Letters to Home

Emotional Locality and The Abstracted Word in Elisa Tan's Painted Envelopes

A web based curatorial project, seeking to explore questions around the boundaries and constitution of “Filipino Art” through the works of an artist with a unique perspective on what it means to be Filipino. 

Elisa Tan is a Filipino Chinese artist who after a spiritual crisis, chose to leave her art practice, spanning decades and continents, behind. For nearly 30 years her works remained untouched, before deciding to re-exhibit them just days before her death. Under the custodianship of the church to whom she left all of her belongings, including her works, a small team of archivists and curators, including this researcher, seeks to preserve her legacy and her artworks.

This project, only a small part of a larger ongoing conservation and curation effort, focuses on just a few examples in Elisa Tan’s large and eclectic body of work. These pieces, done in a variety of mediums including watercolor, pastel, pencil, and ink, left for the most part untitled and undated, are done entirely on unfolded envelopes, most likely very late in her career, between 1990 and 1995. Some of these works gesture towards fantastical landscapes crafted from overlapping color or repeated, abstracted words. Some feel as though one is peering into the depths of these vibrant, serene places, like a magnified view of some grand organic structure. There is a personal, intimate feel to these small scale paintings. There is a sense of longing also, for home or some faraway place, or perhaps simply an imagined unstructured sensory space free of the rigidity of our everyday lives, this is as of yet unclear. But it does seem to be a specific locality of feeling that the artist is evoking, capturing visions of this landscape in letters to herself.

Please click on the link below to enter the virtual exhibit view, or to learn more about the artist or the methodology behind this project, please click the links above.