A beautiful union of family, love and art. Lola makes a painting in watercolour and her Grandson Kenneth adds drawings based on her memories.
'When Lola passed, she left me with her paintings and a purpose. I promise to finish everything she started.'
“Crescenciana, Woven” 2018
I drew Lola’s portrait using Filipino weaving and textile patterns.
Can you tell us the story of how you and your Grandmother starting creating together?
Hello! My name is Kenneth and my grandmother (“lola” in Tagalog) is Crescenciana. In 2014 I left my job in Los Angeles and moved back home to San Jose to help care for Lola.
One day, we were sitting at the kitchen table and I asked her what she wanted to do. She said, “Something that is for a purpose.” I’d read somewhere that painting was a form of therapy with seniors, so I thought we’d give it try.
She made paintings in watercolor, and when they dried I drew on top of them based on the stories and memories she was sharing with me. That’s how we started creating together.
A portion of “Little Ilokana.” Lola’s watercolor and my drawing. 2021.
Working on our book has given me a chance to sit down with Lola’s memories, all the way from the start. This drawing is meant to be her as a little girl. According to Lola, she loved to play and dance in the palengke—or market—when she was supposed to be helping her mother set up their sari sari (variety) store.
“Nipa Hut,” 2015. Watercolor by Lola. Ink by me.
A nipa hut is a home built on stilts that is indigenous to the Philippines. The huts are constructed with wood, bamboo, and leaves. Lola was born in and raised her two daughters in her family’s nipa hut in the village Villasis.
What is the creative process, what is your approach in creating a piece of art?
Sometimes Lola told me what she was painting, in which case I’d do my best to draw what she’d envisioned. Otherwise, I start by taking one of Lola’s paintings and I stare at it like it’s a Rorschach test until I figure out which of her stories or memories best fits with it. Then I draw. Before Lola passed, I would draw directly on top of her watercolor paintings. But I realized that if I did that, eventually there’d be no more paintings to draw on, and our work would end. That’s why these days I work digitally. I scan Lola’s paintings and I draw on top of them on my tablet.
"Peanuts.” Watercolor and digital. 2020.
In 1942, at the start of the Japanese Occupation in the Philippines, Lola surfaced from her hiding place in the foothills and reunited with her mother at home. She said, “I roasted peanuts and put them on the street where the Japanese pass by and they drop Japanese [money], maybe five or ten cents. That’s when I earned my first Japanese money.”
"Vacation" Lola’s watercolor and my drawing. 2021.
After World War II, my grandfather suffered a nervous breakdown. He traveled home to China, leaving Lola behind in the Philippines with their two girls. He disappeared.
As a boy, I asked Lola where my grandfather was, and she said, “He is on vacation,” which I understood to mean, “Maybe he’ll return.”
What have your learnt about yourself through creating with your Grandmother?
I’ve learned I can still find ways to stay in touch with Lola and to keep her present. When she passed, I felt like we still had work to do together, and I wanted to finish everything she started.
We’re not sitting next to each other and painting at the kitchen table anymore, but when I’m working on one of her paintings I still look to her for guidance and it feels like we’re still working together.
Can you share a favourite story/memory from your Grandmother?
My very first memory of her might be my favorite. I was maybe four years old and I was digging around in the pantry for a snack (probably carbs, because some things don’t change) when I shut the door on my thumb. I turned around and I saw Lola sitting at her corner of the kitchen table. She called me over, wrapped my thumb in her hand and blew on it, and I felt like everything would be okay.
All images courtesy of The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration.