American Art Collector
Issue 90, April 2013
The Collector Says…
“The paintings of Fatima Ronquillo caught my eye as I was perusing the website of Wally Workman Gallery several years ago. I was completely taken by what I discovered. The classic portraits executed with such a refined hand spoke to my love of early American portraits. Drawn in by the beautiful jewel tones, I was reminded of Mexican and Spanish colonial art… The intrigue of Fatima’s work is that even in its serious form there is always a sense of wonder, of magic; a slight quirk, if you will.” ―Ann Williams, Fredericksburg, Texas
“Eye miniatures” were tokens of secret love in the 18th and 19th centuries. Known today as “lover’s eyes,” the miniature paintings placed in lockets, brooches and tiny boxes were recognizable only to the lover and the beloved.
“The surreal aspect of an isolated ‘lover’s eye’ attracts me tremendously,” Fatima Ronquillo writes, “the idea of physical dismemberment which is symbolic of a removal or estrangement of a loved one. For anyone who has 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.”
As an artist, she observes, “Compositionally speaking, the framed ornamental eye gives context and a reason for a floating third or fourth eye in a painting. It’s a device of conceit: a portrait within a portrait.”
In her exhibition, Private Revolution at Wally Workman Gallery in Austin, Texas, there is a painting aptly titled Incognito in which the figure wears a masquerade mask that only vaguely disguises the wearer who has a “lover’s eye” pinned to the breast of his uniform jacket.
The gallery notes, “Private Revolution is a celebration of the various private revolutions that her imagined personages launch: rebellions against indifferent beloveds, oppressive thoughts, and real or perceived injuries. There is context for the ongoing themes of symbolic or literal wounds, mingled with the optimism of youth, lovers and dreamers.”
Ronquillo was born in the Philippines and is self-taught. She began making paintings in the style of the European masters she saw in books and has absorbed elements of magical realism as well as folk art.
Her often androgynous portraits are vehicles for stories that suggest inner lives―the artist’s, the subject’s and our own. They are difficult to place in time. They are both dramatic and humorous. The tiny size of most (9 by 7 inches) makes them as intimate and mysterious as “lover’s eyes.”