New Directions : Faye Abantao

Digital Images on Folded Paper: A Union of an Ancient Artform and Bleeding Edge Style
by Jubal Gallaga

Faye Abantao’s marriage of digital tools and simple paper has produced stunning works of art. “I want the people looking at my work to feel a sense of connection—seeing beyond the imageries and becoming aware of the inner essence. I want them to immerse and ponder on the expressions and emotions of each work and how they would relate it to their day-to-day lives. I want them to think of the boundless possibilities that there is so much beyond what their eyes can see, I want them to be able to feel that excitement when they view my art.”

When you look at Faye Abantao’s work, you immediately notice its dreamlike quality and are intrigued by the unusual texture of her pieces. Abantao doesn’t paint on canvas, she instead transfers images into pieces of paper, each one meticulously folded like origami. Hundreds of pieces of paper, carefully folded by hand, uniform in size, to receive an image lifted straight off a dream.

The pieces of paper are not there just to be different, the creases and folds create shadows giving the images depth. Their lines fashioning an almost rippling texture that gives the piece a mirage-like quality, like heat haze. A collector once said of her work that it was a tapestry, that it evoked the banig, the local sleeping mat woven out of leaves. The images by themselves are noteworthy but it is the medium that really lifts Abantao’s art to another level.

It is all the more surprising that her signature technique was almost an afterthought.

Faye Abantao did not come from a particularly artistic family. Her interest was in advertising, not in the fine arts. After she graduated, she was ready to join the corporate world when friends and fellow graduates invited her to join them in a group exhibition. And she did, for the fun of it. However, she wanted to do the exhibit justice and thought of how to make her work stand out.

Abantao admits that growing up she didn’t think of herself as particularly artistic, but she did have an interest and a liking for origami. As she grew older she enjoyed making collages, particularly of photographs she herself took. There were other things that would inform on what would become her style. For example, in her early work, people were frequent subjects but recently her art is focusing on landscapes.  Her use of color has also evolved, as it has changed from bright and colorful to subtler and muted hues. But it was photography and origami that formed the pillars of what would eventually evolve into her current technique. Regardless of subject matter or how its depiction, Abantao’s use of photographs and origami are constant and the core elements of her art.

Image transfer itself is not unique to Abantao, in fact, it’s quite common. What makes her work so striking are the images she creates and where she transfers those images to.

Abantao’s process starts with her being curious over something she read, saw, or heard, and then she decides to read more about it. Or, she chooses a theme she wants to explore. She then researches on it. She allows herself to be guided by what strikes her fancy: an image she sees that pops up in Google search results, an interesting fact, an idea that triggers a thought in her mind prompting her to follow it and see where that leads, and so on. She relies almost exclusively on the Internet for this research.

She then compiles these images and with the use of Photoshop, starts manipulating them to closely align what is in her mind’s eye. She doesn’t just use images she found online though, some are images she herself made.

She also begins folding the paper she will use. And the paper isn’t just any kind of paper. Abantao prefers pages from old books. She has discovered in her experience that acid-free paper is best at keeping the image after the transfer. She also finds it satisfying that these old books are being reused and repurposed. She finds that using paper as a medium gives a vulnerable, almost fragile, quality to her work. Paper is transformative as well as transformational, which are key elements in her art.

Origami lies in the heart of the transformative element of paper. Even the source of the paper she uses, from old books, leans into that transformative element. She takes a page off a book that carries text, folds it into a new shape, and then uses it as a vessel to carry images.  The paper isn’t what it originally was, it is now a canvas to hold an image. It has transformed.

And it is in that very difference, its uniqueness that makes it transformational. It is unlike any other canvas. The creases and folds give layers, textures, and depth to what otherwise would have been another image.

There is something engaging about the contrast of her almost exclusive use of digital tools and resources for the creation of the images, even the process of rendering those images onto the paper speaks of the contemporary, yet the medium that captures and supports those images are practically prehistoric: paper, folded by hand.

Abantao has admitted that folding paper is therapeutic for her and she can do around five hundred of these a day. In one solo show, she used more than five thousand pieces of folded paper for fifteen pieces of art.

Within a year of graduating from La Consolacion College, in 2015, Philippine-born-and-raised Abantao was exhibiting at the Orange Gallery in Bacolod City and her work was being scouted by galleries in Manila.  In the intervening years, she has not only exhibited in Makati, Quezon        City, Taguig, and Iloilo City but outside the Philippines as well. In 2016, she was warmly received in Indonesia and even managed to secure a residency in Gwangju, South Korea in 2017.

In spite of all these successes, Abantao is not a full-time artist. She can be, but she confesses that if she did not have a job to go to, she would have nothing to draw. She works full-time in an advertising agency, using the experience and interactions she makes going out into the world to influence and inspire her art. Being engaged in the world is what drives her curiosity which lets her find things to capture in her folded paper.

She had to deal with the global pandemic and it has definitely shown in her art. Her theme for 2020 was isolation. Even Abantao herself noticed a shift in tone in her output. Her work before was vibrant and full of color, now they are more muted and reserved. She has also shifted the focus of her work from people to more landscapes. Although, the dreaminess is still quite intact. She wants to delve deeper into this and is eager to experiment in using just black and white imagery.

She finds that using paper as a medium gives a vulnerable, almost fragile, quality to her work

Abantao doesn’t paint on canvas, she instead transfers images into pieces of paper, each one meticulously folded like origami

When you look at her work, you immediately notice its dreamlike quality

“I want the people looking at my work to feel a sense of connection—seeing beyond the imageries and becoming aware of the inner essence.”

Design and Architecture

Cultural Experience

Art and Craft