Eduardo Olbés is a contemporary sculptor born in the Philippines in 1951. He arrived in Mexico at age 24, after graduating from college in the United States with a double major in sculpture and psychology: he would divide his time between the state mental hospital in Vermont and the carving workshop. The Philippines was then under an infamous dictator, and going back home was not an option. In Mexico, Olbés worked as a paramedic in the social medicine program of Dr. Carlos Biro in the slums of the capital; he then taught wood carving at the legendary EDA, the now extinct school of art and design in Mexico City. He studied wood, stone and metal techniques under master falsifier Arturo Ramos. The work of Raúl Valdivieso, a chilean sculptor, had opened his eyes to sculpture years before, and working as an apprentice to cabinet maker Mario Viel in Manila he had learned the rigors of technical discipline.
The encounter with Mexico marks a decisive moment for Olbés: the enormous variety of native wood and stone and the possibility of working freely settles both the artist’s vocation and his identification with the country and its people. In 1978 he establishes his workshop in Tepoztlán, Morelos.
Olbés’ work is informed by the aesthetic traditions of his native Asia, but his study of the expressions of other cultures, from the ancient Venus figures to Mesoamérica, nurtures a dialogue with the past in which there is often an element of humor. Materials are of the utmost importance: as opposed to the medium which has been superseded by the idea, the creative process in his case places materials at the inception of the concept: Olbés fetishizes his materials, and exploits not only their physical properties but also their cultural and historical implications. In 2012 the Franz Mayer Museum of decorative arts in Mexico City gave his series Evocación Ming a solo show, an honor rarely given to a living designer.
“I believe beauty is still a worthwhile path for a contemporary artist. There is a relaxation, a kind of exhalation, when you see something beautiful. That is all I am looking for. A direct effect.”
The series “Narco y las ecuaciones económicas perversas” decry the terrible consequences for Mexico of the current policy on drugs as a security and not a health concern opened at the Museo del Chopo in 2011. Other recent shows include Bululs and other oddities, with SilverLens Gallery, Manila, 2016, 100 Sillas Mexicanas, Museo Franz Mayer, Ciudad de México, 2016, Bienal Arte/Artesano Museo De Arte Popular Ciudad de México, 2011.
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