By Mye Mulingtapang, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau
Richard Gabriel has an instinctive attraction and approach towards art. He follows his own inspiration without cultural and philosophical mediations. His art is a long tale winding through the major steps of his life, moving from a little village in the Philippines to the big Italian city. He started working, shaping, and modelling ceramics, and then he developed his own artistic project using more different techniques and inventing the symbols based upon the story of his own life. It is one biography that turns into a masterpiece, an expression of all his many countrymen who have been forced to migrate to ensure a better future for themselves and their families.
His sculptures serve as an exciting icon of life and color jumping out of heels, soles and footprints. Structured around the themes of expansion, color, and invention his pieces symbolize the potent union of craftsmanship and imagination. Gabriel’s work evoke amazement and entice the public with its impressive scale bringing attention to the feet in losing and retracing steps.
Everyday in the foreign country that embraced him, he calculated the distance between Milan's sidewalks and the graveled roads of his village. He reasoned on them and in all his thoughts he always walked, backtracked and reminisced those roads all over again, a path that became an obsession. For Gabriel, it is important to show and be able to ideally count the steps that he walked and retraced in his migration. His shoes witnessed those precise steps taken across continents and oceans, but still kept his identity and dignity as a Filipino intact.
Filipino artist/sculptor Richard Gabriel in his studio in Tuscany
Bred in a family of politicians and professionals in Pampanga, Gabriel's path could easily have taken a different turn had he stayed in his country and heeded his family's influences.
Armed with an innate curiosity and a profound, almost vehement desire to know the Arts, Richard sealed his fate in 1989 when he came to Italy—a rich land of artists. He took the chance to study art courses at the Brera, Italy’s art district.
In 1997, Gabriel became an assistant to Italian National Artist Carla Tolomeo and the real journey of Gabriel's exploration and instruction in art began. His name appeared in all of Tolomeo's art catalogues and he is ever present at international exhibits. He has worked for Hermes, Hotel Meurice in Paris, Blumarine, Puskin Museum in Moscow, and Asia Museum in Seoul.
His progress and achievements in the field of the Arts, is recognized in Europe and other parts of the world and have also been lauded back home. The former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself presented Richard Gabriel the with 2007 Bagong Bayani Award (category of Culture and Arts), given to outstanding Filipinos who are working abroad.
He calls his ceramic collection "Cinderella between Zen and Fetish." He speaks of his faith in art and in what his hands can create; and his art speaks of him not just as an artist but as a person.
“Living life as an artist is unpredictable, working hard to accomplish and having my shoe sculptures exist in front of me is well worth it,” said Gabriel.
Being very versatile he also makes bags and jewelries for prominent people. Among them is an Italian Countess who fell in love with his shoe sofa.
With his art installations Gabriel wants to emphasize the concept of universality that rules over human's fate, "All footprints of who walks the road of our world are similar to one another. All steps come down from the sky, and it's there that they want to come back to, even against all odds and obligations of life."
In tackling the subject of footwear, his creations, and its relative importance in today's society, he urges us to take a closer look at the way we live our lives and the paths we decide to take. The sculpture accentuates our present state of mind, the fantasies we choose demonstrating how truly resilient we are as a diaspora.
He produces free-standing decorative shoe pieces as single copies or in limited edition. His works are both modern sculptures and figurative sculptures or a combination from materials such as fiber glass, steel, paper, mosaic, textile, wood, and ceramics.
“My current goal is to get my work in as many modern art museums as a permanent collection and create large sculptures for public places. To inspire a passion in many people that can only be described as fetishistic,” said Gabriel.
Seeing how his artworks affect people, their smiles, how their stare in astonishment, or show interest in his creations, to be able to come up with an idea and have them exist, displayed in homes, businesses and galleries is rewarding for Gabriel.
He flew as far as Moscow, Paris, and Korea for invitations to showcase his sculptures. Famous fashion labels like Hermes and Blumarine included his pieces in their showrooms. The name Richard Gabriel has also been honored in art books, manifestos and catalogues in Milan being the only Filipino artist to ever come forth into notice in the Italian art scene.
The sculpture Mega Star was designed especially for the "Mega Star" Sharon Cuneta, covered in silk with golden thread enrichment and enriched with cabochon swarovski crystals and two stars in glass mosaic.
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