By Bonnie Gangelhoff
In January, Northern California-based painter Thomas Soltesz flew from San Francisco to the Philippine Islands. Southwest Art’s Bonnie Gangelhoff caught up with Soltesz while he was staying in the countryside there. During his one-month sojourn, he took photographs as well as completed a number of works in Manila and the provinces. This is the fifth in a series of columns that invite you to travel along with artists to far-flung locations.
The Philippine Islands are a fairly exotic location for most artists. Why have you chosen them as a painting destination?
I started a graphic design business in Manila in the mid-1970s, and I have always felt at home in the islands. The people here are welcoming and loving towards Americans. The landscape is appealing to me because it has all the elements that make a great painting—great atmospheric conditions, puffy clouds, clear skies, and blue water. I love painting mountains, clouds, boats, and animals, not to mention the beautiful faces of the local people.
How have the islands changed over the years?
When I moved here in 1976, the only foreigners I met were either military people or Peace Corps volunteers. Now with foreign companies going “global,” the Philippines have become an inexpensive place to set up manufacturing and call centers. The Filipino people have had a very strong American influence since World War II. Most of the media is in English and 80 percent of the population speaks English. I am starting to see more Americans in Manila, but not in the provinces, where there are more Germans and Swiss.
Have you painted here before?
This is my fourth painting trip to the Philippines. When I paint in Manila, I hire models and paint in friends’ back yards. Painting in the streets of the city would be impossible. The sheer mass of humanity and activity is overwhelming. On this trip, I will go to the middle of the Philippines, a small college town called Dumaguete. It is on the coast and has great mountains in the background, wonderful rice fields, and bamboo huts.
How does travel inspire you?
I was born a traveler; I live to explore. It is a part of who I am, and being an artist just makes it that much more enjoyable. I have never considered myself a tourist, because I don’t go to tourist spots. I am a traveler.
Blue Banca by Thomas Soltesz
What has been the biggest surprise of the trip?
So far, there have been no surprises. On the last trip there was—I forgot how shy most Filipinos are when it comes to modeling and having someone stare at them.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Finding a cool place to paint away from the crowds. The Philippines are north of the equator, but it is still the tropics, and the weather is hot and humid all year round. I love the heat and tend to paint before the sun gets too strong. I always try to cover up with an ample supply of sunblock and a good hat.
What is the most memorable experience?
Meeting the locals. I am always impressed with the type of people I run into in some of the most remote locations.
Have you ever been in a dangerous situation?
Our government does not want us to venture to the southern islands, where the anti-government forces are. But I have never felt any danger or threat there. I have traveled all over the Philippines in the past 30 years, and I can honestly say I feel much safer here than I do in many places in the United States.
How do the people react to you?
The Filipino people are wonderful and very accepting. I must have been an islander in a previous life. It is very common to have five to 10 people standing behind me on the beach when I am painting. Most of them are quiet and respectful. Many are children, and they are just fascinated. I love to tell them what I am doing and show them as much as I can. A small impression can go a long way with a curious mind. In general, the Filipinos are very interested in art.
Soltesz is represented by William Lester Gallery, Point Reyes Station, CA; Kertesz Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Studio 7 Fine Arts, Pleasanton, CA; The Gallery, Burlingame, CA; Just Looking Gallery, San Luis Obispo, CA; Fairmont Gallery, Sonoma, CA; David Ryan Gallery, Orcutt, CA; Sloan Miyasato, San Francisco, CA; and www.solteszart.com.
Featured in April 2007