Freeform: Multi-hyphenate Budji Layug on His Exhibit, ‘Enter the Dreamscape’

Budji Layug trades spatial visions for the realm of dreams in his recent art showcase at Leon Gallery

Words and Interview Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images Budji Layug and Marc Henrich Go

“Welcome to Enter the Dreamscape. It’s my first time to do this,” said visionary Budji Layug as he started to give Kanto a tour of his exhibit before the vernissage. The show’s title is basically a representation of the artist’s next step in his creative journey, one where he breaks free “from practical constraints” and allows his imagination to reign. 

During the tour, the artist walked us through his creative process and some of his favorite pieces. He also narrated how he discovered his love for painting and gave a few hints about what’s next for his creative journey. 

Below is our conversation:

Budji Layug’s Enter the Dreamscape opened last April 27, 2023 at Leon Gallery, Corinthian Plaza, Makati City.

First, congratulations on this exhibit! You had a long and successful career in designing spaces. How does it feel to be able to show a different side of you? Can you tell us more about your journey in painting? 

I learned how to paint in Paris, I studied there. I started professionally painting almost 30 years ago. Since then, I tried to bring my art into the spaces I design. 

Normally, when I do architecture and design, furniture, and styling, the final touches are the art. If not for the art, the outcome is just a space with furniture. Art is what makes the soul of a design. 

If you bring in art from others or art that does not represent how you or the space actually feels, it does not complete the entire design journey. 

Now, symbolically, after having designed so many spaces, I decided to dabble in art. I realized that this could be a continuation or completion of my personal journey as an artist. 

Multi-hyphenate Budji Layug with one of his Enter the Dreamscape paintings, Tsunami

Can you tell us more about how this exhibit came together? When and how did it all happen?

My friend who works with the gallery said that they would like to invite me to do a show. That was last year. 

It was a bit challenging for me who has never done a show, so I got anxious and excited at the same time. The only push I had was the fact that I really want to show my art and see what people think. At the end of the day, art is my self-expression. It’s how I get to know myself more and what my limits are. 

We are all gifted with different talents. I just want to see how far I can go with this creative journey.

Tsunami, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 96.5 x 72 inches. “I did this last year,” Layug shared. “This is my favorite. I could say that it set the overall tone of this exhibit. I also like how this piece caters to the Asian market given its Japanese-style recall and how it looks very spontaneous.”

Let’s get into what you said about art as a self-expression. How would you define your style? 

My style goes from figurative to landscape, to abstraction. I get inspired by nature. I like to see and showcase the relationship between art, modernity, and nature. 

I like to showcase movement. I’ve done a few paintings inspired by dance back then and some of the paintings in this exhibit are titled after popular dances. 

I choose to use a lot of dance themes because they represent movements and figures. I think people who appreciate art can relate to this because even though abstract art, in general, is more difficult than figurative abstract, there’s something about it that allows the artist to satisfy their personal sensibilities and consider the perception of the viewer.

What is it about abstract art that grabs you? Not just as an artist, but also as an individual?

Abstract art is beyond what you have in mind. It’s not just what you see, it’s bringing life to what you can imagine. 

Art is an emotion. As an artist, I basically like to think forward. This allows me to discover more and get in touch with what I feel within.

From L to R: Jade, Rune, and Tourmaline, all completed in 2023 and measuring 48 x 48 inches. “There are certain colors that I really like to work with and Turquoise is one of them. For this series, I used wave-like patterns to showcase freedom and calmness at the same time.”

When you say you like to “think forward”, does this mean that you already have an image in your head before you start painting? Or are you the type to just splash colors and see how it goes?

I think it’s a combination of both. I sometimes start with a landscape or a figure. If it looks like something I’ve already done before, then I try to find a way to make it more about the current moment or just showcase my evolution as an artist. It cannot be a repetition of what I have already created. It’s important to me that I discover something different during the process. 

It’s all about being expressive of the moment. 

How then, does inspiration strike? Do you solely rely on what you currently feel? 

You can see inspiration everywhere—in nature, still life, and just the colors around you. It’s all about looking at the world and life differently. 

When I look at something, I don’t look at them as figures or real things. I look at them as a composition of colors, movements, and sometimes even clashing aspects. You keep the images in your head and who knows, In the future, they can serve as your inspiration for something. 

I often begin with an idea. Sometimes I’m not happy and I keep adding layers, so the layering becomes quite heavy. But as an artist, you get to a point where you tell yourself to let go and be satisfied with what’s in front of you. 

I work with what I feel. The splashes, flows, and movements in my pieces are all dictated by my heart and hands.

Kanto-Budji Layug-Enter the Dreamscape

I like what you said about learning how to let go. Does that mean that you don’t strive for perfection as an artist? 

I don’t like perfection. When something is perfect, I try to destroy it. I think it’s more important to freely express yourself in your art rather than strive for perfection.

At the end of the day, the end product has to please me. I have to feel good inside. There were times when a painting was already very good but I destroyed it in the hopes of discovering if there was something else to it and I regretted what I have done.

How did you handle such situations? Would you say that knowing when to stop is the biggest difficulty for you as an artist? 

An artist is the worst person to satisfy because an artist’s eyes are very critical. But yes, it’s very important to know when to stop. At some point, you have to trust your work and let it bask in its own magic. 

Sometimes you get so frustrated working on a piece for days and quit. You think to yourself, “It is what it is.” But then, you get to look at your piece the next day and eventually get surprised by its beauty.

Sabungero, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 inches. “This is figurative,” Layug explained. “I started this sometime 2 years ago. I wanted to paint a Filipino theme that would represent Filipino culture while also showcasing the modernism of painting strokes.”

Let’s now get into the beauty of all the pieces you have here. I noticed that most of them were completed in 2023. How long does it often take you to finish a piece? 

It depends. If I’m in the mood or completely in the moment, I can finish one in a day. Sometimes it takes me days, a week, or more, or sometimes it could take months. 

I think the Tsunami piece took the longest, a few months at most, but definitely less than a year. That one is also my favorite. I like the movement, the composition, the scale, and the feeling of it all together.

Honestly, if the process and the moment both feel right, it becomes quite easy to finish a piece.

Kanto-Budji Layug-Enter the Dreamscape
Left: Rigi and Pilatus, 2023, both acrylic on canvas and measuring 24 x 24 inches. “I visited Switzerland recently and got inspired by the scenery there,” Layug shared. “I used that inspiration to create these two paintings.” Right: Tinago (topmost), 2023, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 14 inches; Kawasan (rightmost), 2023, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 inches; and Casaroro (down), 2023, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20. “For this set, I just wanted to show images that are evocative of my imagination,” the creative continued. They are inspired by waterfalls here in the Philippines.

Figures and movements are prevailing themes in your work. What is it about them that resonates with you? 

Okay, let’s do it this way. I’ll ask you to stand from this point. Look at this orange and yellow painting in front of you. What do you see?

Eye of the Tiger, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 72 inches.

Honestly, I already enjoyed most of these a while ago. Looking at this particular piece from afar, I initially thought it was just abstract. But when I looked closely and longer, that’s when I was able to see figures and even the tiger’s face. 

That’s when you see it, right? That’s what I want people to do when they see my work. I want their eyes to follow the movements. I want them to get drawn into what they are naturally drawn to or visually explore more—be it by really looking at colors, figures, images, or the entire picture itself. 

Art must be something that you enjoy looking at through time. It’s not just decorative. It is something you feel within you, something that you should appreciate more and more and learn to actually live and feel alive with.

Moonflower, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches. “This is another example,” he said. “It is fully abstracted. But if you look at it very closely, you’ll see an image or a face of a dog.”

Most of your paintings are characterized by motion and emotion. What makes the pieces in this collection different from your previous work?

I used to have dance figures as my painting subjects before. But for those, I used brushes. For this collection, a brush never touched the surface of a canvas. 

I just fling and splash paint to express how I feel. These paintings are all of the moment. I know that I cannot repeat them even if I try to. Nothing is ever the same. 

In addition, this collection was also challenging for me because I had to work on small pieces. The gallery caters to young and old collectors. Not everyone has massive spaces or spacious walls for large paintings, so they requested that I create a few pieces for modern living. 

Actually, even if my works are usually big, I find that bigger paintings are challenging. This time, I also found that doing small pieces can be satisfying. 

Kanto-Budji Layug-Enter the Dreamscape

You’re often regarded as a multi-hyphenate. Do you plan to dabble in other mediums? 

I’ll never know. I’m already in the art scene, so maybe I can do sculpture the next time. 

But honestly, I just want to mount a complete project. I want to create something that will benefit communities, cities, and the country. I want to inspire a movement for the arts that will uplift the environment and the surroundings of everyday Filipino living.

It seems to me like you’re hinting at a future project. Do you have any ideas or plans that you can share with us? 

Well, something is brewing. I don’t want to give a lot of details since it’s still in the works. But I’ll let you know once we can share it with the rest of the world. 

I also have other plans but let’s save them for later as well. At this point, I just want to keep treating my life as an adventure.

Kanto-Budji Layug-Enter the Dreamscape

Okay, I will hold you to those updates. For my last question, I know that art is open to interpretation and that people will have their own takeaways, but if there’s one message that you would want to share through this exhibit, what is it and why? 

I think art, right now, is less of a representational thing and more of an emotional one. I hope people will look at life and the world in a different and deeper way that includes art. I hope they learn to see how art can enrich their lives. 

After seeing my exhibit, I also hope that people will realize that it takes a lifetime of exposure to get to this. When I was young, I didn’t really want to go to school. I just wanted an adventure. Since my family was in the design industry, I was lucky enough to have been exposed to art at an early age. I left for abroad right after high school and seeing the world made me gain more exposure. 

This exhibit is a culmination of what I have gone through after all these years. At the same time, it’s also my way of going back to how I began. So go out there, and see the world. 

That’s so nice to hear. I personally consider myself young in this industry, so hearing from someone like you is encouraging. I know that a lot of people in the creative industry can often struggle in figuring it all out. 

Don’t ever stop figuring out what it’s all about. Life can be very exciting and creative. Just enjoy. And don’t allow yourself to get stuck. Move on. •

Enter the Dreamscape will be on show until May 11, 2023.

Gabrielle de la Cruz started writing about architecture and design in 2019. She previously wrote for BluPrint magazine and was trained under the leadership of then editor-in-chief Judith Torres and previous creative director Patrick Kasingsing. Read more of her work here and follow her on Instagram @gabbie.delacruz.

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