Philippines native and self-taught artist lyan De Jesus thoughtfully blends steampunk complications with a touch of romance
By Robin Jay
Breathtaking, isn’t it? Stories in Opulence often initiate with a random glimpse of captivating imagery, a thrilling search to locate the source, and the spellbinding anticipation of uncovering a fabulous story. This is exactly what happened recently when someone sent me a recipe (most who know me would laugh at the pointlessness of sending me a recipe, but I digress, it did have a silver lining).
Next to the intended post, I noticed something fascinating – a brilliantly colorful and complicated painting by lyan De Jesus titled, “The Girl With A Telescope” (shown on the cover of this magazine).
I traced backward, link after link, and arrived at a blind email template that appeared to originate in the Philippines. Crossing my fingers that lyan would speak English, I sent a request for an interview. In the morning a reply waited in my inbox. Not only did lyan speak English, she spoke eloquent English, and agreed to tell me her story.
“I wasn’t a professional painter when I painted The Girl With A Telescope,” lyan told Opulence. “The temporary title was ‘seek’ because I was still figuring stuff about myself and what I was supposed to do with my skill, whether or not I should be a professional painter or stay as a graphic designer. I was barely an adult and I was overwhelmed by the unknown future. The mechanical elements on this piece represent the passing time and the complicated process of growing up. The telescope represents my frustration to dig deeper into whatever is ahead of me. This piece opened up a door for me in the art scene. I left my job as a graphic designer shortly after I finished this piece.”
lyan, now a 29-year-old, resides in Quezon City, Metro Manila, but was born in Bulacan. “It’s a semi-rural province surrounded by trees and rice fields, which I thought of as my ‘playground’ when I was a kid. It’s where I first taught myself to paint.
“You can say that my interest in drawing/painting is innate, but it took me years of practice. I was an art school reject. I tried to apply for an art degree after I quit my architecture studies, but I was not accepted. That’s why I learned on my own. From 2008-10, I locked myself inside my room for about a year (only going out of the house once or twice a month) when I was still learning how to paint. My first medium was colored pencils, then I tried watercolors, then acrylics, and then I ended up falling in love with oils.”
lyan’s style is loosely based on the steampunk genre, but over time she transitioned to a new style without completely removing mechanical elements. “Mechanical Romanticism is the term I use to describe my style. The mechanical elements symbolize function and interconnection in nature. I never used a ruler/compass in any of my paintings, even for those circles,” she explained. “There is something about machines that gives me the impression that it will last forever. Like, if I incorporate it with my works, whatever is the story behind that piece will not be lost even after centuries.”
The young artist says some people describe her paintings as “post-apocalyptic” because “the setting is much different from the world we are living in, yet the subject is still human.” “The world in my paintings may be purely imaginary, but it is also something that is not that far from reality. You might say I am a frustrated storyteller. I love to write stories, but I’m not that good with words, which is why I try to tell stories through my art. There are stories hidden behind those intricate details.
“I really appreciate it when people take their time to look at my paintings carefully, like they are decoding the stories behind it. Whenever I see someone look at my art for more than a few seconds, I feel like all those sleepless nights I spent working on those details are worth it.”
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