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Artist Hermes Alegre celebrates 25 years of doing what he loves

Color cheer and

by donna lopez manio photographs by jc inocian styled by Mark Dela Cruz

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S

ome years ago, Hermes Alegre decided to buy himself a

kalesa for his birthday. After treating himself to a hearty lunch at a Chinese restaurant along Ongpin, he scurried out, approached the first kutsero he saw, and handed over the down payment, with a sheet of paper bearing his home address. The next day, probably bewildered by the highly unlikely business transaction, the kutsero arrived at Alegre’s home studio with the kalesa. The kalesa is now a permanent fixture in the artist’s home, alongside other fascinating things: an antique saxophone that has been converted into a lamp, a rough but intricate “Last Supper” carved from a single block of wood, and a metal sculpture with conical breasts (which the artist fondly refers to as “Lady Gaga”) atop an authentic Cordillera hut. But of course, even with all of those things, the painter has fonder memories of the birthday present he purchased for himself. “It was always my dream to have one of those at home. I wanted to wake up in the morning, read the papers, and have coffee there. But the first day I had it, my father-in-law beat me to it. I found him sitting there with a cup of coffee,” Alegre says, chuckling, as his eyes thin into slits. Although his hair and beard are graying, he is as vibrant as a young man. His demeanor befits someone with his last name, for “alegre” is the Spanish word for “cheerful.” Artistic eccentricities aside, Alegre is a man of substance who has made his mark here and abroad. As Alegre paints, his hand glides gracefully over the canvas. His movements show his mastery of his craft, which he developed through a career that spans 25 prolific years. He started out as a fine arts student at the

Philippine Women’s University and he has never looked back. Alegre continues to paint and hone his skills. Aside from having innate talent and passion for the arts, he was also determined to show that he can make a living doing what he loved. “I worked in an ad agency once, and saw that I clearly did not belong in a cubicle. Unfortunately, a lot of people have this perception that fine arts is not lucrative. There’s no money in fine arts, parents warn their children. It’s so much better to be an executive, doctor, or lawyer. While those are good professions, it must also be realized that being an artist—or a painter—is as good and as fulfilling. So when I was younger, aside from painting regularly, I spent a lot of my time in libraries learning about the masters and their work. I then took a break from that when I felt I was ready to find my own style. I was just really persistent about having the opportunity to live off what I love and enjoy doing,” Alegre muses in between brush strokes. He is animated while sharing his stories, but it must be noted that the precision with which he manipulates his paintbrush never falters. Following the age-old adage, “know the rules first before you break them,” Alegre then pursued style and subjects that resonated with him. In the beginning, Alegre struggled to make a name for himself. He even sold his work to banks that paid him on an installment basis. His efforts paid off when Art Circle, a popular gallery, noticed his works. Ever since that big break, Alegre has claimed his place in the Philippine art scene. Today, Hermes Alegre is well known for paintings of beautiful, erotic, and enigmatic Filipinas set against lush backgrounds of colorful flora and fauna. His style is so distinct that it’s easy to identify a Hermes Alegre original in a gallery lined with works by various artists. “There are no men in my paintings. I [paint men] only

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From left: Richie Lerma, director and chief curator of the Ateneo Art Gallery; Meah Ang See, director of Bahay Tsinoy; Dr. Nina Lim-Yuson, director of Museo Pambata.

From left: Richie Lerma, director and chief curator of the Ateneo Art Gallery; Meah Ang See, director of Bahay Tsinoy; Dr. Nina Lim-Yuson, director of Museo Pambata.

on very rare occasions. My friends even joke about it. I prefer painting women because aside from finding them beautiful, I am surrounded by women of great character, [such as] my mother, sisters, and wife.” Alegre credits his spouse, Helena, a fellow artist and former member of the prestigious Bayanihan Dance Troupe, as his muse. Her eyes, lips, and even hairline are prevalent in his work. Alegre has showcased his paintings in solo and group exhibitions in Belgium, Germany, Singapore, and the United States; he has garnered awards and his works have been reproduced in many books. In spite of everything he has accomplished in the last 25 years, Alegre shows no signs of slowing down. To celebrate his being able to support his family by doing what he loves, Hermes will share 25 new paintings in a solo exhibition in December. This explains why his studio is filled with canvasses of different sizes, each canvass

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a testament to his passion and hard work, each a celebration of the life he has created for himself as a painter. “Artists are often depicted as brooding and angsty. I was like that once; it’s something everyone goes through at some point. But I realized there are no bad experiences. Everything can be learned from. There is no sense in being embittered by anything. I just think about what matters: my family and my work.” At this point, Alegre daubs some paint on his canvas. He is silent for a time until he turns and tells more stories of how he used to draw on the sandy beaches of his native Bicol, how he tied several harmonicas outside his car just so he could hear what kind of music they’d make, and when he painted an eye on the inside of an arinola. Hermes Alegre talks about these experiences in a childlike manner, full of enthusiasm, without pretense. It is quite easy to see that he is, indeed, happy.


Color and Cheer