Madrid-based painter, jeweler, and photographer Cristina Grisar grew up surrounded by art. Her mother, aunt, and grandmother are painters while her father is an art collector. “Art has always been part of my daily life so I didn’t see it as something new and I didn’t even notice it,” she says. “Art was and is part of my daily language, a communicative manner as natural as speaking.”
Art was woven so tightly into the fabric of her family life that she couldn’t see it as a career that she could choose for herself. “I had to go through a personal crisis to discover my vocation,” she says. Seeking her own identity outside of the “family business,” she studied literature and journalism in university and later worked for a Chilean magazine. She was good at journalism but it wasn’t the way she wanted to express herself. Writing for her was like “creating inwards,” and she wanted to “create from within and [let] my creation bloom and express outwards.”
She then enrolled in Universidad Catolica in Chile for a Master in Advanced Design. It was an intensive education in drawing, painting, sculpture, and jewelry making. She was also introduced to the practicalities and challenges of the art business. When an Industrial Design scholarship at Pratt Institute in New York didn’t pan out, she channeled her energy into painting and jewelry. “I knew then that in art I had found a way of expression that I could find nowhere else. I just needed the time and experience to know it.” She has been professionally devoted to art for the past seven years.
Though she says she has been painting for as long as she can remember, the 33-year-old Grisar initially struggled with her multidisciplinary approach to creative expression. “To be taken seriously has been a challenge for me,” she admits. Her teachers warned her about losing focus and spreading herself too thin by working with too many mediums, including painting, jewelry, photography, and even sculpture and textiles. A Japanese jeweler conducting a workshop she attended asked her, “Where’s your 100 percent?”
“It really hurt me and I thought about it a lot,” she says. After some reflection, and a period of focusing solely on jewelry before returning to painting, she concluded that all of her works communicated with each other and that she didn’t need to restrict herself to one format. She notes that the three dimensional quality of the jewelry-making process informs her work as a painter, and that she’s a photographer because she’s a painter. Today, she describes herself as “a versatile artist.”
“For me, painting, jewelry and photography are sibling mediums that contain magic transmission powers, like doorways to other dimensions.”
Her interpretation of these portals to other dimensions in her paintings, jewelry, and photography will be on full display at Grisar’s first solo exhibit, “The Bejewelled Cosmos,” which runs until February 28 at the Glass Wing of the Ayala Museum. Though she didn’t grow up in Manila, she feels a connection to the city because of her family’s strong emotional ties. “When I started feeling confident as an artist, I always imagined my solo debut to be in Manila. My mother was born and raised in Manila until the age of 12 and it is through her that I learned about the Philippines. I grew up listening to her childhood stories, all of them placed in Manila. Half of my family is also based here,” including her grandmother, painter Betsy Westendorp, whose “atmospherographies” and aerial landscapes Grisar cites as an influence in her own work.
At a press preview at her grandmother’s Makati condo, Grisar explains that her huge, abstract paintings lining the walls of the room are inspired by cosmological mysteries and the inner formations of crystals. Jewelry cases hold armor-like rings, cuffs, and neckpieces that explore the concepts of treasure and the formation of emotional connections to ornaments. Her photographs feature “impossible landscapes and fantastic realms.”
What ties it all together for a cohesive show? The works all reflect her personal fascination with cosmology, nature, the organic, the mineral, the sense of belonging, and the feminine world. “My main themes, obsessions, and beliefs are always present equally in my work, whatever format it is in,” says the versatile artist who has finally found her place in the bejewelled cosmos.
The Bejewelled Cosmos is on view until Feb. 28 at The Artist Space, 2/F Glass Wing, Ayala Museum, Makati.
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