ADORNMENT & EQUANIMITY
Three is a favorite number, maybe because I am inclined to asymmetry. But whatever the reason, in November 2020, Caro Wilson had a third anniversary. I was very excited for it.
It went surprisingly well considering the pandemic. I attribute this to cabin fever, and to our policy of observing strict health protocols, including by-appointment-only viewings.
The pandemic actually was a very creative one for me -- we prototyped new jewelry, lighting, phonecases, tables, chairs, display cases, and we began and finished a website... phew! So I was pleased with the show, not only from a new product point of view, but also from a presentation point of view. The new display cases in black charred pine got a lot of kudos.
The Third Anniversary made me recall the very first launch on 6 November 2017, when we published a catalog on the exhibition. We reproduce some of it here as our very first journal.
FOREWORD BY JAIME PONCE DE LEON, FROM THE CATALOG "ADORNMENT & EQUANIMITY" 6 NOVEMBER 2017:
I met Mark a couple of years ago through a common friend, Tony Gutierrez, but remained acquaintances till the passing of Ramon Villegas, when we became close and partnered on acquiring some pieces from his estate. I have enjoyed joining forces with Mark on such ventures, as both our open-mindedness has gotten us to tread on pieces that were outside our areas of knowledge, but based mostly on instinct, and the confidence and respect we had for Ramon’s taste. It was with such an impulse that we managed to acquire what is probably among the finest collection of Philippine textiles ever assembled, for which we found have proudly found a home in Anak Mindanao Foundation.
I am very happy to see Mark launch his jewelry line; it is a true manifestation of his artistry. How he can see beauty in the most ordinary of things, or find charm in objects without apparent intrinsic value, is a facet that amazes me. His probing and logical mind, especially on antiques, has earned my respect.
On behalf of León Gallery, I am proud to present CARO in our exhibition space, juxtaposed with one of the great geniuses of Philippine Modern Art, Florencio B. Concepcion.
FOREWORD BY ME, MARK WILSON, FROM THE CATALOG "EQUANIMITY & ADORNMENT" 6 NOVEMBER 2017:
Some people are good at discerning prophecy in the words of friends. I am not one of those people.
Two months before he died, in August 2017, my friend and wise elder, Ramon Villegas said to me, "It's in my jewelry and furniture restoration where I'm doing well." I remembered those words, and they did in fact foretell what the future had in store for me.
Four months after he died, I had started a furniture restoration workshop, and 14 months after he died, I am debuting a jewelry collection. In both cases, much of the furniture and many of the jewelry components came from Ramon himself. They reached me via his family, in private sales after his death.
About 15 years ago, Ramon also told me I should meet a friend of his, Federico de Vera, who had a store in New York, where I was living at the time. I eventually did meet Federico, via a mutual friend, at breakfast at Sabarsky Cafe in the Neue Gallerie on 86th Street. We became fast friends. I did not expect, however, that this friendship would come to include the generosity of mentorship in the field of jewelry-making. Receiving Federico's keen feedback & experiencing his unique design sensibility has been a singular privilege.
I am also indebted to the kindness, support, and encouragement of four other people.
Jaime Ponce de Leon, proprietor of León Gallery, has generously provided the venue of his showroom for the Caro Launch.
He only asked in return that I put up art on the walls (it is an art space after all). After much discussion, we decided on an exhibition of F.B. Concepcion's paintings.
In Concepcion's paintings, I admire the self-restraint of color palette, leading to masterful color harmonies; even in his palette's much richer chroma of the 1980's. Concepcion does not veer into wild complementary juxtapositions. I also experience a deep sense of serenity and security, as if taking in a flowing stream from above, although rendered in a warm or a cool-tone chromatic range.
I had this inspiration in the back of my mind as I created my collection, which has narrow chromatic range, punctuated by gold and/or silver. Vibrancy via movement and balance—I had this in mind for the earrings; many of the components are therefore on multiple loops. And the Adelaida Drape Earrings have balance as a literal device. I have Ginny Dizon of Jul Dizon Jewelers to thank for her immense technical skill in executing my ideas. Their laser-welding machine produced welt-free joints: their workmanship is exquisite.
Ian Giron, the accessories designer who worked with Josie Natori for 12 years, was a great supporter of my entry into jewelry. He was also a hilarious travel companion on buying trips for stones and components, as well as helping me understand the ways of the industry.
Last but by no means last, I am deeply grateful to Pepito Albert, whose atelier manufactured the beautiful chainmail in my collection. Pepito is always willing to answer a question, teach me the business side, and lend me the value of his experience.
On the matter of the name I chose to brand my jewelry line, my mother's maiden name is "Caro". The Caro side of my family is full of love and warmth. Caro means family to me, but it also has the more literal Spanish meaning of "cherished", "treasured", "valued". In English it would translate do "dear", which like the Spanish, can mean "expensive". I would hope that my pieces are always reasonably-priced, always treasured, and always worn with love!
As old as human vanity, jewelry marks a space between signifiers of status in society, personal style, and symbols of belief systems. A repository for human beliefs—such as protection, devotion and reverence—jewelry is not just used for adornment, but as a means for the wearer to form a conduit to the divine.
ADORNMENT & EQUANIMITY by THOMAS J. FERNANDEZ
Reacting to the excesses of industrial production, Mark Wilson’s first collection for his new jewelry line, CARO, remodels found jewelry forms of various streams, specifically those that represent belief systems (such as Thai Buddhist talismans, Filipino Christian Anting-anting), and pre-colonial or early-colonial Florencitas or Sinampagita, as well as hollow Tumpal granulated beads. These later items— the Florencitas, the Tumpal balls—these were originally part of pre-Hispanic necklaces; because they were so highly valued, they became incorporated as earlier-era artifacts into colonial-era rosaries & necklaces.
Kayamanan: The Philippine Jewelry Tradition, by the late art historian, author, antiquarian, and gallerist, Ramon Villegas, proved to be an invaluable resource for dating objects and revealing the intricate processes of the craftsmanship behind the artifacts Wilson incorporated into the Tumpal Earrings family & the Painted Pearls series that are part of the CARO debut. The late Mr. Villegas’ book contains a comprehensive narrative on the history of personal ornaments in the Philippines, against an economic and sociopolitical background.
The León Gallery show, Adornment & Equanimity, displays Wilson’s restored and repurposed jewelry juxtaposed against F.B. Concepcion’s artwork, creating an intersection of color, wearable assemblage, and painterly abstraction. A unique trove of metal and gemstone shimmers against bold but peaceful abstraction. This dialogue showcases bypassed historical objects re-crafted into new forms, against a backdrop of newly re-evaluated art by Florencio B. Concepcion. Selected works from Concepcion’s oeuvre in the 1960’s-80’s, the majority of which are oil on canvas with interspersed mixed-media, are posited against Wilson’s first jewelry collection.
Concepcion was part of a new generation of painters that emerged in the mid-sixties from the progressive post-war period. Reticent, he was nevertheless a respected academic and art educator, influencing artists such as Augusto Albor, Romulo Galicano and Lao Lian Ben.
While studying in Rome in the 1960’s, Concepcion encountered the Arte Informale movement, the European equivalent of Abstract Expressionism, becoming inspired by avant-garde Italian artists Mario Sironi, Giorgio Morandi and Ottone Rosai. He also reputedly exhibited with Afro Basaldella and Emilio Vedova. Works from this period are characterized by their limited use of color and multifarious textures.
Reviewing a group exhibition where Concepcion’s work distinguished itself, art critic Eric Torres wrote that Concepcion’s mixed-media work in the 60’s was, “cerebral without being overformal, austere without being clinical.” Made while studying abroad, Roma Pittura XVII exhibits low-relief impasto with sinuous ridges stemming over a shaded foundation. Color-wise, the periphery shows daubs of tawny-yellow and smears of chalky white, broken by an embossed light overlay highlighted by dabs of sienna.
Another mixed-media piece, the untitled work from 1968 is an asymmetrical collage. Adjoining a dark gap, a broken column of worn yellow with a dash of white separates unevenly laid sand, forming clusters of irregular protrusions, and strips of overlaid thin paper.
In the 1980’s, Concepcion liberated himself from the strictness of his earlier earth-bound chromatic range, exploring color harmonies via degrees of saturation and translucency, at the same time retaining his keen spatial composition—a journey that lasted until the end of his life. Despite the new fluency with chromaticity, this period retains the tranquility from his work in the ’60’s, reflecting the artist’s own measured personality. It is perhaps not too much to say that equanimity & peace are hallmarks of Concepcion’s work. Summer Wind, and other pieces from the same series, showcase masterful balance of light and dark space, rewarding the viewer with watery flourishes of jewel tones explored either in the warm or the cool families.
His warm-tone untitled quadriptych from 2003, composed during the last decade of his life, showcases a master’s touch: blended, fluid, dramatic strokes sweep through a glowing spectrum of mostly-warm hues. His brush artfully leads the eye around the canvas with varied stroke lengths, and degrees of translucency of pigmentation. Art critic S.A. Pilar wrote of Concepcion’s work; “His colors complement his characteristic evocation of spatial depth through the texture of his medium, being in a deep sense of harmony or tonal contrast.”
Concepcion was an academic who cared little for showing in galleries or other commercial displays, preferring to delve into his craft both in his free time and in the University of the East, where he was the Dean of the Fine Arts Department. Inspired not only by the work, but by this romantic aspect of the artist’s biography, Wilson selected Concepcion as a complement to his jewelry collection due to a lateral connection. Wilson recognizes a security and depth that emanates from the work; although strong and bold, it is without frippery. Wilson imagines his clients in the same vein: as people who are secure, able to make bold, but simple & stylish choices.
Within the expansive jewelry collection of over 100 pieces, one of the exceptional finds are the hollow silver balls that Wilson found on two heirloom necklaces, both from the Cordillera area, which he repurposed as earrings. Forged between 1565-1680 (see Figure 1 on Page 16), the spherical beads called Tumpal, correlate with the introduction of European-moresque styling, combined with Chinese influence during the period. Most probably produced in Ilocos, a pre-colonial jewelry production center, the finely made silver beads are joined together as two plain hemispheres decorated with tumpal granulation, displaying tiny balls, of less than a millimeter in diameter, arranged in a triangular pattern around the necks of the tops & bottoms.
There are two means by which these granules were produced: either by layering charcoal in a crucible, or having molten metal dropped on to a smooth surface of stone or metal, after which they would be sized through a series of sieves. They would then be delicately fixed into position by colloidal soldering, which joins the grains to the metal base only at the point of contact.
Another striking motif in Wilson’s debut collection is inspired by talismans: Christian (crosses and Anting-anting), and Buddhist, especially Thai. Unfortunately, none of these were available for photography at the time this catalog was printed. Wilson is fascinated by wearable forms that seek both to decorate the wearer and also, through the wearer’s belief, work on a metaphysical level by channeling faith and evoking the transcendent. There is acknowledgement that the wearer relies on divine assistance, indeed that the wearer’s control & self-determination are somehow buttressed by their beautiful amulets. The Thai & Filipino talismans exhibited in Wilson’s jewelry are recast from original 19th Century metal amulets. Silver & Gold casting is very much alive in the contemporary Filipino jeweler’s repertoire.
Unfortunately, lost forever are the capacities & techniques to make minute details on such a small scale, as in the 16th/17th Century Tumpals & Florencitas beads.
The simplicity of the casting technique stands in sharp contrast to the complexity of the soldering & shaping techniques required by the beads. These two jewelry-making streams act as a warp and a weft in a rich first collection—much as in Concepcion’s untitled 2003 quadriptych, where both broad and narrow swatches of varying translucencies overlap to achieve rhythm & depth via layering, moving across the canvas to form a forceful ensemble.
Mark Wilson creates new forms from overlooked objects whether by refinishing choice antique furniture or with his current undertaking, Caro Jewelry & Home. He is the versatile creative director of Wilson Escalona Design, a firm specializing in light-centric interiors and architecture. After taking Art History with a minor in photography at Harvard University and before completing a Masters in Lighting Design at Parsons New York, he spent two years at design firm Knoll International, where he worked on the critically influential fine furniture collection of Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown: authors of Learning from Las Vegas, and Complexity & Contradiction—theses that formed Mark’s thinking.
FLORENCIO B. CONCEPCION (1933-2006)
Florencio B. Concepcion started painting impressionistic scenes but in the 1950s became drawn towads abstraction. He was also a watercolorist, photographer, sculptor, and master of figure drawing, authoring a manual. He finished his BFA at the University of the Philippines in 1953 before becoming a scholar of the Italian government of the Academia di Belle Arte in Rome, where he completed his postgraduate studies in 1964. Upon his return to the Philippines, he taught at the School of Fine Arts at the University of the East and was appointed dean until his retirement in 1994.
Benesa, Leonidas. What Is Philippine about Philippine Art? and Other Essays. National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2000.
Pilar, Santiago Albano. “Concepcion, Florencio Balajadia.” Philippine Visual Art, Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994, p. 329.
Torres, Eric. “Competence of Execution.” Manila Times, 1 July 1968.
Villegas, Ramon N. Kayamanan: the Philippine Jewelry Tradition. Central Bank of the Philippines, 1983.
Read the catalog here: Adornment & Equanimity Catalog (Digital Version)