Last Tuesday evening, a crowd braved heavy rains to gather at the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue, where a Filipina-Canadian visual artist debuted her first solo exhibition outside of Canada. Esmie Gayo McLaren, a Vancouver-based painter, presented over a dozen watercolor paintings of figures, landscapes and scenes of everyday life.
The show, titled Expanding Horizons, represents McLaren “expanding into the world”, she explains, both as her solo exhibition artist, as well as her global travels, which she had started doing more frequently in recent years. These travels brought her to the Philippines. “It is a celebration of a land I had rarely experienced, a foreign land because I left it early in life,” explained Ms. McLaren, who moved to Canada when she was twelve. Having grown up in North America, “visiting the Philippines, you’re almost like a tourist,” she said.
Her Agoo Harvest series of paintings depicts rice workers in the farmlands surrounding her family’s home in Ilocos. In one painting, one woman waits for her share of the rice next to a worker operating a threshing machine, while in the foreground, a laborer approaches them carrying freshly-cut stalks.
One wall of the exhibit depicts scenes from a trip to France. Lavande features rows of lavender planted in front of Sénanque Abbey in the south of France. McLaren explained that the monks sell lavender products to help pay for the monastery’s upkeep.
Well-wishers and art lovers surrounded McLaren throughout the evening, including Consul General Claro S. Cristobal, who called her “a pride of the Filipinos.”
McLaren is also a self-described “flamenco enthusiast,” and three of the most colorful paintings of the exhibit are of different styles of dancers.
Expanding Horizons is presented by the Lenore RS Lim Foundation for the Arts, which is registered in the Philippines and has sponsored numerous exhibits in New York and Vancouver. Ms. Lim, herself an acclaimed artist, met McLaren six years ago in Vancouver, where they worked on projects together to promote Filipino culture, artists and their works. When Lim mentioned her New York-based foundation, McLaren thought it would be “so cool” to be able to exhibit in New York. Planning for the exhibit began in 2016.
Lim said of McLaren, “I observed that she is not only a good artist, but she is also passionate about connecting communities and women’s issues.”
Ms. McLaren and Ms. Lim also both have works currently displayed at the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, in an exhibit titled Essence, which celebrates the roles, struggles and triumphs of women. Produced by Ms. McLaren, Essence first opened in North Vancouver and was invited to travel to Ottawa by Her Excellency Ambassador Petronila P. Garcia.
Expanding Horizons is on display at the Philippine Center New York, 556 Fifth Avenue, until September 28th. McLaren’s work can be found at Jeunesse Gallery of Fine Arts in Vancouver, and online at https://esmiegayomclaren.com
by Paul Gullas