Text by Rebecca Garcia Urbancik
It's the most of the wonderful time of the year... Although many of us experienced another holiday season far from family, we are thankful for technology and the possibility to enjoy each other’s company virtually.
This is the period where we find the time to unwind, slow down and catch up on some R&R. For some of us, this may be in the form of trips to the mountains, a grand tropical vacation (escaping winter temperatures), or simply enjoying the comforts of our homes, reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the New Year.
Despite the busy year end, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sandra Torrijos, a Filipina
artist based in Düsseldorf, Germany since 2004. Originally from Quezon City, Philippines, Sandra studied Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines with a focus on Visual Communications. Sandra was active back in the 1980s to 1990s, involved with the Women’s movement, working with NGOs and organizations focused on women.
Thanks to her involvement with these organizations, Sandra empowered herself and started creating pictures or paintings, themed mainly about women and empowerment in the early 1990s. Her style was influenced by German expressionism. Artists like German expressionist Käthe Kollwitz and conceptual artist Joseph Beuys have been a source of inspiration since Sandra’s early beginnings as an artist.
Sandra finds herself between Germany and the Philippines — staying several months in each location respectively. Most of her projects are based in the Philippines with her last solo exhibit featuring wood sculptures and watercolor paintings — most of which were brought in from Germany — and were showcased at Crucible Art Gallery in SM Megamall in 2018. She maintains a gallery in Düsseldorf, where she exhibits her works and hosts small Filipino events.
When did you start becoming interested in art?
I was already interested in art as a child. I always wanted to do something with my hands — playing outside, building things. In high school, some friends were drawing and I wanted to do it too.
In biology class, our teacher selected three girls to copy plants from a book. I was one of them. I also remember copying a detailed anatomy of a grasshopper under the candlelight during a typhoon.
I did not have formal lessons except one to prepare for the talent test. I knew I had something to express, my thoughts...so in college, I studied Fine Arts.
Who / what are your biggest influences? What influences you?
Every person has different sensitivities.. What touched me most during the course of my travels and growth as an artist were "primitive art", folk art, Romanesque churches and sculptures, icon paintings, mosaics, stained glass paintings. There is something simple, direct and eternal about these works that touched my heart and communicated in silence. All these came from the intention of the maker and how they were given forms and colors.
Without having seen some of the mosaics here in Europe, I would probably have not created "Dakila" for the University of the Philippines Center for Women & Gender Studies in Diliman, Quezon City and “Ani" at the University of the Philippines Los Baños in Laguna.
Left to right: "Dakila" mosaic located at UP Quezon City; "ANI" (Harvest), 2010 mosaic located at UP Los Baños
Can you tell us more about your art style? Do you have any Philippine inspired works or artists that you look up to?
My art form varies from sculpture, paintings and installation works. Recently, I am more preoccupied with painting, and styles can change based on the mood and themes: political, spiritual, playful.
There are many excellent Philippine artists. I am fortunate to have met Brenda Fajardo, Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, Julie Lluch and many more contemporary artists. Works of Juan Luna, Virginia Ty Navarro, Hernando R. O'Campo, Napoleon Abueva are definitely memorable.
Top row (left to right): "FIESTA - Lindenholz" woodwork, "Freude" (Joy) back & frontside - reused wood, "Totoo ba?" - oil on canvas Bottom row (left to right): Acrylic paintings - "Bohol Hills", "Mother and Child", "Starry Night"
I understand you have been based in Germany since 2004, is there any particular reason you chose Düsseldorf?
It must be fate that I was brought here through a fellow traveller. It is here in Germany that I have matured more emotionally and spiritually by way of prayer, meditation, reading, works and in association with kindred spirits.
Can you tell us more about your latest projects, such as the Philippine Consulate artwork / Christmas card design?
It was last summer [when] I met Ms. Rhoda Steegmaier here in the gallery which we fondly call Mutti's Haus or Galerie M. She was introduced to me by a dear friend. I showed her my works and since then, we were in constant communication as she broached the idea to do a Christmas card design. By the end of September, I had already three paintings for selection. Then, Rhoda communicated this to Vice Consul Ms. Fatima Mueller of the Philippine Consulate General in Frankfurt and the rest is history.
Do you have any special projects / collaborations / exhibitions planned in the future?
Last year to celebrate my birthday, I prepared a very small exhibit for some friends. I could not open it to more people due to Covid protocols.
I am busy painting again and am preparing gifts for the children of my friends in the Women's movement. This 2022, hopefully another exhibit.
If you ever find yourself in Düsseldorf, be sure to include Sandra’s studio as one of your stops.
Special thanks again to Sandra for her time and for sharing her beautiful pieces, that spark joy and a festive mood during this holiday season.
Contact Sandra via email.