“Respite From Modern Life”
by Kate McGraw
Albuquerque Journal / Journal Santa Fe
September 21, 2012
pp. S6, S4

It is no coincidence that Fatima Ronquillo’s paintings remind the viewer of Old Masters from the classical European style of painting. She learned to make art by copying the paintings and drawings in museums.

“I grew up in the Philippines but moved to Texas when I was 10 years old,” Ronquillo said in an email interview. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved drawing, so it was only natural for me to teach myself in earnest by copying reproductions of Old Master drawings. This was shen I was in middles school; the library had a good collection of art books. Of course it might have been faster and easier had I enrolled myself in a class but I was happiest learning on my own.

“I’ve always been in awe of the art in the museums,” the artists continued. “I taught myself how to draw and paint by studying the Old Masters, so it’s my visual vocabulary. My work is an ode to beauty and I find that quality most inherent in the works of Titian, Bellini, Watteau, and Poussin, just to name a few.”

Ronquillo’s latest paintings open today at Meyer East Gallery on Canyon Road. Her classically inspired paintings of mysterious personages, often set against pastoral and idyllic landscapes, are accented with an underlying sense of drama and playfulness. They are small, intimate works, but they seem to invite a respite from the frenetic pace of modern life.

“‘Love and Loss’ continues on the leitmotifs of love tokens and mementos,” Ronquillo said in a written artist’s statement. “I am fascinated by the complex nature of love, at once a source of pleasure and pain. There is the ecstasy felt by the chosen beloved and ardent admirer. Love’s fleeting nature, however, highlights the despairs of the forsaken, unnoticed and forgotten lovers, often symbolized by physically visible wounds.

“The surreal aspect of an isolated lover’s eye attracts me tremendously―the idea of physical dismemberment which is symbolic of a removal or estrangement of a loved one,” she added. “For anyone who’s ever been in love or had a crush on someone, the photograph of the beloved is treasured. It reminds me of the Mexican ‘milagros’―little charms of different body parts used to aid in praying for the healing of broken arms or hearts, or even eyes.

“Compositionally speaking, the framed ornamental eye gives context and a reason for a floating third or fourth eye in a painting,” she said. “It’s a device of conceit: a portrait within a portrait. For me, it’s an iconic symbol about the figure represented, not unlike the reliquaries of saints in old devotional images.”

Self-Taught artist

A self-taught, intuitive painter who works from a deeply personal visual language and imagination, Ronquillo paints in the style of the European classical traditions coupled with a magical realism rooted in folk and colonial imagery. She has an authentic voice, echoing from an inner world where art history meets with nostalgia and imagined characters from literature, theatre and opera.

Each painting is an unfolding story of layered meanings brought to life through multiple layers of paint. Her painted surfaces sparkle with thin delicate glazes over thick impastos and scattered scumbles of semi-transparent colors.

“My paintings start as exploratory sketches… very crude, just a scribbled idea,” Ronquillo explained. “From there, I create a ‘working’ drawing, more than a sketch but far from a ‘finished’ drawing. When I’m satisfied, I transfer the drawing to a panel or canvas. The beginning is a very conventional grayish monochrome underpainting called a grisaille. I then paint several layers to achieve a lustrous and pearl-like surface quality. It’s finished when the idea and execution come together, or in simpler terms: when it looks right. I’m not always good at calling works finished,” she said, “Sometimes I realize I just can’t add any more layers.”

Born in San Fernando, the Philippines in 1976, Ronquillo immigrated as a child to the United States in 1987 when her family settled in San Antonio, Texas. She currently lives and maintains a studio in Santa Fe, where she lives with her husband and West Highland terrier. Her work is included in private collections throughout North America and Europe.