Pacita Abad

b. 1946, Batanes, Philippines
d. 2004, Singapore

Pacita Abad was the daughter of a congressman, who had hoped that she would traverse a similar political path. But, the course of Pacita’s life changed after she started her law studies and begins organizing student demonstrations in Manila opposing the Marcos regime and protesting fraudulent elections in Batanes. Her family was targeted and their home in Manila was sprayed with bullets. Because of the increased political violence in 1969 her parents urged Pacita to leave Manila and finish her law degree in Spain.

On the way to Europe she stopped to visit a relative in San Francisco and decided to study in America. The move was a huge cultural shock for Pacita, as a sheltered Asian Catholic girl she plunged into the vibrant city scene bursting with racial and religious diversity, drugs, music and political protests. Pacita embraced the exhilarating experience while continuing with her graduate studies. She then met and married artist, George Kleiman, who introduced her to painting and the San Francisco art world. The relationship was short-lived, and in 1973 she decided to spend a year traveling by land across Asia with Jack Garrity, a development economist.

Pacita’s trip across Asia to the Philippines through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Taiwan and Hong Kong drastically changed her life and career plans, as she decided to take up painting instead of law. Married to Garrity, whose work predisposed them to travel to numerous developing countries, her experiences in each place informed her subject matter from the beginning. Traditional art practices like ink-brush painting in Korea, paint brushing the Dominican Republic, batik making in Indonesia, tie-dye in Africa, mirrors in India, shells in Papua New Guinea, were all techniques she introduced either singly or several in one art work. In the late seventies and early eighties Pacita introduced a quilting method trapunto onto her canvasses, which were then layered with objects on top of her quilted material: stones, sequins, glass, buttons, shells, mirrors, printed textile. She referred to this technique, and the process of layering, stuffing, stitching and the collaging of objects on painted canvas as trapunto painting.

Characterized by vibrant colour and accumulated material, these large scale trapunto paintings traverse a diversity of subject matter: from tribal masks and social realist tableaus depicting the individuals and communities that Pacita encountered throughout her travels, to lush and intricately constructed underwater compositions and abstractions. She lived and travelled in a bewildering amount of countries – from Bangladesh to Sudan, Bangkok to Manila, Jakarta to Yemen, Washington D.C. to Singapore – and it is this itineracy that has defined and shaped her subject matter. Pacita’s work brought together images and experiences across cultures, economies and histories and offered reflections on the global long before the discourses of globalization and transnationalism were felt in the art world.

She died in Singapore in 2004. However, the Pacita Abad Estate ensures that her works in still seen in exhibitions globally.

Country: Philippines