Omi Reyes has come a long way as an artist from starting his painting career as a textile painter in early 1980’s to slowly becoming known as a versatile painter dabbling with new techniques for different painting genres. Nowadays, his works center more on modern realism. In the early days of his career, he painted floral designs on diaphanous and gossamer material to accessorize fashion. Fresh from college back then, he didn’t have much of a choice as he had to find a steady source of income. His artistic soul, however, hungered for venues that can really showcase more of his creativity and celebrate the way he views the world around him through art.
A graduate of the University of the East (in the Philippines), he majored in Advertising Arts during which he realized his interest is really in painting. When asked to speak a bit of his background during interviews, Omi does not hesitate to admit, “I came from a poor family and going through school was really a hard struggle.” He intimated that he drew strength and inspiration from the support given him by his parents who did not prevent him from pursuing an artistic career despite the practical need for a more lucrative profession.
Being a true artist at heart, his limited resources at the start did not deter him from continually experimenting on his subjects and style. His initial subjects manifested his affinity with nature. His desire to showcase the beauty of nature and the need to protect it influenced the choice of his usual themes. Scenes from nature evoking feelings of tranquility and peace of mind, birds to exemplify freedom and beauty in simplicity, flowers through which the artist’s philosophic viewpoints on beauty and life are conveyed are just among the many natural representations with which he portrays his sentiments and advocacies.
The message of peace reiterated in all of Omi’s works, has a way of being etched in the mind’s eye and cannot be ignored. He establishes his deep connection to his audience through the feelings he evokes and exposes on his canvas. He fittingly describes this by saying “hopefully, my paintings are able to relate to my personal call for non-violence and deep respect and love for nature.”
While before, the painter centered his themes mostly on the magnificence of nature, he has become comfortable in diversifying his subjects. His treatment of flowers for example is something else. Centering on the floral theme, he rendered a unique style through the use of his fingers. At that time, he was one of only two names associated with finger painting in the Philippine scene. Instead of using a brush to apply the pigments on to his surface, he dabbled with the use of fingers in applying the visual effects he wanted to come out. Of interest is the manner in which the artist achieved an impressionist interpretation of his background of leaves and light achieved by a pastel-like application of oil colors. It is not only the brilliant hues which promptly captivate the viewer but the inexplicable feeling of being face to face with a timeless presence. For almost three decades his works carried the characteristic inventiveness in painting flowers.
Omi’s inventiveness did not stop there. He collaborates with his wife, Susan, on coming up with ideas on interpreting subjects and applying techniques. With much support and inspiration from his wife, he broke new grounds when he started combining floral painting with abstractions of color fields and textured planes amid the polyphony of visual elements that are both compositional and decorative. His versatility has been greatly manifested through the variations in style, color, subjects, or even a mix of his different techniques. Gone were the mono-chromatic shades that somehow spoke of sadness, sometimes melancholy. Omi would only say, “I have matured as an artist and people have begun to recognize my own style.”
He believes that a true artist is one who is not afraid of trying out new ways of rendering art. He plays around with depth and focus, photographic impressionism, abstraction, at times surrealism, juxtaposing different subjects, mixing light and shadow to create a rare hazy, smoky effect evoking evanescence and ethereal landscapes among others. Being a frustrated musician, he says that he always finds a way to convey his musical inclination regardless of his theme as suggested by his works “Rhythm of the Wind”, “A Symphony of Flowers”, “Harmony in Still Life”, and in his most recent one-man-show entitled “Omi’s Symphony” where he focused on musical instruments as a theme subject.
Born on Valentine’s Day, Omi exemplifies love, dedication, harmony, peace where his art is concerned.
In retrospect, Omi is a man who believes that art stems from a heart and spirit that are pure and free from pretense and malice – that the artist himself should be at peace with himself and with the elements.
Omi’s recent works is a combination of modern realism, landscape, surrealism as a celebration of his self-discovery and mixed media. His numerous one-man exhibits and several group shows have taken him and his works to Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the United States. Those fortunate to have seen many of his works can always expect something new from this artist. His inventive style does not escape notice of casual viewers and art connoisseurs alike. Of note are his contracted work on some church murals, mural paintings in Sultan Bolkiah’s musical room at his palace in Brunei, and paintings he rendered in the residence of the Sultan’s brother in the Philippines. He vows to continue the brilliance and diversity of his palette. He hopes to share it not only with Filipinos but also with the rest of the world.
What inspired you to become an artist?
Drawing was a very big part of my childhood. I never liked studying, but you can always find me drawing. I started holding a pencil and paper since I was two. I guess I can say that it is innate. So what inspired me must be that I embraced and used that natural gift that was given to me, developed it, until I had the chance to properly educate myself about art and apply it as a profession.
What was your first exhibit like?
My debut as a professional visual artist was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in 1983, with more than fifty pieces of paintings comprised of a vast number of subjects such as landscapes, still life and floral paintings. I was a resident artist of Gallery Echeveria and was given a break by my handler, Rene Rocha, who was a Spanish art broker, who managed me for three years. As a newbie in this profession, I was nervous of how the art community would accept me. In retrospect, it was a big breakthrough for my career as I was introduced to the art industry that I now call my second home.
What are you currently working on?
The pandemic has affected us in many different ways. In how we do our jobs, where now, most people work from home. As an artist, I always worked from home, but still it affected how I created. Recently I have shifted to doing minor works, some drawings on paper. The pandemic and the mess of relocating to a temporary house because of our current home impovements has brought me to this current mood of creating. I had to succumb to a dwelling where most part of my mind will have less stress. I have yet to find a new place to create my major works again. I must consider our house renovation my current project where I can work on our home’s new look.
What is your process like?
I cannot say I have a process. My art “happens”. It is not planned. It is done in an intuitive manner. The composition is only created in my mind. I rarely do studies. I am like a kid stacking his Lego piece by piece as I try to build my art until its final bits. As I start doing, the creativity flows naturally. My artworks seem to create themselves where I become the instrument, and the art becomes its own creator.
What was the most valuable thing you learned doing your art?
When I was a young artist in the 80’s, I have already been doing this style, which is now called Steampunk. I never knew it was a genre before. I only did it to satisfy what I really wanted, in contrast to what I was actually doing, the floral paintings, which was the more practical genre, as it was what the art market demanded. I never pursued it because I knew it will not put food on the table. As a family man, that was not what I wanted. I had to admit that I have a responsibility to sell and not just express my artistry, and that was my reality.
So now, the most important thing for me when I create is when I am able to genuinely express who I am in my work. Where there is no competition. Where there is no comparison. Only the uniqueness and beauty of his or her own work remains. And that above all, I am creating to embody the best version of myself.
What is your favorite piece you’ve created?
I have to say that I have my seasonal favorites. Most of the time, what I am currently working on becomes my favorite piece. Because as I have mentioned, I exert all that I am when I create something and that means my time, effort and my being becomes my art. I have a couple of exhibits where my artworks were created out of my weakness. I always had a hard time sleeping at night. When you suffer in insomnia, the mind creates an illusion where time becomes an endless abyss while telling you that time is also scarce. In my 19th solo show, “About Time” I created pieces that resembled surreal clocks, conveying the perplexity of my emotion towards time. My 21st exhibit, entitled “Streamlined” came about when I was experiencing a creative slowdown, and it resulted to my works that seemed unfinished to me, lacking my usual rustic hues. Then a friend helped my realize that they are good as they are, streamlined to be simplistic in nature, focused in more monochromatic tones.
It doesn’t mean that these are my favorite pieces. They just resonate who I am during the time I was most vulnerable. That to me speaks more meaning than any other works that I created.
What is your favorite piece by another artist?
Again, I don’t have one particular piece, but I look up to Lao Lianben’s style where he’s able to create elegance in the most simple elements and strokes. Usually, we admire others because we see what we lack in ourselves. I like art minimalism which I find difficult to achieve.
Why do you work in the medium that you do?
Generally, the media I use are what I am comfortable with. During the time I was finger-painting, I did not know there existed a school in China that teaches it. A cloth and my two fingers were what I used because they gave me more freedom to apply paint on my canvas. I used oil paint before but used acrylic paint instead, because it is not good with constant contact with the skin.
In my current genre, steampunk, I guess you can say I try to deviate from the norm of steampunk equals metalworks. So I use wood and resin instead. I am fascinated with old wood, those that are usually left in old houses or ones you see lying around by the roadside while driving in the rural areas. But recently I also add bits of metal to my works. I constantly explore and see what I can work with.
What is your favorite place to create in?
I work at home, in my studio adjacent to my workshop. I like to create in an environment where I feel relaxed. It takes time for me to adjust in the surroundings, much like a child getting accustomed to a new guardian. I must feel comfortable. This is the reason why in our current status, where we’re undergoing a lot of construction and transition, I am still finding my way to steal time and create simple drawings and sketches.
Biography written by the artist’s nephew-in-law Jet de los Santos as an entry to the Best of World Art book.