Fundacion Pacita: House of art atop a Batanes hill
- Rudy A. Fernandez () - November 12, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - There’s an internationally known “house of art” nestling atop a scenic hill in Batanes. It’s named Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge in memory of a globally acclaimed Ivatan gypsy artist whose legacy to humankind are her 3,500 works of art crafted in a span of more than three decades.

Pacita Abad, who was born in the Batanes capital town of Basco on Oct. 5, 1946 and succumbed to the Big C in Singapore in 2004, now rests in peace on the wind-caressed Tukon Hill adjacent to Fundacion Pacita.

 “Pacita Abad, the multicolored Ivatan gypsy artist, traveled around the world and found home overlooking the South China Sea on her beloved island of Batanes,” her website reads.

Her painting was characterized by constant change, experimentation, and development from the 1970s up to her passing.

Her early art pieces were primarily figurative sociopolitical works of people and primitive masks. Another series was large-scale paintings of tropical flowers, animal wildlife, and underwater scenes.

Art house: The interiors of the lodge were designed to resemble a gallery decorated with artworks by well-known and up-and-coming artists.

 “Pacita’s most extensive body of work, however, is her vibrantly colorful abstract work…on a complete range of materials from canvas and paper to bark cloth, metal, ceramics, and glass,” her biographical sketch states.

More about the late Batanes artist:

 “Pacita constantly experimented with ideas that moved her beyond the confines of the traditional two-dimensional surface by developing trapunto painting, a technique of stitching and stuffing her painted canvases to give them a three-dimensional sculptural effect. She then began an almost magical process of transforming the surface of her paintings with materials, such as traditional cloth, mirrors, beads, shells, plastic buttons, and other objects, which she synthesized with bold colors to create uniquely individualistic pieces of art.

 “Underlying all of Pacita’s work is a vivacious spirit, vibrant originality and a volcano of colors. Her works are all about life and pursing dreams; they are full of purpose, nothing tentative, and they are drawn from her personal experiences. Like the artist’s life, Pacita’s paintings are a celebration of pure passion, joy, and color that come straight from the heart.”

In more than three decades, Abad held more than 40 solo exhibitions at museums and galleries in Asia, the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Africa. She participated in more than 50 group and traveling exhibitions across the world.

Her work is now in public, corporate, and private art collections in more than 70 countries.

Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge was Abad’s home studio, which has been refurbished by her brother, current Budget and Management Secretary Butch Abad. Secretary Abad himself designed the rooms to resemble a gallery with the walls adorned by masterpieces of well-known and up-and-coming artists.

Some of the artworks were donated by noted Filipino artists, such as BenCab, Janice Young, Araceli Dans, Roland Santos, Camille dela Rosa, Lito Baldemor, Carlos Rocha, and Joven Ignacio. Also featured are works of Ivatan artists who have won the annual Batanes Art Competition (Olan Gonzales, Abelador, JP Portez, and Tere Gordo).

Art pieces contributed by Pacita’s sister, watercolorist Victoria Abad-Kerblat, and Glasgow-based Pio Abad are also on display.

Fundacion Pacita’s sprawling sundeck lets the visitor enjoy the picturesque, breathtaking surroundings, as we felt when our group (with Dr. Dante de Padua, engineers Armando Diaz and Francis Calanio, and Basco accountant Julis Baronia) were ushered into the idyllic house of art by Mrs. Abad-Kerblat.

The foundation supports two things close of Pacita’s heart: Batanes and art. “Our proceeds fund the education of young Ivatan artists as well as heritage conservation projects in Batanes,” its website states.

Who was Pacita Abad?

Her early life revolved around Batanes situated between Luzon’s mainland (280 kilometers north of Aparri, Cagayan, and 190 km south of Taiwan). Her parents were Jorge Abad and Aurora Barsana, both distinguished politicians.

Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge provides visitors with an inner calm (above) as well as a sprawling view of the Batanes outdoors.

Pacita earned a baccalaureate degree in Political Science from University of the Philippines Diliman in 1967 and attended law school for a year.

Political unrest and demonstrations against the Maros regime pervaded in the so-called “Diliman Republic” in the 1960s, the decade that preceded the much-ballyhooed “Third Quarter Storm.”

The Abad family was not spared from threats during the turbulent years, prompting Pacita’s parents to send their social activist daughter to the US and Spain to continue her studies in law.

But her plan changed in 1970 when, on her way to Spain, she decided to stay in San Francisco, where she mixed with the local art community, and began painting.

Between obtaining her master’s degree in Asian History at the University of San Francisco and her contacts with the art world, painting gradually became not simply an incidental activity but eventually her way of life and profession.

Pacita began her formal art training at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC. In 1977, she studied at the Arts Student League in New York. She started her travels with a two-month trip to Mexico and then spent a year hitchhiking from Turkey all the way across Asia to the Philippines.

During these journeys, Pacita came face to face with cultures dramatically different from her own. These sojourns led to longer stays in Thailand, Bangladesh, Sudan, Dominican Republic, and other parts of Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

The nature lodge in its all its green, sprawling glory

She moved to Indonesia in 1993, traveling throughout this vast archipelagic Asian country for seven years. Falling in love with Java’s wayang shadow puppets, she completed a series of more than 110 paintings that colorfully interpreted the traditional Indonesian puppets.

Pacita moved to Singapore in 2000. During her visit to the US in late 2001, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and was operated on at George Washington Hospital in Washington, DC. After her release from the hospital she returned to Singapore for further treatment.

Between her radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments at Singapore’s National University Hospital, Pacita traveled to India and China and held solo exhibitions of her “Endless Blues” paintings in Singapore, Norway, and Finland.

In 2003, she produced Circles in My Mind, a book documenting the production of her 56 mixed-media paper works.

Physical difficulties eventually burdened her as her cancer had spread to her brain and spinal canal. But she pushed hard to complete her artistic commitments.

She next painted Singapore’s 55-meter-long Alkaff Bridge, which spans the Singapore River. While doing so, she underwent radiotherapy treatment every morning as an outpatient, and then went to work on it immediately after. This piece has been acclaimed as Singapore’s first “Art Bridge.”

Pacita continued to work on a new series called “Obsession” and produced another book featuring her series of paintings. Although her health continued to deteriorate, she painted feverishly and traveled for short periods.

In late 2004, she became partially paralyzed but continued to paint and traveled to Manila to meet with members of her family. Wheelchair-bound, she opened her solo exhibition “Circles in My Mind” in Manila. She later traveled to her studio in Batanes, but her already poor health forced her to return to Singapore and be admitted to the hospital, where she passed away a few months later.

Pacita’s life story is summed up thusly:

“A wind-swept hill in Tukon, next to Fundacion Pacita, is where Pacita, one of Asia’s foremost contemporary painters, who touched so many people around the world with her rainbow of colors, exuberant smile, booming laughter, boundless energy and unabashed enthusiasm for life and art, is now at rest. Pacita Abad, the multicolored Ivatan gypsy artist, traveled around the world and found home overlooking the South China Sea on her beloved island of Batanes.”

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