THE INTERNAL METAMORPHOSIS OF KERMIT TESORO
This Berlin-based Filipino artist/designer is evolving in his own terms Words and images by Ieth Inolino-Idzerda Berlin had several days of tropical weather at the beginning of summer, experiencing pockets of heatwaves with temperatures soaring up to 30C that can often feel like a scorching burn of 40C. Kermit Tesoro prefers this over the cold weather, which he escapes every winter by going back to the Philippines. He likes European summer though because of its stretched days and delayed sunset. So, it was no surprise that he and his husband, who lives in a stylish apartment in West Berlin, chose to spend the entire summer just a few minutes away at their schrebergarten or kleingarten, Germany’s little garden houses with a small plot of land, which city-dwellers can rent or own to use as their own garden, to grow flowers, vegetables, or enjoy the sun. Tesoro, who celebrated his birthday just a day before this interview, sliced the most gorgeous two-layer strawberry cake and served it with homemade kombucha. The cake, which he refers to as a true Gemini pleaser, is not only homemade, it is also homegrown. Fresh from the garden, the decadent strawberries that gracefully covers the top tier of the cake is the sweetest thing that can melt in your mouth in the long sunny days of June. When not tending to their home garden–Tesoro claims that they can have enough tomatoes, broccoli, and other vegetables that can last them the entire summer–he works at the Potsdam Botanical Garden, the perfect workplace for an avid horticulturist like himself. This must be a blessing (or a curse) of an artist’s hands: they have to be doing something all the time. And now, Tesoro’s hands are getting busier as he prepares for his latest collection. We were just getting started with our conversation when the rain started to pour, much to Tesoro’s relief as the plants are in dire need of rain water, “It is about time,” he chuckles as we move inside the garden house. When you search ‘Kermit Tesoro’ on Google, the most prominent image you will find is The Polypodis. Arguably one of his most famous works, the octopus shoes with tentacle heels gain infinite international media mileage, from Vogue to WWD, when it was associated with pop superstar Lady Gaga in 2015. This and several other mind-blowing and eye-popping shoe creations have been worn by celebrities and exhibited in prominent museums from the Spielzeug Welten Museum in Switzerland to the Cube Design Museum in the Netherlands. Tesoro was gaining attention in Europe. This success made him realise that his works are more appreciated here than in the Philippines. Tesoro considers himself lucky and honored that he was able to showcase his works in Europe, “It has been really nice working with the people here. You really see good fruitions after the exhibitions. You have better feedback, future opportunities. They invite new people who could also be interested in your works. They see one of your works, see potential, and call you directly. That is the machinery on how this all came about.” After an exhibition in Germany in 2017, Tesoro stayed in Berlin. “It felt like this is my turf. I felt a strong sense of belongingness in the city. I instantly connected with Berlin and it felt very much like home.” The following year, I returned to Berlin and settled down here. The avant-garde designer was optimistic when he moved to Berlin. But soon discovered that there is a lot to do. “For a foreign person in this profession, it is hard to start in another country because you are really starting from scratch. To be established in what you do, you need a strong sense of familiarity. I had my sense of familiarity in the Philippines. I know where to go to when I need some materials. I know who to talk to if I need assistance. Here, you have to crawl your way up to find these people and places to assist your creativity. It is really challenging. There are opportunities but you really have to find them and deeply immerse yourself.” Aside from finding his footing as an artist, Tesoro also had to work on himself. “I had to resolve personal issues, thank God that is over now. I think it is important to be outside of your comfort zone, which was Manila for me. It’s important to realise that you have certain issues. We all have. But seeing different places, being in a different atmosphere, or even being lost in translation, they all contribute to make you realise what are your needs, what do you need to do to blend in, how do you cope.” What is next for Kermit Tesoro? Being heavily influenced by the many things that surround him, from interesting people to thought-provoking exhibitions in Europe, Tesoro took advantage of the situation and engaged himself–leading him to question his aesthetics and noticing the difference with his designs. “Even just walking around, I would think that I can incorporate things in my design. So, I start doing this process, what do I do with it? Itis like creating a thesis statement, you have to start with a problem and think about how would you solve it. That is how different my designs are.” This is something one can expect on his latest collection, entitled “Leucistic Observations” wherein Tesoro heavily used piña or pineapple fabric because of the contrast he sees. He wanted to manipulate the local Filipino fabric by doing different techniques and patterns that are often used in Europe. Leucism is somewhat similar to albinism, where pigmentation is reduced, just like the colors and materials used in the collection. Based on the themes of each piece, he redefines matrimonial dress, religious uniform, sampaguita flowers, the use of pearls and capiz, and the piña or pineapple fabric. The collection reflects his many observations wherein the color palette is in the range of the Leucistic spectrum. It is scheduled to be exhibited in the Philippine Embassy in Berlin in the coming months. The rain outside is trickling down and with its slow dripping sound Tesoro reflected on what he’s most proud of as he poured another glass of kombucha with a long and heavy yet satisfied and confident sigh. “I’m proud that I’m now capable of convincing myself that I made it. Not that I made it career-wise but Berlin-wise. That I am able to find the sanity I needed. It was hard to be a young artist in the Philippines because you are confronted with quintessential crisis. Now, I do not have those lingering thoughts anymore. I have matured and I am happy that I get to practice and embrace that maturity on a personal and professional level.” It is almost midnight and the rain finally stopped. The air is crisp on this Friday night and we are ready to hit the techno clubs in the East. A bit of a different scene of how our humid Friday nights were 10 years ago, easy-going on the eccentric alleys of Cubao Expo in Manila. Instagram: @kermittesoro Travel Tips Go museum-hopping around Europe and check out the designs of Kermit Tesoro in these cities. (image: European map with pins on the following museums) 1. Schoenenkwartier (formerly called Dutch Leather and Shoe Museum) Raadhuisplein 1, 5141 KG Waalwijk, The Netherlands 2. Museu do Calçado R. António José de Oliveira Júnior 591, 3700-204 São João da Madeira, Portugal 3. Pecs Gallery Pécs, Széchenyi tér 14, 7621 Hungary COMING HOME Tesoro considers Berlin as his home. But when he is back in the Philippines, it feels like he is back home. PLAYGROUND LUV Finding inspiration everywhere, Tesoro gravitates toward the unexpected and unconventional like his favorite building in Berlin, Internationales Congress Centrum, a Brutalist architecture. FILIPINO MATERIAL, EUROPEAN TECHNIQUE Known for his avant-garde designs, Tesoro highlights piña or pineapple fabric in his collection “Leucistic Observations” with shoe materials including wood, acrylic, silicone, leather, and nylon. (Photos courtesy of Kermit Tesoro) DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS A true creative, Tesoro believes that to call yourself a designer, you have to be specific with what you are doing. Art in progress at the apartment he shares with his husband in West Berlin. (Photos courtesy of Kermit Tesoro). About the author: IETH INOLINO IDZERDA believes that Filipinos in Europe have unique and interesting stories that can inspire and empower. With words and visuals, she hopes to create an impact on the narrative of Filipino arts, culture, and lifestyle in the continent, while staying true to our Filipino roots and soaring high to the future. IETH is based in Amsterdam.