MANILA -- Most ceramic pieces, once broken, will understandably be relegated to the trash bin. Not for singer-actor Raymond Lauchengco.
After working on his “Ikigai” series last year, creating unique art pieces, mostly with driftwood as his base, the artist in Lauchengco felt he needed to expand his “repertoire.”
“Thirteen months and six online exhibits later, I am now working on Ikigai No. 63. I guess you can say 2020 was a pretty busy year for me. To be honest, I still can't believe I've made all those art pieces.”
A concept that originated from Okinawa, Japan, “Ikigai,” Lauchengco explained in an earlier interview, refers to finding the things that give one’s life purpose and meaning.
Most of his creations last year were sold. Some were even purchased by his fellow artists or shipped to as far as the US, Europe and Canada.
“By God's grace, most of the pieces have been purchased, but there are a few left,” Lauchengco said. “There are also some pieces that my wife [Mia Rocha] and I have become very attached to, so those we decided to keep for our children.”
This 2021, he taught himself the kintsugi-style restoration or the art of precious scars, which he tagged “Unbroken,” to differentiate it from the 500-year old “ikigai” Japanese tradition.
“Though my work is kintsugi-inspired, the materials I use are different,” he said. “The Japanese artisans use real gold which they melt. I don't have any gold, nor do I have the equipment to melt gold. Melting point of gold is 1064 degrees Celsius.
“The Japanese also use ‘urushi,’ an adhesive made from tree sap from lacquer trees. Unfortunately, each tree can only produce around 200 cc of sap. After the extraction, the tree dies. The sap may also cause severe skin allergies as the lacquer tree belongs to the same family as poison ivy.
“Because I don't have gold and refuse to kill any trees that I don't have to, I needed to come up with modern and more accessible substitutes, so that anyone who wants to try restoring ceramics, porcelain or even bone china, can do so.”
Lauchengco first heard about about “kintsugi,” the art of precious scars, from his church many years ago. “Although I found it fascinating, restoring something I'd normally discard without a second thought and highlighting it's imperfections to make it extraordinary, never appealed to me until l went through the year that was 2020.
“And last year didn't happen to me alone. I can't think of anyone I know whose world wasn't turned upside down [by this pandemic]. Whose lives didn't come to a screeching halt. Figuratively or literally.
“If it is true that art mirrors life, then I believe that ‘kintsugi,’ or in my case turning the broken into the unbroken, could be a reflection of what it means to be human: How we all get pounded every now and then, how we all break, how we all have to pick up our broken pieces and deal with them so that we might find a way to be whole again.”
While the visual shapes for his “Unbroken” pieces are admirably eye-popping, Lauchengco opts for earth colors for his creations. He insists that scars should not be concealed.
“Our scars are proof that we have overcome difficulties,” he maintained. “They mark time and history, and like trophies, proclaim to the world that we've fought and triumphed! We ought to celebrate our scars, not hide them.”
Last November, on his birth month, Lauchengco started experimenting and teaching himself to use broken ceramic objects. He concentrated on having the “license to break” and restoring the pieces.
“In December, I started to break things deliberately in order to learn how to restore them,” he said. “When I first started to break ceramics to teach myself how to restore them kintsugi-style, people thought I had gone crazy.
“Even my relatives and friends were telling me to stop already. As for my wife, let's just say she wasn't crazy about some of the things I put to the hammer.”
Initially, Lauchengco wanted to call this series something different from kintsugi or kintsukuroi, because the materials he uses and the methods he employs are different.
“So I asked myself, if something broken has been restored and isn't broken anymore, then what could you call it? That's how the title ‘Unbroken’ came to be. I guess you could say it is a modern form of kintsugi, with additions I've made along the way.
“Some of these additions are the introduction of exaggerated texture in my work, which is not found in traditional kintsugi. To do this, I incorporated wall surface treatments into my work. These are different finishing techniques that builders apply to walls of houses or buildings.
“Or sometimes I like to add more focal points. To do that, I take inspiration from modern architecture and incorporate 'windows' into the restored ceramics by deliberately not putting back a broken piece or two. If I wanted the window to be opaque I'd fabricate the missing piece. If I wanted it transparent, I'd use colored glass from broken bottles to fill in the space.
“I also figured out a way on how to handle the paint brush. I call it the woodpecker stroke, so that a very delicate touch can be applied to the stroke to mimic the appearance of liquid gold.”
Last January, Lauchengco mounted his fifth online exhibit titled “Unbroken.” After four months, the tide has turned and people are now encouraging him to break and restore more things. That's why the figure of speech, “license to break.”
“Some even ask me how and where to break theirs, while others send me the pieces of their broken treasures in need of restoration,” he offered.
“I find the entire process very comforting because it reminds me of, well, me and you – how we sometimes break, how our plans crumble to the ground now and then.
“When that happens we need to pick ourselves up, brush off the dust, find a way to put the pieces back together and let our scars make us stronger.”
To date, Lauchengco has restored 52 ceramic pieces for “Unbroken.” His friends eventually went to him to help them restore their broken ceramics, too.
“Some for exhibit and sale, some for the participants of my online workshops and some for friends,” he disclosed. “The ones I made for friends were already broken, they just sent me the pieces.
“The most challenging ones were two terra cotta warriors from China, a bronze horse from Europe and a bowl made by celebrated Filipino pottery artist, Ugu Bigyan. They took a long time to restore.”
The Ugu Bigyan bowl owned by Celeste Legaspi, took weeks for Lauchengco to restore. “It had broken many years ago and underwent restoration,” he said. “The first restoration was done well by someone else, but for some reason, the materials used did not age well, so I was asked to restore it again.
“In order to do that I had to undo the first restoration which was actually harder than the actual restoration. Then start from the beginning all over again. But to be fair, the bowl was serenely beautiful even before I touched it. It just needed some love and attention.”
Subsequently, Lauchengco started teaching others how to “break” things and restore via online workshops. He purposely limited the number of participants for the first batch last March. The second one will happen on April 24.
“First, I tried to limit the slots to 15 so I could see everyone clearly on Zoom, but I ended up having a bit more than that,” he recalled. “For the next one on April 24, I have prepared 16 kits, so 16 is the maximum. If I'm not mistaken there are three kits left, but there is a Zoom-in option, where you can simply watch the process and join the discussion.”
Lauchengco’s wife, Mia, egged him on to start giving workshops. After all, she has been giving workshops, too, since 2018. She has been making soaps and scents for Castile for 13 years now.
“Mia put up her company, SoTrue Naturals, 10 years ago and hasn't stopped since,” Lauchengco said. “She started teaching how to make soaps, scents, candles and balms.
“While the retail side of her business remains the same, the pandemic caused her to pivot to online teaching via SoTrue Workshops live or on demand [pre-taped]. To date, she has had more than 350 live participants [pre-pandemic] and over 400 online in the last year.”
Lauchengco needs at least two weeks to prepare all the kits needed for the three-hour workshop, since he needs to break and mend 16 pieces. They can always extend if extra time is still needed and he does not really mind.
“There is a lecture and slide show, lots of theory, then practicum where we physically work on two projects,” Lauchengco said “Each participant receives a kit with all materials needed to complete both projects.
“Because of time limitations [it takes at least two days to finish one easy project], I break and mend one ceramic plate for the participants in advance, so that they can see and touch the parts that have been repaired,” he explained.
“You can't touch on Zoom and touching and feeling things are very important in restoration. That makes the plate ready for scoring and painting. So technically, one project becomes a collaboration between me and the participant.
“The second project [usually a ceramic bowl] we break and mend together in class and the participants finish on their own after learning what they need to learn from working on the plate with me.
“That includes putting the pieces back together, filling in the gaps with materials provided in the kits, filing and sanding the edges and surfaces, then scoring the cracks with a base coat and painting, which is the final step.”
While the limited slots for his “Unbroken” workshop this April are filling up, Lauchengco can certainly hold another online batch next month or in the months to come. He is apparently inspired to share everything that he has been doing and that is manifested in his “Unbroken” art.