The Dark, Beautiful Ironies of Herminio Tan Jr.


On my desk lies a small sculpture of a female figure in the nude—looking every inch a damsel in distress, sitting rather helplessly and, in a weird way, seemingly following your every move. A closer examination of the figure and you’d see nothing but bones for a face—breaking its soft, quiet pose and crossing it over to the macabre and the twisted.

“You can use it either as a paperweight or just a small sculpture on your bedside table. You decide.” I remember its artist, the young sculptor and bone collector Herminio Tan, Jr., a man of 27, as he gave the piece as a gift following a long-awaited collaboration with Rank.

Photography by Josh Ke.

The small resin-made creation, in a way, gives a peek into Tan’s aesthetic and worldview as an artist. An interesting, rather arresting, juxtaposition of a dark, twisted aesthetic with dramatic fantasies that let out thought-provoking ironies piece after piece.

For someone of his caliber, it is hard to imagine that the biggest artistic training that he has are from his explorations on YouTube, having trodden an all too different path in college than what he is now deeply thrust in. With this passion fueling his interest in the arts, the young ingenue has already penetrated the scene from making wearable accessories from cat bones to larger-than-life art pieces and ornaments seen in fashion shows, films, and brand partnerships through his line “Hermitism”.

Recently, Tan has mounted an exhibit “Templo?” for this year’s Fringe Fest. A seven-piece collection made out of fiber glass, resin, acrylic, animal bones, and other media, his exhibition eloquently, and playfully, expounds his take on man’s relentless search for salvation—dissecting the lines that blur faith to blind idolatry. His pieces were named, “Holy Cow!”, “Banal na Aso?”, “Hala Isang naghihimalang Imahe?”, “Cherub?”, “Santong Kabayo?”.

Rank talked to the Rizal-based artist on the journey and the road that lies ahead for this visual artist.

Photo by Josh Ke.

How did you develop this interest with the arts? What drew you into this particular artform?

Since I was a kid, I have always been fascinated with skulls and skeletons, I remember bugging my dad to get me human skull but because I don’t watch horror movies until now, and he knows that I am such a scaredy cat (haha) my dad didn’t take me seriously.

My dad’s an architect, and my mom’s an interior designer, I remember when we were kids, my dad will give us money based on our drawings and caricatures. Our eldest kuya will draw and render these magnificent houses in paper, my second kuya will draw funny caricatures of Mario (he even made this tiny book of evil spells, parents were shocked, I mean, we were kids and we dabble in the dark arts?), while I make monster sketches and our little sister makes cute anime sketches. Writing about this now, my parents are first art clients. Heartwarming, right?

My mom used to be an art teacher at EARIST, I have this very vivid memory of peeping into her classroom while she’s showing to her class this face sculpture made of clay. That memory stuck with me. My uncle was an art restorator in HK (I just found that out). In a way, I have an art foundation.

But right after my parents went full “businessman-mode”, they weren’t supportive about it when I started making my art (well, if your son collects bones and skulls for fun and stinks the house with resin, you wouldn’t be too, right?) but still, they built me a studio and workshop, so I’m not complaining. They became very supportive when they see me achieving my goals, exhibiting and answering interviews like this… I guess they realized I’m not wasting time digging animal graves.

Photography by Josh Ke.

Tell us about your beginnings? Life in the academe.

To be honest, I never thought that I’ll be an artist of any sort. I was this rebellious kid, uncaring of his future. I didn’t study art in school. I was an irregular student/transferee, from engineering. I wanted to take Fine Arts but my folks were against it (you know the usual “walang pera dyan” argument, but here I am now. haha). So, I took Mass Communications as my “rebound” course. And it was worth it. I loved our film classes. (I was also member of the Film org) Learning about films was eye-opening. I learned the importance of movement and narrative, the artform of set design, props and costumes, and of course, the power of a great theme song. Those film classes were basically, I guess, the proper “art schooling” that I’ve got in my student days. (So, if you see me being critical about a film, damn right.)

That reignition for art passion came after seeing Lady Gaga’s music video for “Bad Romance”. It was surreal for me back then, the dark comedy imagery, the taxidermied bat on her head, the protruding spine, the burnt skeleton in the end, it jumpstarted my creativity.  I started channeling my artistry in my clothes, naka-Doc Martens tapos leather jacket sa Pinas. haha). I was a rebellious young adult (haha) with Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga and KPOP inspirations for fashion style.

Then, I remember turning metal scraps to necklaces, altering my clothes to have skulls on them, making my own metal studded jean jacket, acid-washing my shirts and pants. I have so many clothes, that friends borrow from me for menial stuff like free drinks or a pack of cigarettes…and that’s how I got my first cat skull. A friend (a biology student that time) needs a jacket for a formal event and in return I asked for the bones.

Months before I graduate, I was planning to move out from the family and the business by joining the corporate world of PR. But after having a short talk with an artist I look up to before I finished, I decided to do my first collection of Animal Bones accessories, shoot it with my DSLR, uploaded it on FB and the rest was history.

In the end, to pursue my passion for the arts, I stayed at our family business, I stayed at home. I guess Art brought me closer to my family in a way. Amazing.

Photography by Josh Ke.

Who are your artistic influences? Icons you swear by?

As a kid I have a lot of influences from different genres. The PC game, Heretic, was the earliest game I played (I can tolerate it’s spookiness). I owe a lot to the art team behind Blizzard Games! The Starcraft series (Zerg). I watched my kuya play Diablo (I don’t like horror) Diablo 2 (and 3) was playable for me, the Necromancer character was the bomb and of course Warcraft.

Cartoons and Anime were heavy hitters too. My usual inspirations from animations are the villains! Remember Aku from Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack? (lovely horns) or Zagato from Magic Knight Ray Earth?(amazing shoulder pads) or Zechs from Gundam Wing (that Mask!)

Neon Genesis Evangelion was also influence (even though I never truly understood it as a kid) and of course, lore from Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball and Akiyoshi Hongo’s Digimon!

Even now, I still read a lot of mangas like Tite Kubo’s Bleach, Boichi’s Origin, One’s One Punch Man and Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece. I still watch series like Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe, Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time and a lot of Adult Swim.

I’m sure a lot of artists like me are influenced by these series! Locally, Budjette Tan’s Trese series and Angel Locsin in Darna. Braguda was a memorable Villain for me.

My folks love movies too. Growing up, I’ve seen films like Star Wars (and Space Balls) Aliens, Starship Troopers and Predator (I watched these films by popping my head back and forth behind our wooden sala) in VHS. We just love sci-fi films!  I’m still an avid movie goer. I made this helmet inspired was Hela’s headdress from Thor: Ragnarok. I also made a Xenomorph sculpture from the recent Alien reboot, and a wearable art series from The Last Jedi.

When it comes to artistic icons, simply, Lady Gaga, Marilyn Manson, Iris Van Herpen, and the late Mcqueen.

I get my inspiration and influences by backtracking my childhood and mixing with my present day experiences. Imagine a meat grinder machine.

Photography by Josh Ke.

What is it about your chosen artform that excites you?

I see the designs, skulls and bones just as a normal medium. I guess what’s exciting about it is seeing how the different shapes and sizes of anatomical pieces, or the bones would end up looking. It’s a lot of trial and error, like solving a puzzle and I’m usually surprised by the workable outcome.

Photography by Josh Ke.

What for you is your dream project?

To see my works in Pinto Art Museum. Simple as that.

Is there someone you’d dream to collaborate with?

Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga and Guillermo Del Toro, just because.

Photography by Josh Ke.

What is the best advice you’ve received about your art?

From master sculptor Merlito Gepte, “If you can sketch it, you can sculpt it.” And from my Dad, when I told him I want to think outside the box, he simply said, “Anak, there is no box.”

What’s next for you and your art?

This year is going to be quite busy for me. I have few exhibits soon, a runway show and a collab with a Cebu-New York Designer. I’m leaning more now on making my work visible in galleries and exhibits.

Photo courtesy of Facebook: Herminio Tan Jr.

“Templo?” is extended until the end of March 2019 at GIG gallery located at Eurovilla Condominium 1, 142 Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City from 10am-7pm Monday to Saturday.

Produced by Leo Balante

Photography by Josh Ke

Videography by The One Raw

Model: Garrett Zebley

Shot on location at the Val Taguba Atelier

ARTISAN: The Dark, Beautiful Ironies of Herminio Tan, Jr.

ARTISAN: This young, Rizal-based design ingenue, Herminio Tan collects bones and skulls and transforms them into grotesque, but beautiful and polished art pieces that tell thought-provoking narratives. See his artistic journey and his ever-evolving worldview as an artist in this feature.Produced by Leo BalantePhotography by Joshua KeVideography by The One RawModel Garrett Armando ZebleyShot on location at the Val Taguba atelier.Special thanks to Michael Cinco

Posted by Rank Magazine on Wednesday, March 13, 2019