bangka boats break through wear and tear but also during the violent tropical storms and typhoons that strike the Philippines from the Pacific every year.

For me, the driftwood is a symbol on so many levels:

1- personal / societal: it refers to my own hybrid background, the fact that I’ve lived in 6 countries and counting. I sometimes feel anchor-less, like a driftwood fragment. I think many of us feel like this…adrift… given all the movement of people happening all over the globe, be it forced migration or tourism. It makes me think of the book Liquid Times- Living in an Age of Uncertainty, by Zygmund Bauman, in which the author observes the fragmentation of our contemporary lives.

2- its origin: The way it directly refers to the Philippines; not only aesthetically – the fragments are very cartographic and often look like islands (The Philippines is an archipelago of 7000+ islands), – but also literally: it comes from boats used for transportation as well as those used by the local fishermen.

3 – Each driftwood piece is a palimpsest…it’s the perfect intersection between man and the ocean. Man has put layers of paint on the wood, and the ocean has weathered, scratched and marked it.

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The Explorer, collage on driftwood, 35 x 31 cm, 2013

So far, I’ve used Filipino driftwood in several projects of mine: I’ve made collages (see my series Traces), paintings (my series The Gift, and On the Line), and installations out of them (Retracing Routes/Roots). I’m still fascinated by the driftwood and am not done working with it. Since I am back to living on the island, it only makes sense for me to push the medium. I am currently developing a portrait series of the key residents of Boracay island, perhaps in response to the current crisis the island is facing and also as an attempt to give the island a face other than its commercial facade.

On the other hand, I am more and more immersed into community work. I feel compelled to engage with my local island community and have joined my mentor Perry Kasulhay Argel in setting up and running the Centre for Art, Creativity and Consciousness in Bolabog, Boracay Island. Our venue is a wonderful bamboo structure which is run as Blah Blah bar at night. Perry has spent the last 2 months activating the space with his art works and installations made from recycled material  that is literally washed upon the shores of Bolabog beach. When I arrived beginning of April, I saw the potential and was determined to open the space to the community by holding day workshops and inviting other artists to participate and collaborate. We have just had our first “Komunidad” gathering in which we introduced both local and foreign visitors to our space; Perry gave a workshop on making sculptures using found and recycled materials; our friends Takako Sono and Sigmund Torre from “Complimentary Colors” started a mural called “Tree of LIfe”; and all that to some chill tunes by local DJ Djila Winebrenner. We had a good turn out and great feedback and are excited to organise more workshops, ideally one per week. I feel it’s important to provide a creative space for people, especially in trying times like these in which most of the islanders are filled with uncertainty, fear and anxiety given the upcoming 6- month closure of Boracay.

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The Expedition, 24 x 22 cm, 2013

If you get stuck on a project, what do you do or where do you go?

In those moments I try to take a break from whatever I was focusing on in order to get out of “tunnel-vision mode”. This is obviously not always easy – especially when you are working under time-pressure towards a deadline – but by now I know those breaks are crucial. Things that help are: talking/brainstorming your ideas with a friend you trust and understand you, yoga, swimming, housework, gardening, strolling through markets to get new visual input… In an ideal situation I always escape and re-charge in nature, the ocean or a forest. Nature helps you gain perspective and its silence is always nurturing for the overworked mind.

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El Mercado, collage on driftwood, 35 x 29cm, 2012

What is the best advice you have been given?

  1. Your art is not separate from your life. Meaning: the way you live your life is manifested in your art, and vice-versa: life <=> art. This helped me a lot to link my way of being in the world with the content of my art.
  1. TAKE THE PLUNGE, TAKE THAT FIRST STEP and, as Joseph Campbell reminds us so beautifully: “Follow your bliss … If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be”.
  1. ENJOY CREATING
  1. Your art is a gift, it needs to be nourished in order to allow it to grow. Then it needs to be shared.

Which city so far has inspired you the most?

So far it’s still Bangkok – though I am getting to know new parts of Manila and I’m more and more fascinated by it. But Bangkok, well…I lived there for nine years… It was a home of choice. I chose to move there when I was 24, straight after university, in order to reset myself, start from scratch, and experience something completely new. Bangkok for me is a never-ending source of inspiration. The city provides so much contrast and variety that I never get bored. Old textured houses in Chinatown versus flashy sky-scrapers and shopping malls; jam-packed highways and intimate alleyways; fancy night-life – steaming street food, ….the list doesn’t end, and somewhere in the middle of this hybridity I found a sense of home. I’m going back to Mexico City this September though so that might greatly impact my choice of favourite city too!

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The Jump I, collage on driftwood, 45 x 38 cm, 2013

What are your favourite spots in Metro Manila for:

DiningAs I said, I’m still discovering Manila, but so far I LOVE Goto Monster at P. Ocampo St. cor. Dungon St., in San Antonio Village, Makati. I can eat their Goto any time of the day!

Dancing: I still need to find places in MNL for this! Any tips welcome, haha

Drinking:  “Batala Bar”, “The Curator” in Legaspi Village, “Ñ” and “Dr. Wine” in Población.

Shopping: Divisoria – absolute heaven for a scavenger like me:  it offers anything you can imagine and at low cost!

Which Area of Manila do you like the most and why?

Hmm… I have several favorites. On my last trip, the area I was most impressed by was Intramuros. I only did a quick tour but the connection and history with Spain is infinitely fascinating to me and I want to explore it more, especially in the light of my recent project on the Galleon Trade (Re-tracing Roots/Routes), which I want to show in Manila in the next year.

Then theres Divisoria. It has always been notorious for me, but having gone there with a friend to check out some materials was an exciting and pleasant surprise. It reminded me very much of Chinatown in Bangkok, which I also love. I love the dynamic of the markets, the vendors, the over-stimulation of visuals and smells. I also like San Antonio Village, it’s super laid back, nice for walking/biking around and has plenty of interesting walls and street life elements. Then there’s Poblacion for rests and hangouts, and QC and it’s green student vibe.

Here’s her latest video interview by The Studio Visit:

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