On Kenneth Montegrande's "The Greatness of Simplicity"

With meticulous compositions of delicate yet emotive strokes in soothing colors, Kenneth Montegrande’s “The Greatness of Simplicity” is a powerful reminder of the value in authenticity and life’s small joys.

Deep introspection lies at the heart of Kenneth Montegrande’s 20th solo exhibition, The Greatness of Simplicity. Like many artists who experienced the harrowing COVID-19 pandemic, Montegrande spent a considerable amount of time processing his thoughts and emotions after the ordeal, conveying them through a new series of minimalist works that not only serve as visual ruminations of the past three years, but also records of his growth as an artist. 

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Decades of Dedication

Montegrande is a self-taught Filipino abstract painter with a number of feathers in his cap, having earned both national and international recognition for his art. Two of his works are part of the permanent collection of the Malacañang Palace Museum and Library. Japanese billionaire and art collector Yusaku Maezawa has collected his paintings as well, making Montegrande the first Southeast Asian to be featured in the tycoon’s collection. 

Kenneth Montegrande
Kenneth Montegrande

The Tokyo-based Contemporary Art Foundation has displayed the artist’s works alongside a record-breaking Basquiat and other pieces from acclaimed visionaries like Alexander Calder and Bruce Nauman. Last November 2023, Montegrande also held an international solo exhibition at the Hong Kong Visual Art Centre, with National Artist Benedictor Cabrera (Bencab) as a Guest of Honor. 

The Art of Simplicity

It comes as no surprise that Montegrande’s patrons and supporters went to Galleria Nicolas to celebrate his years of dedication through The Greatness of Simplicity. This included curator and director of the Fundacion Sansó, Ricky Francisco, who has worked with the artist in more than five exhibitions. 

"Endless Hope, Series II" (left), "Ode to Sunrise" (right), acrylic on canvas
“Endless Hope, Series II” (left), “Ode to Sunrise” (right), acrylic on canvas

“This is the first time I’ve seen Kenneth put together minimalist works from both his cloudscapes and abstracts, sharing them to the public on such a large scale,” Francisco shares. “He has matured as an artist in a way I had not anticipated before.”

Ricky Francisco
Ricky Francisco

Montegrande’s latest exhibition is the culmination of a career that spans over two decades, composed of abstract expressionist works, seascapes, and landscapes that many know him for. However, the artist opts for a more subtle approach to his works this time around, rather than the explosive, fervent style he’s honed over the years. He favors delicate, softer strokes and colors to evoke a sense of tranquility.

These more contemplative pieces speak volumes, testaments to the adage “less is more.” That said, the artist’s restraint never compromises the dynamism that distinguishes his works. One could argue that it highlights his strengths, leaving enough room for viewers to appreciate the finer details of his techniques. 

An Emotional Conduit

Montegrande doesn’t start with a blueprint: there are no preliminary sketches. “I don’t want [my art] to be scripted,” he states in an exclusive interview with Lifestyle Asia. “I want the viewers to feel the natural emotions depicted in my artworks.”

"Living without Hesitation" (acrylic on canvas)
“Living without Hesitation” (acrylic on canvas)

He goes straight to work, painting the images in his head without reference, likening the process to life’s spontaneity and fragile balance. 

 “When we hear the word ‘minimal,’ we probably think ‘oh that’s nothing,’” the artist shares. “But technically, doesn’t that make it easier to see the mistakes?” Precision and care is a necessity in Montegrande’s work: there’s no room for errors or errant elements, even if he follows his emotions.

"A Light so Pure" (acrylic on canvas)
“A Light so Pure” (acrylic on canvas)
Montegrande opts for a spontaneous creative process, and doesn’t use references or preliminary sketches

Looking Back at the Journey

For most exhibitions of his works, Montegrande ensures that both old and new pieces are included. As such, The Greatness Of Simplicity features past paintings with heavy impasto, and more current pieces that showcase thinner layers made through a dry brush technique, with impasto accents. 

A close-up showing Montegrande's impasto accents atop a thinner, dry brush technique
A close-up showing Montegrande’s impasto accents atop a thinner, dry brush technique

Montegrande has never been one to move forward without looking back at where he started. To him, constant growth and improvement is good: yet it doesn’t mean that past efforts hold less significance. In fact, they’re tangible proofs of creative progress, perhaps the only way any artist can measure how far they’ve come. 

Montegrande prefers exhibiting both new and old works to honor his growth as an artist
Montegrande prefers exhibiting both new and old works to honor his growth as an artist

“In my latest artworks, my techniques improved. They’re very different from my old style,” he explains. “Yet they’re both important. We should always grow by learning from past experiences. Both the new and old experiences are part of your life.”

A Call to Slow Living

“We always want to be advanced in everything. But when the pandemic arrived, the message of God for all of us was to take it slow: appreciate everything, even the smallest things. […] So I thought, it’s about time to release this message through my artworks,” Montegrande intimates. 

A close-up of "Ode to Sunrise"
A close-up of “Ode to Sunrise”

Indeed, there’s certainly a spiritual element to the artist’s works. It’s present in his portrayal of the natural world, with cloudscapes evoking a sense of serenity and seascapes pulsing with an almost divine power. Meanwhile, the elegance and ethereality of his abstract works are thanks to his masterful composition skills. Not a single stroke is out of place in these pieces, each mark a deliberate part of its creator’s message. 

Amid the hustle and bustle of daily life—to degrees that reach a fever pitch as people make up for lost time—Montegrande’s works are a steady, therapeutic reminder of the beauty of standing still, if only for a moment.  

Photos by Ed Simon and Pilar Gonzalez, edited by Paolo Torio.

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