Her Ode to the Filipino People: Solenn Heussaff-Bolzico’s Kundiman

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The multi-faceted mom and multi-talented artist talks about Kundiman and her thoughts on the controversial photo that went viral on the internet

While many have known her name as a celebrity endorser, television host, and actress, Solenn Heussaff-Bolzico is also an accomplished painter, having honed her craft in the visual arts for as long as she can remember.

Two successful solo exhibits after, the mother of one brings another set of delicate portraits with Kundiman, which she says is her heartfelt expression of love and appreciation for the Filipino people. It is consistent with her previous works, accurate depictions of human zeitgeist. But what sets this collection apart is how closer it feels to the Filipino experience.

Writing This Love Song

“This exhibit is more detailed than my last two exhibits, that’s for sure. But I did have 2018 to 2021. So I did have time to slowly complete it. I wasn’t forcing my mood. I knew I wanted to do it sometime in 2020 but I didn’t have a specific date. So it was very spaced out,” Solenn shares.

Although Solenn bided her time, things didn’t go as planned due to the second lockdown. 

Solenn painting a piece for her Kundiman collection

“A painting usually takes me between, I would say, like 80 hours to 300 hours, depending on the size, depending on the detail. And usually for all my exhibits, I have 25 pieces. So when Teresa Herrera (founder and creative director of Collective 88) said, ‘Okay, let’s put a date I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to complete another 10 paintings, in like six months with a child, and no help?’ But we pushed it back. We thought things would be better by now. But… We opened the gallery, and the next day, it’s back to ECQ.”

While missing out on the fun and excitement of holding a live exhibit may have dampened the mood, she remains optimistic. Solenn looks forward to exhibiting more, especially when restrictions ease up.

Solenn in Creating Kundiman

As with her previous exhibits, Kundiman showcases Solenn’s knack for portraiture. She, however, avoids friends and family as subjects. She explains, “I hate painting family members. I hate painting people I know. Because I feel like if I know them—and I know them too well—I won’t give them justice on the canvas.”

Instead, she prefers painting faces of people whom she can breathe stories to with her art.

“I get to kind of imagine or make a story of how their life is or what they’re feeling at the moment. And that just makes a painting more interesting for me and more interesting for their viewer because you can’t put a face to the person.”

“People would call it social realism, but I really don’t know. I wouldn’t say I’m an activist or anything like that. I just paint what I see. Of course, I have a whole opinion of my own, and I have things I’m trying to share. But at the end of the day, art is subjective. So whatever I like to share, people might read into it differently,” she tells of her range in Kundiman. Her process, she says, involves some photography. Taking photos of people on the streets served as her inspiration and combining images to tell an appealing visual story. 

Kundiman Collection Piece: The Generation Gap and Batang Pasaway

The showcase is poignant, touching, and earnest. It transports viewers into daily scenes often ignored in the ruckus of modern-day living, subtly drawing attention to social issues that continues to fester society. Aware of the somber notes of such imageries, it is consistent and true to her declaration: “I see you.”

And Solenn does willingly so. In the middle of the grayed white shirts, the sweat from the tropical heat, and the blank stares of the portraits she infers, there is no false appreciation. The beauty lies in the stark representation. The engaged are posed with a question that can only be answered by perception. Whether one is offended by these realities or offered an education by sheer realization, it rests upon the eyes of the beholder.

An Artist Seated with Controversy

Several weeks ago, Heussaff addressed the criticism she drew after an Instagram post that many deemed patronizing and to a certain point, insulting. Regardless, Heussaff offered a sincere apology:

“There were good comments and constructive criticism which I appreciate. But then it blew up to different proportions that didn’t need to go that far. It was not about the artwork, it was about where I took the photo of the artwork,” she recalls.

“And from there, people just started feeding off of each other and thinking about my painting, but it really didn’t start from there. I’ve always been posting photos of my paintings, and I’ve never gotten any comments. I mean, obviously I’m not going to please everyone and again, art is subjective. So, maybe one person won’t find it beautiful, which is totally fine.”

“A lot of people assumed that it was the slums. Well, it wasn’t the slums, that’s one. But it wasn’t also the most curated and prettiest streets of Manila. I just wanted to shoot it in a real street. My mistake was probably to be sitting in the middle. Maybe I should have just stayed with the artwork and the background. Because people felt like I was sitting on a throne or whatever they called it. So I had to apologize, because, again, you can’t please everyone and everyone has the right to their way of thinking,” she shares.

“It did affect me. I was thinking, ‘Should I push through with the exhibit [Kundiman]?’ I was scared to promote my exhibit because I was scared of people saying, ‘My gosh, you’ve already done this, then now you’re still pushing for it?’ But at the end of the day, I have zero bad intention and I’ve worked so hard on this for three years.”

“After I apologized, I haven’t really seen any bad comments. I think people also got my point of view. Maybe I should have just explained it. But, lesson learned.”

Moving Forward: Solenn’s Plan

With motherhood now becoming a part of her reality, much is to be expected on the next exhibit: how this new facet brings new perspective and how new experiences will breathe new life into her portraits.

Solenn mentions experiencing a small bout of post-partum depression for several months while she was finishing the collection. How she overcame this and the mental block that came with the psychological effects of the pandemic is an extraordinary feat that proves her dedication to the craft and her willingness to push her limits.

“The paintings I finished with my daughter, are paintings I started in 2018. So it’s the same view and the same style. So I’m kind of interested to know how I’m feeling. But I’m definitely more detailed, and I’m definitely taking more time. I’m more critical towards my work,” she says, excited to start on a new series she intends to showcase 3 to 4 years from now. 

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