BENCH MEETS A FAMILY OF ARTISTS

Three’s company: Carina, Luis, and Isabel Santos at home, with their dogs Noah and Benny.
Photographed by Regine David
Styled by Andrea Ang
Hair and makeup by Sylvina Lopez

As grandchildren of the late great Malang, with acclaimed artists Soler and Mona Santos as parents, art is a bit of a family business for the Santos siblings.

And like all kids faced with the prospect of joining the family business, there was some resistance at the start. Luis, 32, worked in advertising after college. Carina, 28, is a writer and graphic designer who’s worked with publications as varied as Esquire Philippines, The Philippine Star’s Young Star, and CNN Philippines Life. Meanwhile, Isabel, 27, studied European Studies in college.

“There was a point in high school where my peers and teachers boxed me as the one good in art or the apo of (the legendary artist) Malang Santos,” Isabel shared, in a 2015 interview. “I wanted to prove that I could do more than art.”

Luis Santos wears a piece from their father Soler’s 1989 collaboration with Bench, titled “The Seat of Art.”

Soler collab t-shirt, BENCH.

But in one way or another, the Santos kids all eventually got into art. Luis has established himself as one of the country’s most in-demand young artists through his monochromatic and photorealistic paintings of specimens and distorted surfaces.

Carina the artist initially introduced herself through collages but has started exhibiting her paintings—intimate, dreamy meditations on loneliness. Meanwhile, Isabel has distinguished herself with a more playful style, making use of everything from comic books to the lives of scientists in her mixed media work.

Isabel Santos wears a piece from their father’s 1989 collaboration with Bench.

Soler collab t-shirt, BENCH. Denim overalls, BENCH.

Recently, during a routine spring-cleaning, their dad found three shirts he designed for Bench in 1989, for a collaboration called “The Seat of Art.” The brand commissioned Soler to create artworks inspired by its name, and he did so in a way that stayed true to a body of work characterized by abstract imagery and ecological themes.

Sobrang vague ng memory ko tungkol diyan,” Luis, who was a toddler at the time, says. “Naaalala ko lang na dinala niya kami sa isang branch ng Bench tapos pinakita niya yung shirts… Pinaka naaalala ko lang talaga, kasi sobrang bata ko pa nun, yung nagtataka ako kung sino ba yung tatay ko na kinuha pa nila para gumawa ng t-shirt. [Laughs]

Carina Santos wears a piece from their father’s 1989 collaboration with Bench.

Denim jacket with fur collar, BENCH. Soler collab t-shirt, BENCH. Wide leg denim pants with frayed hem, BENCH

“I was only able to get a good look at them now, actually,” Carina says, “and if I may, I think his work holds up! [Laughs] I also think it’s pretty cool that Bench has taken up artist collaborations again, with its partnership with Art Fair Philippines.”

In time for Bench’s 30th anniversary, we indulge in a #throwback that has stood the test of time—shooting the 1989 “The Seat of Art by Soler” collection on the artist’s three children, who are now also known artists in their own right.

Isabel on her work habits: “I usually wear a sports bra ‘cause I sometimes do workouts in between, like sit-ups or squats every 10 minutes. [Laughs] I have a long breakfast and have lots of breaks during painting. Coffee or sit-ups breaks!”

Cropped tank top, BENCH. Satin boxer shorts, BENCH.

How does a household full of artists look like? “As a whole, our working styles seem similar, but we all kind of go about it differently,” Carina says.

“My mom is very meticulous and methodical in how she works, which is similar to how my brother works, but it takes a long time for him to get settled and start working, which is also how my sister and I both are. My sister gets long bouts of low energy, but gets really fixated on work when she gets to that point of movement.”

Carina on her work habits: “When I haven’t hit my stride, I like doing a little bit of everything else I need to do in small bursts so that I don’t sit around doing nothing.”

Oversized sweater, BENCH. Flared denim pants, VERO MODA.

“My dad is pretty relaxed even though he’s constantly making stuff, whereas I’m constantly making stuff because of restless energy more than anything. All of us get in the zone, though;” Carina says, “we just have different ways of getting there.”

“We ask each other’s opinion about our works,” Isabel continues. “Sometimes they give opinions even without me asking [Laughs].”

Luis on his work habits: “Wala namang rituals pero usually nag sisimula ako with panic and black coffee.”

Cropped tank top, BENCH. Satin boxer shorts, BENCH.

August is a big month for the siblings. Carina has two solo shows—“Satellites for Minor Planets” in Blanc Gallery (up until August 26) and “Orbiting the Last Known Surroundings” in the family-owned West Gallery (opening August 24)—as well as two group shows, “Fresh Cut, New Blood” at MO_Space until September 3 and Underground Gallery on August 26.

Carina will be joined by Isabel at West Gallery on August 24, with a solo show of her own. Titled “Should I Remember You?”, she says the exhibit is about the importance of remembering and being remembered.

Finally, Luis is part of a group show in Artery Art Space on August 26, and two other group shows in September (Pinto Museum and Galerie Roberto).

“I’m the number one supporter of my family,” Isabel says. “I love bragging about them or suggesting them to people as [artists] na bagay sa projects nila. I’m truly bilib sa kanila. [Laughs]

On Isabel: Heritage t-shirt, BENCH. Khaki skirt, BENCH. Black loafers, CHARLES & KEITH; On Carina: Khaki blazer, BENCH. Heritage t-shirt, BENCH. Khaki skirt, BENCH. Red mary janes, CHARLES & KEITH; On Luis: Heritage t-shirt, BENCH. Khaki pants, BENCH.
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