Elmer Borlongan Launches Two-Volume Book Chronicling His Best Works

For An Ordinary Man, An Extraordinary Life, readers will get a peek into the artist’s portfolio.

An Ordinary Man, An Extraordinary Life—the title of contemporary artist Elmer Borlongan’s recently released book is already quite telling of what readers can expect before they flip through each page. His wife and fellow artist Plet Bolipata proposed the title, which he instantly approved.

The two-volume book gets its titles from two themes: “My subjects in my paintings are ordinary people I see in my hometown of Mandaluyong, hence the title,” he tells Town&Country. “The second book pertains to my extraordinary life as a painter.” He explains that he had taken an unexpected journey earlier in his life, coming from a middle-class family with parents in the field of science and with nobody in his immediate circle to guide him through his early path to becoming a full-time artist.

Elmer Borlongan with the first volume of An Ordinary Man, and Extraordinary Life


The launch took place alongside an exhibition of Borlongan’s works at the Art Cube Gallery on May 3, 2019. Art enthusiasts formed a long queue just to have Borlongan sign their copies. It was a short enough wait, considering that the books were meant to supplement the prolific painter’s mid-career survey show at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila last year, but were not finished on time, he says.

Through An Ordinary Man, An Extraordinary Life, readers will get a peek into the artist’s portfolio. “It helped that I was diligently documenting my works since I started drawing and painting at a young age,” he says, “I think this was the right time to publish my body of work while I can still remember the details of each piece and who owns it.” With such a large collection of works, Borlongan selected the pieces that he felt “made a significant turn in my art practice.”

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“I want my audience to be inspired by my paintings,” he says of the book’s main message, “[Also] to be persistent, not only in art, but in life.”

Each volume showcases two different artistic mediums. The first is a compilation of paintings from the time Borlongan began art lessons with Fernando Seña in 1978 until 2018.

Meanwhile, the second volume explores his earlier sketches and works on paper from childhood up to the present. Each volume is accompanied by articles and essays. Oscar V. Campomanes provides a scholarly point of view on the first volume’s content. The second, which contains much more personal essays, is said to be dedicated to Borlongan’s wife, Plet, “whose patience and love provided me with the kind of support [I needed] to devote myself to being an artist.”

Borlongan with his wife Plet and their art collector friends

The books come in a slipcase that was designed to look like a vinyl box set, a nod to the artist’s love for music. “I still listen to the LPs and 45rpms using a vintage set-up,” he says. “It’s the music format I grew up with.” Growing up, Borlongan took up guitar lessons and was a member of his school’s rondalla. He moved on to the electric guitar in college. Until now, there has to be music swaying in the background as he paints. “I listen to rock, new wave, blues, and reggae.”

The rest of the year sees exciting developments for the artist. He was recently part of the roster of artists whose works were showcased by Pintô International in Milan from May 6 to 12. While he says he’s currently working on commissioned works, he will also be participating in a solo show in June, at the request of his former art teacher, Seña. By December, he’ll be exhibiting more works at Secret Fresh Gallery.

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