Artist Interview: Lala Gallardo

Gallardo’s latest exhibit “Days” is a quiet, four-piece rumination on the ordinary

Days is the recently-concluded solo exhibit by Lala Gallardo (held at Vinyl On Vinyl Gallery, Pasong Tamo, Makati). At only four pieces it is a short but revealing look at the seemingly mundane life of a woman, half naked, in various states of routine.

In The Hundredth Stroke, she’s brushing her hair; we see her from behind while she ostensibly catches us peeking in her handheld mirror. She doesn’t look particularly shocked or dismayed. More indifferent, as if to say, “I’ve been combing my hair a hundred times. How long have you been watching me?”

In No Shame, she puts on a bra. There’s nothing inherently shameful in putting on a bra but one is reminded of the Fall, where we covered ourselves in our loss of innocence. Is wearing a bra, therefore, an act of spiritual defiance? It’s a tentative idea. What is clear is the painting dexterity on display; hands are notoriously hard to render but Gallardo paints like an old pro. Her subject holds her bra like she’s done it a thousand times; her fingers are smooth and confident. As you fill in the blanks, you can practically hear the hooks snap into place with graceful efficiency.

In Catechism the woman stands, still half naked, reading a catechism book. She’s pensive, prayer-like, and decidedly hidden behind her thick wavy hair. It’s a soothing image, but not without its silent tensions.

The woman is bare and alone, studying spiritual ideas. We can’t know what she’s thinking, we get no hints of what is on her mind. There’s only nakedness and concealment. It’s tempting to draw a parallel with religion: people open their hearts and bare their souls in an effort to connect with the supernatural. And yet sometimes, many eventually hide behind their beliefs and become isolated, lest they be tempted to sin, restricted from their true calling to live and love by their own fear of failure.

As if to balance this notion, Aping Yoko sees the woman take a pair of scissors to the strap of her white bra, echoing Yoko Ono’s 1965 performance “Cut Piece” where Ono submits herself to complete strangers who take turns cutting her garments with a pair of scissors. Except here, Gallardo’s subject is doing the cutting. Perhaps this is true defiance, cutting ties with what is deemed right and dutiful and proper – figuratively and literally letting all things hang loose in the face of constraint?

Gallardo’s muted palette with pastel hints make the ordinary look familiar and sublime. Each image is winsome in its commonness (except for cutting your bra, unless that’s a regular thing for you) and in its celebration of privacy and ritual. And while we never get to see the woman’s face completely, in ritual she has identity. And maybe that’s the point. Our daily rituals define us. Every day we get up, we go through the motions, and that is who we are. In this sense, ritual is much more than the ordinary. It is essential.

I recently caught up with Lala Gallardo to discuss her work, her artistic heritage, and the influence of David Bowie.

When did you first start painting? When was the moment you realized, this is it – I’m going to be an artist?
My dad introduced me to drawing as a small child, and I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. It’s always been a part of my identity–“Hi I’m Lala, I like cats and I draw”. The fact that my lolo (Filipino National Artist Cesar Legaspi) was a professional artist made me aware, from a young age, that it could be a viable profession. I was encouraged by my parents, and when my grandfather gave me his seal of approval by insisting I attend UP College of Fine Arts after high school, it was pretty much set in stone.

When was your first exhibition?
It was a very tentative effort, held in one of the original shops that revived the Marikina Shoe Expo or Cubao X. The shop was called Vintage Pop and I’d befriended the owner, Bong Salaveria. It was one of those chance encounters with a kindred spirit. I asked him if I could have a show there and he agreed. It was a big deal because I’d stopped painting and doing art for 8 years because I’d had an awful time in UPCFA. So, again it was me facing my fear and pursuing a dream.

What’s your preferred media?
I was experimenting with paper and embroidery for a few years before I decided to take the plunge (and face my fear) and take up oils again. I’ve gotten great reactions to my recent oil works, and I have to say I love it. It’s like something clicked and I found my style.

What fires your imagination and gets you in the zone?
I’m a huge fan of film. Great cinematography I find very inspiring. Recently because of Pinterest and other forms of social media I’ve discovered a lot of great photography, specifically women photographers. My last show was all about my obsession with Corinne Day’s photographs of a young Kate Moss. Also, music.

Indeed, music has a profound effect on how we create art. I read that you prefer old music or musicians you’ve never heard of. What were you listening to when you did your most recent work?
I was midway through working on my last show (“Days”) when David Bowie died, and I was very affected because I’ve been a huge fan for years–I looked on him my standard of cool. So I was listening to his last album, Blackstar, on repeat while I worked. Through Blackstar I was introduced to Kendrick Lamarr (Bowie’s producer named him as an influence). Also a lot of Velvet Underground and Patti Smith. I guess I was pretending to be a starving New York artist circa 1977.

What was the impetus of your latest exhibition “Days”?
For the longest time I didn’t know what to paint because I felt like I hadn’t experienced anything worth documenting. But as I grew older and more confident I realized that my voice is valid, and to trust in that voice. I ended up pursuing an idea that’s intensely personal, but I’d like to think, universal. I’m a new mother and I work from home, and I’d been dealing with some depression because of how parenthood had changed my life. Being housebound and cut off from the city made me feel irrelevant, old, and intensely bored. I was so frustrated but I knew there was a life I wanted to pursue, I just needed to be brave enough to do it. So this show was my therapy. I took on a feared medium, oil, and put some very private emotions on display. I was very scared going into it, but the reception has been great!

As a committed mother and artist, how do you manage your time to paint and create?
I no longer work at a 9-5 office, but juggling art and childcare is a struggle. My son (Diego) is only four and very attached to me. I am very lucky to have a yaya. And when things get crazy I ask my mother to take Diego in. I really had to send him on a week-long vacation in my parent’s house because it would have been impossible for me to work. It’s great though, when I bring my son to the opening and he recognizes my paintings: “Gawa ni mama yan!” (My mom made that!)

Your grandfather was the famed National Artist Cesar Legaspi. Your parents are also legends (Celeste Legaspi is an OPM icon; Dominador ‘Nonoy’ Gallardo is an influential composer and adman). There’s so much creative energy and accomplishment in your family. What kind of influence have your parents and grandfather had on your life?
Honestly, it’s a double edged sword. Growing up with creative people is an amazing experience I will always be grateful for, but when you come from a background like mine, you have to deal with what the OTHER people will say, or expect from you. That’s why I had to overcome a lot of fear. But they support me. My dad was the one who pushed me to make big canvases. My mom told me to just go for it, and that they would help me financially. So for that, I’m grateful.

What other artists do you look up to?
Yoko Ono, Vanessa Beercroft, Anish Kapoor, Gerhard Richter, Louise Bourgeois, Vilhelm Haemmershoi, Ai Wei Wei, Sanja Ivekovic, Allan Ballisi, Nona Garcia, and Maria Taniguchi.

You are originally form the south – what’s the art scene like there? And now, being based somewhat north, are there any major differences?
Not really. My art contacts were made online, and I’m not exactly masipag (industrious) when it comes to attending openings and shows. At most, moving closer to the city made a difference logistics wise, because it’s central. I guess because the galleries are spaced far apart (Pablo is in BGC, Vinyl on Vinyl and Silverlens are in Makati, Pablo X is in Cubao, etc), I don’t feel like I’ve moved closer to “the art center”; it’s not like New York where there’s a dense concentration of galleries or a real district.

I know that a lot of artists live in the south, and there are a few galleries, but I can’t really say there’s a big art scene there. I may be misinformed. I personally felt the need to move out of the south because I’d lived there my whole life and I wanted new experiences. But generally, I think because Metro Manila is such a huge sprawl anyone would end up having to commute a bit to go to where the art is.

What does art do for you?
It maintains my sanity.

What are you working on now?
A portrait of David Bowie that I’m going to hang on my studio wall.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing?

See more of Lala Gallardo’s work at

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