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Through the Eyes of Arlo Jake Lagmay

Words by Donna Künzler

Images c/o Arlo Jake Lagmay


Arlo Jake Lagmay is a visual artist and architect based in Basel, Switzerland. He debuted as an emerging contemporary artist last year in a duo exhibit called “Audacious” at Eleven Ten Studio in Basel and has participated in the prestigious Florence Biennale 2023. He kicked-off 2024 with “Balintatao,” his second solo exhibit at Waldhaus Am See in St. Moritz, Switzerland and has more exciting events lined up for the rest of the year.

Triggered to be an artist

Lagmay was born and raised in Cordon, Isabela. For as long as he can remember, he has always been drawing faces of people, mainly women. When he was still in school, his artworks always got selected by teachers to be displayed, and he even commissioned some paintings to teachers and classmates.

Lagmay pursued architecture as his main profession and worked for five years, until his passion of becoming an artist was reignited when he moved to Basel in 2018.

“I always wanted to visit and live in countries that none of my colleagues have ever visited, so even if I managed to land a similar job position in Singapore for over a year, I always aimed to get a job in Europe,” he says. “As I was planning my itinerary for my European summer holidays back in July 2018, a Swiss engineering company invited me for an initial Skype interview. I proposed to have a face-to-face interview as I will be in Switzerland that day. Almost one hour after the interview, I got the job, and the company gave me a month to move to a completely new environment, a different continent. From there my life changed drastically.” 

The universe seemed to have lined up the stars for Lagmay, as of all the places in Switzerland, he ended up in Basel, its cultural capital. It is famous for its many museums, including the Kunstmuseum, Fondation Beyeler, Vitra Museum, and every year hosts the famed Art Basel. The latter’s website describes it as “the leading global platform connecting collectors, galleries, and artists.” 

When Lagmay saw the collection in Art Basel 2019, something inside him stirred. With some annoyance, he recounts, “They were not thought-provoking, they don’t support current events or political arguments. They don’t have anything like that, or at least not as much. And given that it’s one of the biggest art fairs in the world, it lacked some essence.” It has never been clearer for Lagmay that it’s time to enter the art world at an international level.

Debut year as an international visual artist

Driven by his goal to finally go mainstream, Lagmay started the work to prepare his art pieces to show to various galleries. What is his creative process like? Lagmay explains, “I relate my art to an organism; it must develop spontaneously. But it always starts with an idea. Paraphrasing Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb character in the movie Inception, the smallest idea can grow to define and destroy anything. My idea always starts developing from my thoughts, and it always argues its authenticity and organicity to me before I even decide to sketch it. From there, I enter my studio, grab whatever painting medium I feel like using, put ‘On the Nature of Daylight’ by Max Richter on the background and start giving the face of the idea.” 

Finding his distinct style was paramount. When asked about his style, Lagmay describes, “Some see pop art in them, and some see it as a marriage of contemporary and realism. But to me, my art mirrors myself, my thoughts and gives face to my reality. In a more technical sense, my art is all about juxtaposition of extremes. Black and white, good and bad, right and wrong, and chaos and order. I also go as far as mixing opposing media and styles. I do not use color wheels to align with a specific taste or norm, because I do not want to conform or be told what to do or not. My art is a version of my reality, and reality creeps like an organism, illimitable, irregular, unstoppable.”

And did he ever doubt himself while in the process of establishing himself as an artist? Lagmay thoughtfully recalls, “Given different styles and varieties of legendary artists, for some time I have doubted myself. But that doubt went away almost entirely. When I finished painting “The Swiss Points of View,” I found myself staring at it, crying. It felt like a mirror. It is a mirror. I always believe that it is one’s internal conflict that makes one unique and stand out. And when I saw myself in that painting, this conviction of hoping to be a notable artist suddenly became very possible.”

Last spring, Lagmay held his first international exhibit as part of a duo exhibit aptly titled, “Audacious” at Eleven Ten Studio in Basel. The gallery claims that it’s one of their most successful exhibits to date. Lagmay held four more exhibits last year, including a first solo exhibit and his participation in Florence Biennale.

That is a pretty impressive record for an artist’s debut year, especially by being able to participate in a very prominent event like Florence Biennale. When asked about it, Lagmay joyfully recalls, “That was not planned at all. Parang suntok sa buwan! At one point, I was feeling a bit low, really negative as I was not sure of how to maintain the momentum of these exhibits. Then I saw the advertisement online for Florence Biennale, and surprisingly the theme fits my collection’s theme which is ‘I AM YOU.’ I had a surge of emotion right there and then, and maybe within 30 minutes, I spontaneously decided that I would apply, then gathered all the requirements and submitted my application. The deadline was actually the next day. I always believed in this spontaneous feeling. When you get it, you just have to do it. And that’s when I’m most effective — I know I can give my all. It always just works seamlessly every time I have opportunities like this. I can feel it like it’s aligning. After ten days, I received the confirmation that I got accepted.” Lagmay’s main entry for the Florence Biennale is his piece called “Judgemental Chair.”


Lagmay started the year on a high as he held his second solo exhibit entitled “Balintatao” in Hotel Waldhaus am See in St. Moritz, Switzerland in January. He says, “Balintatao is by far my most special collection. As most of my fellow Filipinos are aware, balintatao is the iris of one’s eye. Colloquially, it also means daydreaming. The idea was formed in my mind during the week of Florence Biennale while I was sitting in my art booth. This is the development of my “points-of-view” collection wherein the evident features are the multiple-irised people. For me, it was a symbolism of an enlightened human being with different opinions, emotions and confessions. Balintatao is going the same direction but induced with the concept of judgment and idealism. There is a limitless possibility when one daydreams. It could be full of judgment, ideals, or terrible imaginations. And this is what I want to show in order to convince people that it’s normal to think or act however we wish, because at the end of the day, we only have ourselves to judge.”


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