String theory: The amazing thread art of Govinda Marquesto

Govinda’s artworks tell of the Filipino culture that he literally threads into his art—and binds us all.

If you made a meme on the artistic journey of thread artist Govinda Marquesto, it might look something like this: two pictures—the first is a newspaper’s connect-the-dots puzzle and the second is a figurative artwork, except it’s not acrylic or oil on canvas, but threads connected by more than a thousand nails on plywood. The captions would be, “Then” and “Now.”  

That’s how Govinda tells the story of his beginnings as a thread artist. As a child, he loved doing connect-the-dot puzzles in newspapers and tabloids. He also loved drawing on the tip sheets of Jai Alai games in Iligan where he grew up (drawings that he keeps to this day).

Thread artist Govinda Marquesto
Thread artist Govinda Marquesto

His parents wanted him to become a doctor. Instead, Govinda became an artist and a musician with Kadangyan, a band that plays Filipino ethnic music that was formed “to lure collectors to see our artworks.”

Govinda says his thread art began by accident. “I joined an art competition but they disqualified my work because it was cubism and they wanted realism even though it was not stated in the rules. So I stopped painting because I was so discouraged. But then I saw that I could do connect-the-dots and use nails for the dots and strings for the lines. I made one and posted it on Facebook. One of my friends recommended me to CITEM (Center for International Trade and Expositions) to do a huge mural for Manila FAME.”

Because CITEM is a government agency, Govinda had to bid for the project. As luck would have it, a month passed and no one else bid so he got the project by default— a mural on a 12×12-meter wall space at Mall of Asia’s SMX.

An art consultant from Lebanon saw it and commissioned Govinda to do one for Raffles Hotel. Then he was also commissioned by Dusit Thani Davao and Anya Resort Tagaytay. Since October last year, he’s been the resident artist of Crimson Boracay, where he holds painting workshops (both traditional painting and thread art) in the resort’s art room.

Rose Madonna,” 36x 24 inches, threads and nails + oil on canvas
“Rose Madonna,” 36x 24 inches, threads and nails + oil on canvas.

In theory, string art or thread art is seen more as a DIY project, one that someone might do as a hobby, rather than art. In reality, it’s an amazing (and laborious) piece of art to do. Govinda’s works are detailed, layered and his portraits realistic that if you weren’t standing close to the piece, you might not realize that it’s actually thread and not paint.  

From Iligan to the Netherlands

His exhibits have all been group shows so far (except the one at Crimson Boracay a few months ago). He started showing his work in Iligan in 1995, Cebu in 1999, Manila in 2000.

“Nobody was paying attention to my paintings until I began doing thread art and had a group show in Manila in 2013,” he adds.

Since then, he’s exhibited in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2016; Haarlemmermeer, the Netherlands in 2017; and three times in Taipei, Taiwan since 2018.

Govinda Marquesto artwork
Govinda Marquesto’s works can be found at Crimson Boracay, Dust Thani Davao and Anya Tagaytay.

Spools of art

On June 3, his first solo show in Manila opens at Altro Mondo Creative Space. Called “Spools, Coils, and Lengths,” the exhibit will feature his visual expressions inspired by his life experiences. The gallery puts it thus: “With every stroke, whether deliberate or spontaneous, he unveils fragments of his personal journey—a voyage marked by choices that deviate from the norm, challenge conventions, and embrace simplicity.”

Govinda says he likes thread art because “it’s a different kind of art, and for me the purpose of being an artist is to contribute something new to society. I believe that with this medium, I’m doing that.”

Govinda Marquesto’s Boracay sunset
“Boracay Sunset”

Preparing his “canvas” is tedious work. He pounds over a thousand nails on Santa Clara plywood for big pieces, which sometimes takes him four days to complete. “Putting the thread is the easy part,” he says. “I can thread a whole artwork in 12 hours.”

But then again, Govinda knew early on that making art can be time-consuming. In Mindanao, he learned the equally intricate okir art of the Maranaos. The okir is a spectacular design that is usually made from leaves, fern or vines, and also done in woodworks and metalcrafts. They can be found decorating Torogan houses.

During his time as resident artist at Crimson Boracay, Govinda has learned new thread art techniques, which will be in full display at his show. His inspirations for these pieces range from Picasso’s cubist portraits to landscapes and portraits of individuals from all walks of life.

Above all, his works tell of the Filipino culture that he threads into his art—and binds us all.

“Spools, Coils, and Lengths” will be on display at Altro Mondo Creative Space from June 3 to July 1. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm. Follow them on Facebook (@altromondoart) or Instagram (@altromondoart) or them at +63 929 709 0396.

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