Salcedo Stories

Towering Vision: Ramon Orlina’s Tower Club Sculptures

Towering Vision: Ramon Orlina’s Tower Club Sculptures

  • 1 February 2022

When walking through the main hallway of the Tower Club, once located at the top of the Philamlife Tower, one couldn’t possibly miss the sculptures proudly displayed side-by-side, set against the backdrop of the Makati skyline – the gleaming edifices mirrored by the glint of the pieces created for the exclusive members-only club by none other than leading glass sculptor Ramon Orlina.

Born in 1944, Orlina’s venture into molding sculptures out of glass began serendipitously in the 1970s, after leaving his job as an architect at the celebrated firm of Arguelles and Associates – the practice that brought to the country some of its most iconic modernist edifices such as the Philamlife headquarters and the Manila Hilton on UN Avenue, and that also shaped the commercial landscape with buildings such as the Magallanes Theater and the Quad.

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Orlina had originally planned to set-up his own practice, but was quickly faced by the limitations of Martial Law — the work was slow. It was then that he turned to art — finding solace despite tremendous adversity. At first, he would paint directly on glass; the sculpting followed shortly after. He shares, “Republic Glass took notice and offered me a scholarship to study glass art abroad. I did not accept, but still, they allowed me into their factory to study how they made glass. That was where I started to develop my own technique…From the cold repair stage, I was able to get some chunks of glass to practice on for my method of cutting, grinding, smoothing, and polishing. I fabricated my own machines to fit my method and technique of sculpting for thicker and bigger chunks of glass. I made my very first sculpture, Arcanum Paradise Gained, in 1976. It is now displayed in the National Museum of Natural History.”

Orlina’s masterful grasp of form and structure quickly became evident as he shaped his sculptures, using glass as his medium. He adds, “I would say that modern architecture, which works with steel and glass, is very similar to my own work, skill, and training as an architect. This has influenced my art.”

In the early 2000s, the Tower Club’s Hong Kong-based interior designer suggested that Orlina be commissioned to create the works of art that would eventually frame the club’s main hallway– fitting and striking statements that upheld the reputation of what was envisioned as the nation’s premier business club, an enclave whose hallways, meeting rooms, and dining spaces hosted eminent business titans, top corporate executives, and captains of industry. The designer knew instinctively that Orlina was the man for the job, as he had visited the glass sculptor’s exhibition at The Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong several years earlier. In Orlina’s words, the works of art – among these, pieces which he titled Convergence and The Power of Coalition – are “all about business, and collaboration, these are the things that brought the Tower Club members together.”

Closer inspection of the formal qualities of Convergence reveals it to embody the tenets of commerce and community. Interpersonal camaraderie and the idea of working towards a common goal – values held by the esteemed institution – are shown in the way the figure blends into gradients, strata formations built on top of each other, showcasing Orlina’s masterful manipulation of space and technical skill in hewing glass into an abstract composition, giving shape to the dramatic interplay between form and dynamism.

Before the age of lockdowns and social distancing, well-attended social events regularly took place at the Tower Club. However, the club closed permanently in 2020, due to the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Orlina, reminiscing about his time as a member said, “I was very proud of my collection there as it had some of my best works. They were very thoughtfully created. It was a collection of my different styles– as if I had a posh private gallery set up for me. It made me happy to know that many elite and prominent guests would go there and meet and become familiar with my works.”

Art and memory etched with a sense of gravitas and nostalgia – little wonder that Ramon Orlina’s glass masterpieces continue to be relevant to collectors, his luminescent works providing aesthetic and intellectual solace and inspiration, emanating rays of hope amidst today’s challenging realities.

This masterpiece, which encapsulates the tenets of business and community, is among the nearly 500 lots on offer at Gavel&Block’s forthcoming ‘art+design’ auction, which takes place online on Saturday, 5 February at 11AM. Click here to view the catalogue, and to register to bid.

This column article originally appeared in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle