Reflecting Legacies: The Glass Art of Anna Orlina

'Pantheon'. 23 x 30 x 20 cm. Laminated coldworked glass. 2023. Image courtesy of the Orlina family.

As an art medium, glass is a curious thing. It remains a common symbol of decadence and luxury in any art fair, yet not much is known about the medium as the seed for an artistic practice—a practice whose daunting, opulent fruit belie the gritty and pragmatic nature of its process. Glass art remains a relatively niche genre in the Philippines. However, as few practitioners as it may have, one family name stands out as its pioneering voice: the Orlina family. Ramon Orlina, dubbed the “Father of Philippine Glass Sculpture,” has built an abundant artistic career with his glass sculptures, drawing the yet unfamiliar art form into the mainstream. As contemporary sculpture trends grow and evolve, the Orlina artistic legacy persists: carrying on her father’s work is rising glass sculptor Anna Orlina.

The artist Anna Orlina with her work. Image courtesy of the Orlina family.

Anna Orlina grew up immersed in art. She and her siblings were born into the art world, exposed to their father’s busy studio life. Orlina describes herself as being the most artistically inclined among her siblings. From a young age, she found herself naturally curious, fascinated by even simple household glasses. She would go on to pursue multimedia arts at De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, where she studied film, graphic arts, animation, and photography, to name a few. After college, she yearned for a field she could further specialize in. Recalling her interest in the craft, her father encouraged her to study glass art herself.

In 2016, Orlina’s pursuit of glass art was set in stone as she began her studies abroad in Pilchuk Glass School in Washington State in the US. It was there she discovered the full scope of the glass art studio practice. At Pilchuk, Orlina learned the art’s technical and theoretical side in depth. She recalls her studies at the glass school as being largely focused on the creative facets of the genre. It was in 2017 when she studied at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York that she became absorbed in its more technical aspects. Orlina’s exposure to fully-equipped facilities and guidance from renowned practitioners in the field allowed her to study glass art to an extent far beyond what she could have done in the Philippines.

'Keeping It Simple'. 25 x 39 x 34 cm. Laminated coldworked glass. 2023. Image courtesy of the Orlina family.
'Optical Illusion'. 25 x 34 x 30 cm. Laminated coldworked glass. 2023. Image courtesy of the Orlina family.

Orlina returned to the Philippines eager to introduce others to glass art just as she had been years ago. She has since exhibited her work in numerous spaces and events, including Art Underground, Secret Fresh Gallery, and ManilArt. In 2019, she became one of the top 10 finalists for the MullenLowe NOVA Awards in Manila. Together with her sister, she co-founded Tagaytay Art Beat, a music and arts festival that highlights independent artists hosted at her family’s home base, Museo Orlina. She curated exhibits for the festival in 2015, 2017, and 2018.

Contrary to how austere the final works often are, the artist shares the glassmaking process invites more chance than one would expect. The work begins with a lengthy conceptualization phase, where she maps out her ideas with a digital sketch. Orlina uses a deductive process, carving out her final shapes from bigger blocks of glass. The studio work is carried out through a lamination technique. Observing the careful construction of her pieces, one would hardly think there is room for spontaneity, yet the artist playfully likens the process to building with Lego. She finds herself searching for spontaneous shapes—a triangle that resembles a camel’s back or blocks that look like the roof of a tower. Occasionally, the lamination goes awry and parts of the assembled pieces are lopped off. However, the artist shares this often gives the final work more character and surfaces for light to bounce off of. The overall process is one permeated by play as the artist ponders, how can one make the most out of a single block of glass?

'Sanctum'. 46 x 42 x 42 cm. Laminated coldworked glass. 2023. Image courtesy of the Orlina family.

Orlina’s works are largely distinguished by their vibrant hues. Though unlike her father’s more monochromatic pieces, she works with polychrome. The coloring process is not unlike painting, as she carefully chooses a palette that works harmoniously without the colors getting muddied. Often, she selects at most three hues at opposing ends of the color wheel for the best contrast. In her final pieces, the colors resonate as if each glass face were housing light itself.

The artist shares that she does feel pressure to build on her father’s legacy, but remains passionate all the same. For Orlina, there is no clear balance between carrying on her family’s work and forging her own path as an artist. She sees the mere act of her pursuing her art as a reflection of both sides: of continuing the Orlina practice while innovating her own. Her plans for the future include pursuing further studies to develop her craft so she can further expand the scope of local glass sculpture. Meanwhile, her family hopes to one day set up a school for glass art, providing accessible opportunities to other aspiring practitioners. The goal may yet be a distant one, but the Orlinas are hopeful they can continue sharing their knowledge of their beloved art.

Up next for Anna Orlina is the group show Surface to Air with Galerie Stephanie for the upcoming Art Fair Philippines 2023. Curated by Liv Vinluan, Orlina’s works will be part of a glass bar and lounge along with the works of Jomike Tejido, Gabby Prado, Lyndon Maglalang, and Cristina Gamón. The exhibit notes read, “Pause and clarity is taken, surfacing for a breath of air.” Orlina reflects how she finds such reprieve in the act of making—the dabbling, the playing, the carving. In the end, she is left feeling as clear as the surfaces she creates.

'Fantasy Towers'. 36 x 39 x 25 cm. Laminated coldworked glass. 2023. Image courtesy of the Orlina family.

Surface to Air will be on view at the Galerie Stephanie booth located in Level 6 of Art Fair Philippines 2023 from February 17-19 at The Link, Ayala Center, Makati.

Mara Fabella is an artist, writer, and occasional fitness junkie. Tap the button below if you'd like to buy her a coffee.