“I never left art,” declares Yola Johnson, “Soumak is my art.”
The artist did abandon the idea of showing her works in the so-called white cube, or art gallery, where she admitted her art hardly sold. Not that it bothered her. “I’m used to rejection,” Johnson says laughing. Soumak, a boutique gallery that Johnson founded 20 years ago, became a repository for the artist’s creative pursuits.
Located in one of Makati’s less-frenetic fringe communities, Johnson’s showroom is filled with crafts, furniture, home accessories, décor, and other random articles displayed alongside paintings and sculptures. The objects, designed by Johnson herself and a pool of collaborators that include artisans, artists, and anonymous crafters, are casually intertwined, blurring the lines between the various practices. In Johnson’s domain, they all stand equal.
“Even an artisan can make something that is as precious as fine art,” Johnson explained. “An inspired piece, by all means, we have to consider as a piece of art, whether it’s a tray, a chair, etc.. That’s my number one requirement in everything I do. It must be inspired, even if it’s just cooking noodles or whatever. Otherwise, it’s not art.”
Johnson kicks off the celebrations for Soumak’s 20th anniversary with a two-man exhibition (yet to be titled as of this writing) featuring the works of artists Johnny Alcazaren and Trek Valdizno. It will be the penultimate event that Johnson will be hosting in Soumak’s Bormaheco Condominium showroom before she vacates the place in October.
Valdizno and Alcazaren have collaborated with Johnson in the past, creating works deftly pitched between their own approach and Soumak’s credo.
Alcazaren past works include a series of lamps made from his signature materials—found objects. “I like working with whatever is lying around, then something just grows out of it,” explained the artist. Another collection inspired by the humble whisk is a brusque composition of salvaged wood crowned with unruly loops of rusted metals. The artist is equally adroit with more delicate materials, as can be seen in the small family of sconces with a wooden base topped by luminous mother of pearl plates that reflect light from a bare bulb.
The two artists may have opposing styles, but their works display the qualities that Johnson find so endearing. “They’re witty and playful,” she said, “and they have lives of their own, which grow on you.”
September 13 to 30; Ground floor, Bormaheco Condominium, Zapote corner Metropolitan Avenue, Makati.
This story was originally published in the September 2017 issue of Town&Country.