Silverlens Galleries’ Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo share how they live with their art, a stunning collection that includes bold-faced names from the local and international scenes.
The year 2020 was a monumental year for Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo. They were listed among contemporary art magazine ArtReview’s annual Power 100 list, cementing their position among the art scene’s most influential—with Silverlens being one of the most important art spaces in the world.
Founded by Lorenzo in 2004 at a time when “she didn’t know anything,” she recalls, Silverlens Galleries was born out of the need “to establish a professional structure wherein artists could concentrate on making art, while the gallery represents the interests of the artist to the outside world.”
“We were such outsiders in a tight-knit art community here,” Rillo tells Vogue Philippines. “In the beginning, it was a little daunting because we knew no one, but it was very clear what we wanted to do.” With Lorenzo and Rillo’s experience studying and working abroad, they were certain that the art in the Philippines was something that a larger audience should see. “It’s just as good, if not better, in many degrees, in many ways.”
Setting up shop in New York makes them outsiders again, they say, but they’re nevertheless thrilled. The timing couldn’t be more apt, with Black Lives Matter becoming a strong movement in the U.S. “It opened up this whole floodgate of curiosity and interest, and also responsibility for the ‘other’,” says Lorenzo.
Over the pandemic, Silverlens Galleries’ online stats revealed significant interest coming from the U.S. “We don’t know who these people are,” she says. “So it’s a calculated gamble, that there is an audience that will be interested in what we are and what our artists are doing. I’m so excited to show our work, to show our artists to a new audience.”
“I’m also excited about discovering these conversations between curators and artists from over there with our program, with us, and our artists,” adds Rillo. “Because that’s sort of half the program, getting involved with the diaspora in the States.”
Taking Art Home
Vogue’s exclusive look into Lorenzo and Rillo’s personal art collection is a fitting prelude to what’s up and coming in New York. Theirs is a mix of sculptures, textiles, tapestries, paintings, photographs, drawings, videos, and more. “All our artists do so many different things, and we love that,” begins Lorenzo. “Because it speaks of the creativity of the artist and their ability to make work that is completely contemporary and not fixed to a medium.”
“A lot of our collection is, in medium, very diverse. We are just…media-friendly. We like all mediums!” says Rillo. “And we live with our artworks, and change artworks once or twice a year. We live with them differently, at different times of the year.”
Lorenzo and Rillo’s collection was formed before they built their home. In 2013, while working together with architect Anna Sy, they added a storage room to the house plan, knowing full well that they would want to change their art sporadically.
They’ve recently decided to bring down the psychedelic fiberglass ping-pong table by Louie Cordero from upstairs, so that guests could play on it and experience the artwork.
“Each time is different,” adds Rillo. “Especially since there are so many things happening in the country now, and in the world, politically, and then there’s COVID that we have to live with.” At the height of the pandemic, Lorenzo and Rillo put up a Jonathan Singer golden chrysanthemum painting by the sitting area. It was an unusual choice for them, whose art preference is often “monochromatic, nothing so loud.”
At that time, it’s what they wanted to see. “These days, a lot of things are so precarious, so you have to sort of pick artworks that will make you feel better,” says Rillo. “And it doesn’t mean that one is prettier; no, it just makes you feel secure.”
With the world opening up again, the giant flower painting has so far been replaced by an abstract, monochromatic white diptych by Bernardo Pacquing, who, like many Filipino artists, makes use of found objects in his work, a practice characteristic of many contemporary Southeast Asian artists.
In the dining area lies one of their more permanent displays: a long wall of both Lorenzo and Rillo’s own artworks and photographs, having both started out as artists before becoming gallerists. It somehow serves as a reminder as to where they started and where they are now today. “It’s sort of like a ‘haha’ for us, you know, like ‘it’s our show!’” says Rillo. “We haven’t touched that since before the pandemic, and I think it’s gonna stay up for a while.”
In their bedroom, hung at opposite ends of the walls facing each other, are scrolls with splashes of pigments and paint by Mit Jai Inn. “The space that it creates is this beautiful energy,” says Lorenzo of her current favorite piece. “And I love how, as the day migrates, the sun migrates, and the space changes also.”
A practice piece made of woven bamboo reeds by Yee I-Lann, which was never shown, hangs framed by the bedroom hallway. “For artists, when they’re at a point when they’re trying things… that point is so sweet,” shares Rillo. “It’s not always the best work, but for me, I like the part where they’re testing and exploring things. That piece is my favorite lately.”
Filling Up Spaces
For three years, Lorenzo and Rillo lived in a 300-square meter warehouse. “Clearly it was temporary, but we loved the idea of living in one open area,” says Rillo. “It took us out of the idea of living in a house with many rooms and areas, and instead, having this lifestyle of living in one space, where you can move things around and you create pockets within a bigger space.”
The structure of the house is “very boxy,” Rachel shares, but the high ceilings and the common areas allow one to walk in and out of spaces that you feel you can breathe in.
It is designed with a sense of reveal that uses the in-between spaces “to give time before entering the next space,” thanks to Architect Sy’s clean lines and scale. Cases in point are the pathways between grand and small rooms, like the narrow hallway between the garden and the common area, the vestibule that meets you at the entrance, and the tunnel-like staircase, which, in place of rails, has Patricia Eustaquio’s “Spears” lining it.
“The spears are like guides. It’s made of very humble materials but they turn into something else. They look like sentinels,” says Lorenzo. It is made of PVC pipes and epoxy paint, gold aluminum wire, topped with plastic leaves, resembling the spears that Lapu-Lapu’s men used to kill Magellan. “It gives this idea of protection and a reference to nature. And I guess, it’s a stretch, but it’s also a reference to history.”
Sy had a free hand designing their home, with a few requests: a kitchen for Rillo who likes to cook to wind down, while Lorenzo asked for every part of the house to have a view of the garden. The lush greenery that surrounds the house is abound with plants and trees indigenous to the Philippines, providing shade and an added visual layer to the house, as it changes in the way it blooms through the summer and rainy days.
“It’s like an inside-outside way of living,” says Lorenzo. “We see the seasons through the plants and ‘borrow visually’ from our neighbors—like the kalachuchi tree that looks like it’s on our property, but it’s theirs. I found out it’s a Japanese art of garden-making called shakkei,” meaning borrowed scenery.
Natural light comes into play especially during the day, when the sunlight seeps in through the geometric grills that divide the garden and the house, casting long, beautiful shadows across the common area, where most of the artworks are.
“It’s nice to see the art transform during the day’s voyage of light,” shares Rillo. “And we didn’t see that until the pandemic! It was only then that we could stay at home and stare at how the day goes. I thought that was very interesting, very special to see, and part of the life of the artwork is how the day or the light affects it.”
Rachel and Isa believe that living with art “is an experience on its own.” For many collectors, they say, the experience is in the collecting—knowing what’s good for your collection, seeing it in the gallery, and acquiring it. But for the Silverlens pair, what comes after is the fun part. It’s about enjoying it and being conscious of how art affects the way you live.
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