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Metro Channel Women's Month Special: Portrait Artist Mia Herbosa

She has spent her life chasing and mastering her art—and in her journey, she has found peace, balance, and the drive to keep bettering herself and the message she wants to send out to the world

She is a descendant from the bloodline of national hero and artist Dr. Jose Rizal and the "father of Philippine painting" Damian Domingo. It was as if her path was carved to follow theirs, as she made her way into the world of art one painting at a time.


Mia Herbosa-Agoncillo is a Filipina artist whose work in portraiture never fails to move people. Each portrait is masterfully done—the kind of quality you can only expect from an artist who has dedicated her life to her craft, and pours her heart and soul into every artwork.


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In a Scarlet Gown, 24x36, oil on linen (2018)


Mia started her love affair with painting early on in her life; she had painting lessons from her great aunt as early as seven years old. She recalls her grandfather’s walls decorated with Alfonso Ongpin’s collections. Her mother was also an art teacher, and she would make Mia and her brother pose for her charcoal works. “I always had fun in art and always received high grades for things I loved doing, so it was a natural direction for me, I guess, if one thinks of following one's bliss,” says Mia.


At 17, she was already taking private art lessons. After graduating from Ateneo, she flew to the US to study at The Art Students League of New York, a prestigious art school founded in 1875, which became the key to Mia’s fruitful and inspired journey with art. It was at the Art Students League where she spent more than 20 years honing her craft, and where she received some of the most prestigious awards—one of which was the McDowell Travel Grant Prize, the highest honor a student could get at this art school.


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A very young Mia with her mom at the Sorolla Museum in Spain


But while New York was very kind to the talented Mia, and she was happy living in the city with her husband, Manila was still home. So in 1995, she introduced her work to the Philippine art scene with a sold out show at the Ayala Museum. Since then, she has exhibited all over the world, capturing the eye of international audiences, creating a niche in the Philippine market, and establishing friendships that last a lifetime.


Aviva, oil on linen (2000) - one of Mia's most memorable painting from her days at the League
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A master in portraiture

While Mia has been trained to paint all sorts of things—from people to still life—she has found a certain peace and satisfaction translating people into her canvas. While she still paints for fun or for herself, most of Mia’s works now are commissioned works—but that doesn’t mean they have lost the spark and passion she dedicates to each of her portrait. Apart from nudes that beautifully convey the delicateness and elegance of the female figure, portraits of her daughter, and, very seldom, herself, she has painted many of the country’s strong and inspiring women, including entrepreneur and fashion icon, Joanna Preysler Francisco; influencer and blogger Grace Barbers-Baja; and esteemed journalist Karen Davila.


A portrait of Joanna Preysler (2015)
A portrait of Karen Davila, oil on linen (2016)


There is a certain feeling and delicateness in Mia’s portraits, something that cannot be replicated in regular portraiture. She shares a bit of her painting process, saying that unlike before, when her subjects can pose for her for days, nowadays, she enlists the help of photographer Shaira Luna to capture her subject in the best possible way that exudes their character, which then becomes her reference for the portrait.


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Redhead, which was showcased at the Altro Mondo Ouverture group show in 2019


“Through their posing, the dramatic lighting and their facial expression and body language and proportions, I try to capture the soul inside the physical apparatus,” Mia shares. “There are more than 100 possibilities to express each facet of a person and so I just try to capture that which I see in them and in the photos we take of them, there is usually that one that speaks to me that becomes the finished portrait. It's just a very organic process. I have to feel the person in the picture, know them to be that way and paint with sincerity, using the tools and know how given to me by the school and my intuition.”


This is exactly what encapsulates a Mia portrait—a labor of love that’s filled with sincerity and honesty, which mirrors not only the subject, but also the genuineness of how the painter wants her subject to be seen by the world.


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Betty II, oil on linen, 18x24 (2016)


A legacy in the global art world

Mia comes from a time when the art scene was much calmer than it is right now. But nowadays, she tries to stay the “hermit” that she calls herself to be, quietly working on her own and continuing her journey to finding what she truly wants to communicate in her work and how to say it better through the years.


But while she is trying to stay off the spotlight, Mia has a couple of words for the budding artists: “Follow your bliss. The money will follow after. Don't be afraid and take it a day at a time. Be resilient and patient and observant. Be aware of people in your lives who can lead you to clarity in your personal vision or teach you techniques or at least show you the way to people who can.


“Never lose track of why you wanted to be artists in the first place. What is it inside you that drives you to want to create visual statements? Hold on to that and find out by creating your art and bettering it every time. Read, study and look at great art all over the world, in all the greatest museums. Don't just look online but see the real things. Travel. So very important.”


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One of Mia's older paintings: Hannah's pose, oil on linen (1997)


When she is not painting, Mia reads books, plays with her French bulldogs, spends time with her daughter Lana and her husband, and exercises as much as she can to balance the physical demands of painting.


Mia's first watercolor artwork of her daughter, Lana


But of course, many of her hours still go to that place of peace, her time for contemplation and self-preservation, with the very thing that allows her to dedicate herself to that something beyond this world: “I still spend many days just quietly in front of the easel working on one portrait at a time, basically giving my life to each canvas. A very cerebral and introspective kind of life, it is… I am so grateful to God for the many challenges He pulled us through and still does. I'm grateful I was able to live my life because of this gift of painting, which was my childhood dream. Many wonderful things have happened to me because I pursued this career and I'll always be grateful.”


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Mia's first Egg tempera self portrait: Summer Solstice, 16x20 (2018)

Images courtesy of Mia Herbosa and Metro Channel