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A Passion For Creation: Solenn Huessaff And Mai Cojuangco

A painting, a bag; a brush, a guitar. Metro cover girls Mai Cojuangco and Solenn Huessaff’s hands are busy creating masterpieces they envisioned in their minds

They have graced the cover of Metro many times over, but Mai Cojuangco and Solenn Heussaff are not just pretty faces. These two women are the epitome of what it means to live a big life—welcoming each day with boundless zest, embracing any experience that comes their way, and setting their paths afire with their passion for creation. 


Madeleine L’Engle once said, “Creativity is a way of living life,” and these two cover girls know this best. Mai Cojuangco is the creative director for Demetria bags, a line of luxury leather bags handcrafted in Italy, where she is raising her daughter Demi. Apart from designing bags, she is also working on Sympies, a social networking app specifically made for people to create authentic connections. On the other hand, Solenn Heussaff is an actress, TV host, fashion designer, makeup artist… the list goes on. Their lives are faithful examples of what it means to be truly creative. 



SOLENN HEUSSAFF 

Actress, model, author, painter, and makeup artist 

WHAT IS ART FOR YOU? 

Art for me is self-expression; it’s my way of expressing myself. It’s the way of expressing one’s self without having to explain your side. I’m not a vocal person, I’ve never been vocal. So art is really my outlet. My main purpose is to tell a story. 


WHAT MAKES SOMETHING ARTFUL OR ARTISTIC?

It’s a little hard to define that because everyone has their own perception of art. 


WHAT ARE THE WAYS YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF CREATIVELY?

I really love painting; that’s my first love. Obviously I grew into the art of acting also, so it’s another way of expressing yourself. Being able to live in the skin of someone else or embodying someone else’s life, it’s very interesting. But for me when it comes to painting, that’s my me-time. It’s my form of meditation; it’s my way of disconnecting. 

TELL US ABOUT THE KIND OF ART YOU CREATE.

It’s called social realism. I don’t sugarcoat the life of people, but at the same time, no matter how sad some of the situations can be there’s still a lot of color. It shows hope and darkness, which is why I feel it’s reality. Especially here in the Philippines, Pinoys are always so happy and jolly; any problems that come to them, they can overcome it. Hopefully it will bring awareness to people, so every exhibit I do has a different theme. My next exhibit next year is about global warming. 


WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE PHILIPPINE ART SCENE NOWADAYS?

I love how people are more inclined to art nowadays here. Filipinos were never into the whole thing, but now there’re so many galleries popping up, so many exhibits, so many young artists, that art has become very accessible. 

WHAT IS THE CREATIVE PROCESS LIKE FOR YOU?

I take photos of people when I’m walking in the streets. I just take photos with my phone and then I paint from there. When I see something in the street, I see it as a painting, which is why I capture it. Sometimes I use three to four photos in one painting so I create a story. I paint all my artwork based on real people, then I change their features a little bit. When I see something in the car and then I take my phone out, “click,” and that’s when I paint. I just see it as a painting, it’s weird. So, that’s my visualizing it as photography. 


DO YOU THINK ART STILL IMPORTANT IN OUR LIVES?

Art is really so important, whatever form that maybe. It can be cooking, it can be running... If you’re able to move, to release something, that’s art. My whole dad’s side, they sing and play an instrument. There are at least three painters in my dad’s family, and in my mom’s side are from Paete, so they’re into sculpting. And my mom was a Bayanihan dancer. So we all have our own [talents]. Everyone’s cooking and my sister’s a visual artist—she’s very good at putting things together. So yeah, [in my family] everyone’s an artist. 



MAI COJUANGCO 

WHAT IS ART TO YOU? WHAT MAKES SOMETHING ARTFUL OR ARTISTIC?

Art for me, could be anything and everything. I could most naturally describe it as something that provokes or evokes emotions, ideas, creating some form of spark in me. Things that capture me. It could be a song (that would be much more in the emotional sense, in my case), a piece of architecture (which I reference very often when I draw bags), or a painting (simply, for its beauty and lines). Even a piece of clothing could be art, for me. Art is a very personal thing, as all our individual experiences are, so I certainly cannot judge for others what makes something artful or artistic. 

WHAT KIND OF ART ARE YOU DRAWN TO?

I’m certainly no expert but I’ve noticed that I love artworks that use a lot accentuated lines, for the lack of a better way of describing it. For example, my local favorite is Ian Fabro (especially his early works), Miró’s paintings, as I do Basquiat, some of Kandinsky’s, Fernand Léger, Jackson Pollock, also works from illustrators like Rosie McGuinness, Andrea Ferolla, architecture by Zaha Hadid who I admire, Kengo Kuma, and so on and so forth. 


WHAT ARE THE WAYS YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF CREATIVELY?

I write, I have a journal, or I draw. I’ve recently started playing the guitar, and more than anything, I’ve found that to be very therapeutic and fulfilling. I cannot live without music. 

HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE THE KIND OF ART (OR DESIGNS) THAT YOU MAKE?

Professionally (and personally), I constantly challenge myself with the things I do, therefore making the lives of the people who have to execute the designs much more difficult. In general they are clean, and classic, made extremely well, with very very complicated construction.I don’t follow trends, nor do I like them. 


DO YOU NEED TO BE IN A CERTAIN MOOD OR VIBE TO CREATE SOMETHING ARTISTIC? 

I think so, yes. A lot of times I am also thinking of organization, food shopping, accounting, and scheduling... that’s my life and unless something along the way strikes me, then it’s also hard to get out of my mental need-to-do lists with tasksI have to fulfill. I am going nonstop all the time, and it takes a lot of time to sit down and experience that flow, where ideas just come fluidly, plus I hardly like what I make the first time so they always go through multiple iterations. So I do have to cultivate that time, to come up with things I love, to be honest. 


WHAT IS THE CREATIVE PROCESS LIKE FOR YOU?

If I want to design bags, which I have just begun again, I look at a lot of furniture, and architecture. In those shapes, lines, and seams (where the sides of the fabrics meet, for example), I see construction, and I apply that to the drawings that I make. I sketch, I cut pieces and study them, stick them together with staples and scotch tape, and see what work and don’t. I only reference accessories magazines for color trends and materials, and nothing else. 


WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR CREATIVE AND ARTISTIC INSPIRATION?

From every single thing I am a visual and auditory sponge and all these meet at one point, where it all begins. 

HOW IMPORTANT IS ART IN YOUR LIFE? 

Art defined:
1. As the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
2. As the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature and dance. Art defined that way—it is integral to me because it is in me, part of me and what I do. 


HOW DO YOU IMPART ART TO OTHERS, IN PARTICULAR YOUR LOVED ONES, SUCH AS YOUR DAUGHTER?

As I always say, it is futile to teach children with words things if your actions speak otherwise. You can say it, but if you don’t practice it, the message isn’t going to get there. Having said that, teaching by example is one of the greatest teachers. 


My daughter sees me draw, feeling and selecting leather, working with artisans, scrutinizing stitches, and she somehow participates in that entire process. She comes with me sometimes, and sees my craft.


I like the idea that I teach my daughter art through the way I live and do things, with a certain kind of work ethic as well that comes together with it- she sees how hard I work, the design process, and the way I communicate with people. Those are the most real and natural things I do that allow me to impart “my art” to her. 


My daughter is extremely creative as well and loves photography, crafts and drawing. We do those things together at times, and I don’t limit her at all, but rather encourage her to freely create exactly what she wants and to cultivate her own style and techniques. 


This article was originally published in Metro Magazine vol. 30 no. 3