Lifestyle Asia Exclusive: A Conversation with Artist Elmer Borlongan on His Work, New Exhibit, and His Approach to Painting - Lifestyle Asia

Acclaimed artist Elmer Borlongan shares his creative process and reveals the simple intentions that have always been the driving force behind his life’s work.

It was around three years ago when a friend of Elmer Borlongan suggested that he do a retrospective of his work. As it happened, his twenty-fifth year as an artist coincided with his reaching the half-century mark in his life. For this herculean task, Borlongan asked his longtime friend and accomplished historian Dr. Ambeth Ocampo to curate his expansive opus. The resulting exhibition, entitled An Extraordinary Eye for the Ordinary, was a marvelous cornucopia of two hundred paintings and drawings representing a comprehensive survey of the artist’s growth, spanning twenty-five years.

Elmer Borlongan
Elmer Borlongan
Borlongan and his wife, artist Plet Bolipata
Borlongan and his wife, artist Plet Bolipata


Country Boy at Heart

Living in Mandaluyong City afforded Borlongan the gritty backgrounds and dark subject matter that populated his earlier images. Although having the close proximity to the art scene in Manila made it possible for him to have one-man shows practically every year, there were many unwanted distractions that kept him from his work. In 2002 Borlongan and his wife, artist Plet Bolipata, left their Nueve de Pebrero home and moved to Zambales to really focus on their art. Having more space to move around and work in allowed Borlongan to expand his approaches to painting and broaden his subject matter as well.

Borlongan's Extraordinary Eye for the Ordinary exhibit is currently showing the Metropolitan Museum
Borlongan’s Extraordinary Eye for the Ordinary exhibit is currently showing the Metropolitan Museum
The living room of Elmer Borlongan and Plet Bolipata is recreated by the main entrance of the museum using furniture and decor from their residence
The living room of Elmer Borlongan and Plet Bolipata is recreated by the main entrance of the museum using furniture and decor from their residence


Disciplined Creativity

Like many great artists, Borlongan is methodical in his approach to painting, having learned the importance of the traditional process from his first art teacher, mentor and the man he calls his second father, Fernando Sena. He likes to heighten the emotions of the subject by exaggerating their proportions and paying particular attention to the eyes. “Lahat ng mga works ko galing sa mga first-hand experiences ko. (All of my works are drawn from my personal experiences.) I make it a point to draw or sketch everyday, taking around a little notebook with me wherever I go. It’s like a visual diary of my experiences and the many things I see.”

A piece by Elmer Borlongan on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum
A piece by Elmer Borlongan on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum


His Own Creative Non-Fiction 

Borlongan considers himself a recorder of life, the curious observer who sees the little details that are oftentimes lost in the busyness of living. “Mahilig talagang mag-kuwento ang mga Pilipino.” (Filipinos are really fond of telling stories.) He cites his tongue-in-cheek piece entitled “Order ni Mrs.,” that shows a man raising a PVC pipe and two Baguio Oil cans fashioned into barbells as his way of celebrating the Filipino’s penchant for improvisation in the face of necessity. Borlongan says these are the kinds of images he wants to capture in his paintings.

After this show, Borlongan says he will be taking a sabbatical, thankfully not from making art, but from solo exhibitions. He intends to concentrate more on commissioned work and shares that he’d like to travel more with Plet: to load up on new experiences and get inspiration for future works on canvas. We can’t wait to be amazed with whatever he comes up with next.

Elmer Borlongan’s Extraordinary Eye for the Ordinary exhibit is currently running at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila until March 28, 2018. 


By Risa R. Garcia

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