Arts and Culture

Keka Enriquez: The accidental painter

Although the term young artist is usually reserved for young, non-established artists, San Francisco based Francesca Enriquez, although young in years, is one artist who is not only established, but accomplished, successful, not to mention one of the most talented in her generation.

Known as "Keka" to her friends, this one of six sisters, who once danced ballet with Lisa Macuja, graduated in 1987 from the University of the Philippines with a fine arts degree. She has been multi-awarded in her almost 20- year career, which she describes as having started almost as an accident: "Being a professional artist didn’t come as a conscious decision for me. Events in my life just seemed to point me towards that direction."

Part of an extremely talented and successful UP class, which includes Popo San Pascual, Pardo de Leon and Waling Gorospe, perhaps no event was more significant to her professional career than when she participated in a show at the Pinaglabanan Galleries as one of the students of renowned artist Chabet. This is where her work was first spotted by Vita Sarenas, the owner of Finale Art Gallery, which has been called by the Far Eastern Economic Review as "Manila’s nexus of serious (art) collectors."

Vita recalls, "They were always running around in those days. It would be the night before the show and they would be hanging paintings that were still wet. But that’s when I approached her to do a show for Finale and her first show was completely sold out. At that time a 6-foot x 6-foot painting cost only P4,000!"

She moved to San Francisco after brief stays in Australia and England to get her masters in fine arts from Norwich University under a Unesco grant.

"I have my five sisters living here in San Francisco, and I really like the weather. It’s also more laid-back than New York and the transportation system is excellent. That’s important because I don’t drive. There is also that added diversity which makes it feel almost like home."

"Psychologically, I left Manila because I felt like I could grow faster as a person abroad as opposed to the feeling of complacency I was already feeling while in Manila. I sometimes wonder if I’ll enjoy living in Europe since I only lived in England for a year, which I actually didn’t enjoy."

Getting many of her inspirations from looking at a lot of photographs, reading a lot of magazines, "doing the gallery rounds and just continuously painting and discovering processes that work for [her]," Keka’s trademark interiors, which she describes as "something that is easy to the eye in terms of color and composition using a lot of thick paint," have been exhibited in both the Philippines and abroad. Influenced early in her career by neo-expressionist painters like Francesco Clemente, Georg Baselitz and Longo and most recently by Austrian artist Luc Tuymans and German artists Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Kippenberger, she composes her paintings "randomly, by using a lot of intuition and a little of the tips I learned from other artists."

Currently waitressing at Boudin in Macy’s Union Square just to get away from the pressures of her painting, I asked her if she had a single favorite work: "Well, I have done so many paintings so I don’t really have one favorite. And I really have a bad memory! There was a time I got invited to this party by an acquaintance who didn’t know I painted. She just knew me as ‘Keka’ and I didn’t know she was an art collector. She was showing me her collection and I got attracted to this one painting and I asked her whose it was. She said, ‘Francesca Enriquez!’ It turned out to have been a really early work of mine and we have been good friends ever since."

Keka’s passion and dedication as an artist have been richly rewarded by her success. That makes it even more unusual that she feels a sense of insecurity when it comes to her art. When her paintings sell, she is afraid that they are commercial. However, when they don’t, she thinks they might not be good enough. Perhaps it is just the inherent insecurity in all of us, or more likely, it is Keka’s ardent pursuit of and commitment to perfection in a craft that she already exceedingly excels in.

Francesca "Keka" Enriquez’s latest show, Still Lifes, runs from Dec. 16 to 31, at the Finale Art Gallery in SM Megamall. For inquiries, call 634-2411.
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