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Self-actualization through abstract impressionism

October 06, 2019

Back in November 2012, then the events and media strategist of the Intramuros Administration (IA), which is an attached agency of the Department of Tourism (DoT), Kenneth John Montegrande marveled and was inspired by the artworks of renowned contemporary Filipino artists who were members of the Intramuros Visual Artists Philippines (IVAP).

Unveiling of his paintings in Malacañang officiated by PML Director Edgar Ryan Faustino and witnessed

by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who stood in behalf of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.

“Different artworks were displayed at the Intramuros Arts Festival, an event conceptualized and organized by IA, IVAP and National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). After seeing the magnificent art pieces displayed as well as getting encouragement from senior artists, I bought art materials and started feeding my desire to create my own masterpieces,” Montegrande related to The Sunday Times Magazine.

Those senior artists included Pancho Piano, Al Perez and National Artist nominee Nemiranda.

The former communication strategist and official spokesman of DoT for the National Parks Development Committee — who was also a journalist and did public relations work for several respected political figures, non-government organizations and corporate institutions in the country — said he never imagined that painting would be the vocation to create a name for him, attaining self-actualization at that.

Abstract art through ‘accidental movement’

Admittedly not good at drawing human profile, Montegrande focused on abstract painting, where he lets the colors drip and allows “accidental movement” rather than totally manipulating them. He also uses tools other than brushes such as palette knives, rags and paper to reveal the inherent quality of his work.

‘After the Storm’ 36’x36 ‘ Acrylic on Canvas, one of 19 paintings for the ManilArt solo exhibit from October 9 to 11.

Always eager to capture a moment, he said that nature and human emotions are the same — like how one calmly sips a coffee at a quiet nook but when out in the streets minutes later would be enraged due to traffic; a sunny day can suddenly turn dark then bring in the rains, soaking everything in the environment.

“Unpredictable and chaotic,” as he termed it.

“I look for harmony between the human emotion and nature. And this is the reason why my process is unpredictable as well – I may or may not retain colors until I feel that I have achieved the natural colors that will be perfect for my canvas,” he said.

Explaining further that his art tries to capture what is essential in nature and in human feelings as conclusion for his abstraction, his works imperatively convey beauty even without details.

Making it to Yusaku Maezawa’s collection

His forte — abstract impressionism and expressionism using acrylic paint on canvas — has brought his works to Japan, as part of the collection of billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa.

Also the founder and president of the Tokyo-based Contemporary Art Foundation, Maezawa bought Montegrande’s large artworks – “Abstrak” measuring 4×6 feet, “Enigmatic Series II” measuring 4×3 feet, “Imperfection” measuring 5×4 feet and “The Other Side of Me” which measures 6×4 feet.

The 40-year-old painter is humbled by the fact that he is not just the only Filipino artist but the only Southeast Asian so far whose works are among the collections of Maezawa — world-renowned art cannoiseur who made waves for purchasing an “Untitled” masterpiece by Jean-Michael Basquiat for US$110.5 million in 2017. The previous year, the noted collector also purchased an untitled Basquiat painting for US$57.3 million and Picasso’s “Buste de Femme” for US$22.3 million.

“It never crossed my mind at first that the Maezawa who contacted me was the same Basquiat collector I’ve read about,” Montegrande told The Sunday Times Magazine. “But when I was asked for my bank swift code, I knew it was true and not a hoax.”

Montegrande shipped the paintings to Japan and was even invited by the collector to grace an event in Tokyo. He acknowledges that social media played a big role in his “exposure to the world” — as his collectors told him they saw his posts on Facebook.

Another prominent person that has one of his masterpieces is internationally known furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue of Cebu.

In December last year, he delivered his work to adorn the home of celebrity couple Doug Kramer and Cheska Garcia. In September, he fixed his second painting in the Kramer abode — a four feet by three feet opus titled, “Our Journey With God.”

International singer David Pomeranz is another celebrity collector of his paintings.

Humble beginnings

Montegrande’s early childhood experiences must have contributed to his chosen abstract impressionism and expressionism forms of art.

Happily delivering his work to adorn the home of Doug and Cheska Garcia-Kramer in December

last year (above) and again just in September (below)

A true-blooded Manileño, he already took care of his schooling needs by washing cars of workers in the Ermita-Malate area. At 11, he worked for a small company in front of their house as janitor. He even sold food and snacks with his little brother who is now a US Navy officer.

He became helper-electrician after graduating from Manila High School but realized he deserved something better so he worked as waiter in several restaurants around the city. He supported himself on the way to a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications degree at the City College of Manila, now Universidad De Manila. He was awarded Most Outstanding Alumnus in 2014.

An active member of the Rotary Club of Ermita-Manila, Montegrande also maintains a water refilling business mainly to provide means of livelihood for people in the area as well as his friends and relatives.

“I feel happiness and pride knowing that, once upon a time, I served and did good things for my fellowmen. These experiences and the knowledge I learned from running these companies can somehow be applied to my canvas and to my career as an artist,” he said.

Mark of a Montegrande painting

“A Kenneth Montegrande painting is given character through the dramatic, powerful and spontaneous stroke of my brushes, palette knives and even my fingers. The dripping, the splash of paints and the ‘accidental movements” in my canvas also create hidden, unintentional figures that are not visible to the naked eye,” he said.

He explained that his works are influenced by three great abstract artists — Jackson Pollock, who is well-known for his unique style of drip painting; Joseph Mallord William Turner, known as “the painter of light” and Willem de Kooning, who is known to have developed a radically abstract style of painting that fused Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism.

But he has his own signature style, no wonder collectors such as Maezawa, a great number of diplomats, businessmen, politicians and art enthusiasts love his works and admire his talent.

Making it to Malacañan Museum

Montegrande has added another feather to his cap when his two works — both painted early 2019 — made it to the Presidential Museum and Library (PML) of the Malacañan Palace.

The first — 48 x 60 inches acrylic on canvas, titled “Transfigurings of Freshest Blue” — got its inspiration from the evocative lines, “The sea And heaven rolled as one and from the two Came fresh transfigurings of freshest blue” — from Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Sea Surface Full of Clouds.” The other is of the same size, titled “Perla del Mar de Oriente.”

The turnover ceremony was held on July 15 at The Old Main Office, Kalayaan Hall, Malacañan Palace Compound officiated by PML Director Edgar Ryan Faustino and witnessed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who stood in behalf of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte. He is the youngest artist whose paintings form part of the Malacañan Palace art collection.

9th solo exhibit at ManilArt

At his fifth solo art-for-a-cause show in November at the Lotus Garden Hotel in Manila, which was dubbed “Limitless: The Art of Kenneth Montegrande,” 29 of his artworks in different sizes were already sold to his old and new collectors minutes before the official opening, making a total of 37 abstract paintings auctioned in less than three hours.

During his seventh solo show in June titled ‘Obsession 1 at the Artes Orientes Gallery in Serendra, BGC, Taguig City with (from left) gallery owner Rio Ambrosio, De La Salle University Publishing House executive publisher Prof. David Jonathan Bayot, Rotary Club of Ermita-Manila Champion President Dolly Cater, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald and Marivic Garcia and his mother, Rosena Knox

He also joined Art Fair Philippines 2019 in February and Art In The Park in March both under Altro Mondo Arte Contemporanea. In April, he held his sixth solo show and first major solo show under the previously mentioned gallery. His seventh solo show followed in June under the Artes Orientes Gallery at the Serendra, Bonifacio Global City (BGC), and his eighth solo show soon followed after under Gallerie Joaquin at UP Town Center, Quezon City.

His ninth solo exhibit titled “Obsession (II)” from October 9 to 11 at the SMX Convention Center, SM Aura in Taguig City, forms part of ManilArt – dubbed “The National Art Fair of the Philippines” — a flagship art event project of NCCA through its National Committee on Art Galleries (NCAG).

ManilArt is the country’s first and longest-running art fair held every October in celebration of Museums and Galleries Month, as per Presidential Proclamation 798. This year’s festivities runs from October 10 to 13 with the theme “Showcasing the Global Filipino Artist.”

ManilArt committee member Rio Ambrosio, who represents the galleries, said that the annual exhibit encompasses the whole art genre and features all artists, from masters to the up-and-coming.

“Kenneth is the new kid on the block. He is on the rise,” Ambrosio said. “He is making a lot of strides and gaining a lot of following. I hope he can sustain it, and so far, he’s meeting the challenge,” Ambrosio was quoted as saying about Montegrande.

For his part, the artist said that it is an honor for his works to be seen alongside the works of masters such as Justin “Tiny” Nuyda in the biggest art fair of the Philippines.

“It’s really inspiring and overwhelming,” he said.

For the ManilArt exhibit, the journalist-turned-visual artist combines the three elements — land, air and water — under the “Trinity Series,” showing the formation of clouds on top of textured land and sea below.

With spiritual touch, he explained, “Looking at my cloudscape, it looks like a storm is coming or heavy rains are about to fall. But let us all remember, God created all things beautiful. Even when there’s rain or storm, or problems, if we face it together with Him, we still see the beauty [of things].”

Book feature

Montegrande is also set to become the first artist to be featured in Contemporary Filipino Artists – a coffee table book series of the De La Salle University Publishing House. Titled The Art of Kenneth Montegrande, the book will be launched in December as part of the Christmas celebration of DLSUPH.

“Montegrande’s art dwells in a most potent field where the dynamics of figuration and abstraction are constantly turning out very interesting picture spaces,” DLSUPH Director David Jonathan Bayot shared to The Sunday Times Magazine.

One who professes his love for abstract expressionist art — as exemplified by Franz Kline, for instance, Bayot calls Montegrande’s art ‘interesting intersections of impressionism and abstract expressionism and I’m thinking of Per Kirkeby [Danish painter, poet, filmmaker and sculptor].”

Montegrande said the honor has only sharpened his focus to make more quality artworks to inspire people, including new artists.

“If I can do it, surely others can do too. Just trust in God. True, I dream a lot, and I have lofty dreams, but I understand everything takes time. I just trust God’s plans [for me],” he said.

Montegrande is featured as well in the book Siya Nga! Reflections With Art of Ateneo De Manila University President Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, edited by Prof. Bayot.

“I paint not to be understood, not even to impress anyone with what I have done. What I wish is to show and emphasize to viewers the true value of each moment and every situation, and most of all, to inspire everyone. The idea is to represent the inner beauty and meaning of every color that I use and the dramatic and chaotic scenes of nature,” he explained.

“Nevertheless, I’ve always been a positive painter, and most of my works tend to exude optimistic feelings and messages. All things have positive and negative sides, and at the end of the day, it will be up to us how we can face and overcome certain situations,” he shared.

Montegrande contributes a substantial amount to charity endeavors from the proceeds of his exhibits.

“I always say that without Him, I am nothing. Everything that happened to me since before, especially in my career as full-time artist, the talent, and all the blessings — these are all because of Him. So through my art, I want to give back all the praise and glory to Him through helping and inspiring people.

“It’s actually always part of my prayers, sabi ko, ‘Lord, use me and my artworks to inspire people and be a blessing to those who need Your help. I believe that the more you give, the more you receive as what’s written in Luke 6:38, ‘Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you,’” Montegrande concluded to The Sunday Times Magazine.

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