Jefrë in Paris: A Global Triumph of Philippine Art

December 5, 2023



Chad Rialp

In the vibrant world of contemporary Philippine art, Jefrë Figueras Manuel stands out as a beacon of innovation and cultural synthesis. Known for his dynamic approach to public art, he transcends boundaries. He brings a unique fusion of urban planning and artistic expression.

Jefrë’s latest artistic endeavor, a Paris exhibit aptly titled “eXtra Large Small,” showcased his versatility. The Rivoli Fine Art gallery displayed scaled-down yet impactful representations of his iconic structures against the backdrop of Art Basel Week. His European solo debut marks a significant milestone in his artistic journey. It’s a bridge connecting Filipino heritage with the global art community, weaving together the rich tapestry of Philippine culture with the grandeur of global trends.

Scaling Down to Reach Out

What set this exhibit apart was his innovative approach to scale. Known for his monumental public sculptures, Jefrë masterfully miniaturized these grand structures, presenting them in an intimate gallery setting. Rather than diminish their impact, this strategic downsizing allowed for closer, more personal interactions. They provide viewers a unique insight into the essence of his larger works.

An 18-inch version of Jefre's iconic public sculpture "The Victor"
An 18-inch version of Jefre’s iconic public sculpture “The Victor.”

A highlight of the exhibit was “The Victor,” an 18-inch version of the now iconic 28-story sculpture bordering Pasig and Quezon City in the Philippines. Intended as a symbol of Filipino pride and resilience, Jefrë reimagined the towering metallic figure for Parisian audiences. He captured its spirit in a form that fit within the gallery’s intimate setting.

“I think the difficulty was actually finding a right venue or a way to showcase smaller work,” he shares. “I don’t know how to showcase smaller work… I’m used to having my work dominate the room versus the room dominate the artwork.”

Blending Cultures and Contexts

Furthermore, the Paris exhibit also featured key pieces from his “Zodiac” series—intertwining astrological symbols with cultural motifs—and “Baks”—an artistic exploration of urban life. Each reflect the artist’s eclectic influences and his ability to translate complex concepts into visual art.

Metal sculptures from the artist's Zodiac series
Key pieces from the artist’s “Zodiac” series.
Key pieces from Jefre's “Zodiac” and "Baks" series
The “Baks” series portrays Jefrë as a public artist and the exploration of what makes different cities great.

By bringing his work to Paris, Jefrë simultaneously expanded his own artistic horizons while elevating Philippine art on the world stage. His exhibit provided a platform for showcasing the richness, diversity, and contemporary expressions of Philippine art.

“The pieces that I’m creating are really much more set for a collector that has work in a residence or a business that they can have something that’s more personable, whether it’s in their room or in their den or in their library.”

More than just a display of art, it’s a cultural dialogue; a confluence of East and West, and a testament to the universal language of art. It exemplifies how Philippine art, viewed through a new lens, can captivate and connect with people across different geographies and backgrounds. His work further highlights its inherent beauty and relevance in the global art scene.

The Journey From Architecture to Art

Jefrë’s career began in the structured world of architecture, honing his skills at the esteemed American firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. However, his career took a dramatic turn in 2008 following a heart attack at the young age of 35. This life-altering event prompted a profound introspection and a reevaluation of his life’s purpose. Jefrë realized his true calling lay beyond the realms of traditional architecture.

The Birth of Studio JEFRË

Embracing his newfound passion, he founded Studio JEFRË, a boutique design studio specializing in environmental art and couture landscapes. This venture marked his official transition from architect to artist. The shift allowed him to break free from the constraints of conventional design and explore a more expressive and boundless form of creativity.

A philosophy deeply rooted in the belief that art is a universal language, his work weaves narratives that employ a holistic approach. They blend elements of fashion, industrial design, and architecture to create visually stunning pieces rich in meaning and context.

The artist standing next to one of his iconic metallic sculptures, "Passion"
The artist standing next to one of his iconic pieces, “Passion.”

A Global Canvas

Jefrë’s works now grace numerous cities around the world, including Manila, Miami, London, and Abu Dhabi. Each piece is a reflection of his journey, embodying his personal experiences, cultural roots, and artistic vision. His art is not confined to galleries; it spills into the public domain, transforming everyday spaces into vibrant, thought-provoking environments.

Jefrë Figueras Manuel’s journey toward an internationally recognized artist is a powerful narrative of resilience and passion. His work, characterized by its boldness and innovation, continues to push the boundaries of Philippine art.

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