Maxine Syjuco Explores The Depths of Imagination and Emotion

Maxine Syjuco creates an arresting avant-garde lexicon for art, marrying painting, poetry, sculpture, and more. And as she explores the depths of the human psyche and the rich inner landscape of her imagination, she invites viewers on a journey of self-discovery.

Creating evocative canvasses full of emotion, Maxine Syjuco’s art elicits an almost visceral response. Behold tableaus devoid of gravity, where representations of the female figure are kept afloat by wings or white sheets, above tumultuous waves and disheveled spaces. In her world, self-portraits are laced with strength and vulnerability, and paintings of children are haunting and layered with symbolism. “Unraveling the human spirit, the soul, the chambers of the mind, and the complexities of emotion are what propel me to break boundaries,” she reveals. “Creating art that is experimental, avant-garde, non-traditional, and uniquely ‘me.’”

Ivory tulle tea length dress with silk flowers, JOEY SAMSON
Ivory tulle tea length dress with silk flowers, JOEY SAMSON

The youngest daughter of renowned artists Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco, Maxine grew up in a world bursting with creativity. “I believe I was destined to become an artist because art is not just in my DNA. It’s my entire lifestyle,” she shares. “It’s the passion that fuels my essence–it’s the language of my soul.”

The 39-year-old describes her artistic style as a fusion of visual art and poetry. “I’d like to think of my work as bold, innovative, daring, experimental, thought-provoking. And fueled by an obsessive compulsion of what lies within us,” she discloses. “People often describe my work as surreal, because it depicts the intangible aspects of what makes us beautiful.” 

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Dream Weaver

Indeed, like the proponents of surrealism before her, Maxine’s introspective pieces revel in themes that expound on the “delicate and fragile beauty of the subconscious mind.” Her paintings exist in a dreamlike alternate reality, one that is unafraid to explore more furtive emotions. “I constantly study and dissect themes of pain, grief, loss, regret. I am obsessed with embracing these so-called ‘darknesses’,” Maxine says. “In order to prove that they too, embody beauty and light.” 

Taupe wool backless trench coat and Ivory silk organza book-leaf skirt, JOEY SAMSON
Taupe wool backless trench coat and Ivory silk organza book-leaf skirt, JOEY SAMSON

Her latest exhibition entitled Secrets of Spill Seduction, reveal the depth and complexity of the artist’s imagination. Paint spilling down the canvas is to Maxine a reminder of the inevitability of accidents. And in her hands, they have been transformed into dynamic parts of the composition. Moreover, she shares that wings symbolize “the fragility of children, and the delicate sensuality of women who are trapped in rooms of disarray.” The latter she expounds, is a metaphor for strict social constructs and unrealistic standards imposed upon the fairer sex. 

Like in the myth of Pandora’s box, which incidentally is a theme of one of her pieces, Maxine clings to the notion of hope. “When taken into a singular context, the wings are a reminder that there is always hope. There is always light in the darkness,” she says. “And we must look within ourselves–no matter how frightening that may be–to rise above trials and tribulations.”

A Visual Feast

Likewise immersed in various forms of art like poetry and sculpture, Maxine describes her creations as “visual narratives” or “visual poetry.” “Each piece is intricately laced with metaphorical symbols that dissect the philosophical aspects of who I am. And who we are on the inside,” she shares. 

She discloses that the fusion of her many artistic exploits to be her ultimate goal. “I believe that every artist has many voices inside of them. And my approach to expressing these voices is by fusing visual art with poetry, performance, and music,” conveys Maxine.  

Cream oversized blazer and matching asymmetric skirt, AKIO BARREIRO
Cream oversized blazer and matching asymmetric skirt, AKIO BARREIRO

She recalls that her first solo exhibit in 2009, at Mag:Net Gallery, had already been a foray into artistic amalgamation. “My concept was to transform the gallery into a life-size poetry book. Where each artwork was a direct reflection of a poem from my book, A Secret Life,” she says. She likewise shares how her father Cesare, who is a Palanca awardee for poetry, and is a head of the Philippine Literary Arts Council, is her inspiration. “Poetry will always be my first love,” she continues. 

Her cross-disciplinary approach to creation has also birthed video installations, like “Hashtag Hypocrite.” Here, Maxine recites trending hashtags, like #NoFilter, while appearing the complete opposite and heavily filtered. 

More recently, she created a short film inspired by Filipino folklore, and the duende, for the music video of Jack of None. This is of course the Art-Rock group comprised of herself as the vocalist, and her brothers AG and Julian. For the track “Dios Por Santo,” Maxine stitched hundreds of her digital paintings to create an animated and haunting narrative. “We thrive on breaking rules, bending conventions, and creating art that is audible,” says Maxine of their band, and their desire to always “color outside the lines.”  

Family Values

Having kindred spirits to collaborate with is indeed a perk of growing up surrounded by creative individuals. Then there are of course Maxine’s parents, who are award-winning and highly respected figures in the art scene and her role models. Additionally, Maxine’s eldest sister Michelline is a jewelry designer, while her second sister Beatrix is an abstract painter. Her eldest brother AG is an I.T. expert and musician, while her youngest brother Julian is a musician and painter. 

Vermilion bamboo shirt with matching trousers, YOYA
Vermilion bamboo shirt with matching trousers, YOYA

“Although we are very different in character and lifestyle choices, we are all united in the values instilled in us by our parents,” she says. “Growing up in a family of artists is something I wouldn’t trade for the world. It is the perfect environment to foster free-thinkers who embrace individuality.”

Indeed, the Syjucos’ desire to further the cause of art has birthed their gallery called Art Lab. Founded by her parents, it had been a haven for experimental art in the 1990s. “Art Lab is my parents’ way of giving back to society, by encouraging interdisciplinary avant-garde art and experimentation,” she shares.

Vermilion bamboo shirt with matching trousers, YOYA
Vermilion bamboo shirt with matching trousers, YOYA

Originally located along Edsa in Makati, today the developmental art facility is located in Ayala Alabang Village, within the Syjuco family compound. It is where the cover shoot is taking place, with Maxine posing gracefully posing amidst a treasure trove of paintings and sculptures. As the facility’s associate director and co-curator, she endeavors to continue on her parents’ mission. That is to develop new directions and alternative audiences for Philippine art and culture. 

Origin Story 

Incidentally, the original Art Lab had been where Maxine had spent her formative years. As her parents’ constant companion, and their “little artist assistant,” she fell asleep amidst their discourses on art. The hammering sounds of installations being assembled, and the sound of her father’s typewriter were her lullabies. “It was amidst this level of conviction for pursuing one’s passions–and this type of unshakable certitude–that I developed my identity,” she says. “As soon as I could speak, I was telling everyone that I wanted to become an artist, just like my parents.” 

Her identity as an artist is something that is both inspiring and all-consuming, with each creation a deeply personal and intimate reflection of its creator. “I am so passionate about my work that I honestly see no distinction between it, and the daily grind of everyday life,” she shares, eager to continuously create whenever inspiration strikes. “I pour my whole self into my art–and I share it with the world as a reminder of our distinct individuality.”

With an idiosyncratic oeuvre, the cross-disciplinary artist and poet has likewise enjoyed her fair share of accolades. She has for instance received the Magnum Photography Award in London for her self-portrait “Cages.” And her work for Jack of None has been recognized thrice in by the Independent Music Awards in New York.

Her pieces have also made the rounds in the international art circuit, having been exhibited in the USA, Europe and Asia. Museums and institutions, like the Central Bank of the Philippines, The Magnum Arts Collection in London, and the Tokiwa Museum of Japan, have also acquired her work.

Renaissance Woman 

Despite her triumphs, Maxine had to likewise overcome her share of challenges, some of which are related to her gender. “Some people seem to think that you need to look a certain way, disheveled, unkempt, and brooding, to be a ‘serious’ artist. I want to break away from these stereotypes,” she professes. 

With her slender figure and delicate features, it can be easy to dismiss the former-model as just a pretty face. But Maxine is on a mission to prove naysayers otherwise. “I want to empower women by turning things around. I want to say, in this day and age, women can enjoy self-care and glamor while also being serious artists,” she declares. “After all, isn’t art about self-expression?”

Critics have often said that they have a hard time believing that her work had been created by a woman, because they appear “strong” and “powerful.” Nonetheless, Maxine is eager to break the mold. “This is exactly what I hope to achieve in my lifetime. To see more women artists rising above gender-constraints and stereotypes–and unapologetically shattering narrow-minded molds that we’ve previously been funneled into.” 

In 2010, she had opened an art school for children called The Little Picasso, within Studio Maxine Syjuco. “This is my way of giving back to the community, by sharing with the youth the same gift I was given as a child: the gift of self-discovery and freedom of self-expression through art,” she explains. And while she had to put a pause on this passion project due to the pandemic, she hopes to reopen in the near future. 

Artistic Ideals

A self-confessed hopeless romantic, she unwinds through moments of solitude. “Thinking about it now, all my hobbies and favorite past-times are art-related and spiritual in nature,” she says. The free-spirited artist is a lover of music, books, and art films, watching the latter practically every night. “The stranger, the better,” she says. She even enjoys taking walks outdoors, for the sole purpose of finding unique objects she can literally drag home for her art. 

White crackled tank top, ZIV REI ALEXI; Painter’s canvas rag (used as a skirt), MAXINE SYJUCO
White crackled tank top, ZIV REI ALEXI; Painter’s canvas rag (used as a skirt), MAXINE SYJUCO

Moments in nature are also cherished. “I crave fresh air and movement,” she explains. As are meaningful conversations with her family, parents, and boyfriend, who she declares, is “a brilliant architect who lovingly understands my artistic eccentricities”.  

When she goes abroad to her favorite cities, museums and art galleries are always her first stops. Nonetheless, despite her love for travel, she considers the Philippines her favorite place in the whole world. “From the gritty and busy streets of our cities, to the serene and picturesque beaches, our country inspires me to no end. Wherever you go, people are smiling while unwittingly rising above obstacles–spirited by an unbreakable resiliency unique to all Filipinos,” she enthuses. 

Cultural Pride

It is likewise with this lens that she views the glorious magnificence of the Filipino artist. “We have talent and artistry bursting at the seams,” Maxine declares. “Because of this, I believe the role of the Filipino artist in society is to remind fellow Filipinos of how much we are truly capable of.” 

Ivory tulle tea length dress with silk flowers, JOEY SAMSON
Ivory tulle tea length dress with silk flowers, JOEY SAMSON

She believes the Filipino artist is called upon to boldly celebrate our history and identity. “We must be proud of what makes us unique in all the world: our continuous ability to rise above all obstacles, and to see the light in the darkness,” she continues. 

And it’s a good time to be a Filipino artist, with the local art industry branching out into the world. “By supporting one another and respecting each other’s’ voices, we can use our natural resiliency to create more experimental art. [And] that will showcase our extremely rich and diverse cultural heritage,” Maxine says. 

Art Imitates Life

Maxine’s authentic approach to creating has granted her an inspiring and fulfilling life. Crafting “art that is for art’s sake,” she has inexorably received critical acclaim. “Whenever people resonate with my work, I’d like to believe it’s because my art is brutally honest. Each piece tells a narrative of inner truth that comes straight from my heart, no matter how disturbing or haunting that ‘truth’ may be,” she says. 

White crackled utility jacket, belt, and column skirt, ZIV REI ALEXI
White crackled utility jacket, belt, and column skirt, ZIV REI ALEXI

But perhaps what makes Maxine’s neo-surrealist art so moving is that in its quest to delve and lay bare the depths of human emotion, it invites the viewer to a certain level of catharsis. She believes that art is transformative, whether one realizes it or not. “It is the purest form of self-expression, and it inspires others to look within themselves to celebrate exactly who they are,” she shares. “I like to go deep when creating art. I like to look beyond the surface to discover the beauty amidst the inner chaos.” 



Sittings Editor CANDY DIZON

Creative Director PAOLO TORIO

Art Director MARC YELLOW




Shoot Coordination MAE TALAID


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