The Sculptor Speaks

BenCab at Art Fair Philippines 2014

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After nearly fifty years in the art world, National Artist Benedicto Cabrera should need no introductions. BenCab received his education from the University of the Philippines Fine Arts program, where he majored in Illustration and was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humanities in 2009. He began his practice as an illustrator for Liwayway magazine in 1963, and would take part in a number of landmark exhibitions, including an invitation from Arturo Luz to participate in Young Artists 1968 – an annual event which showcased young talents at The Luz Gallery in Manila.

This marked the first of many opportunities to further his practice. By 1970, the same year he was recognized as one of CCP’s thirteen artists, BenCab would have his first solo show outside of the Philippines, in London, where he would live for more than a decade. Upon his return to the Philippines in the mid-80s, he would join a group of Baguio-based artists, which included Santiago Bose and Kidlat Tahimik, to establish the Baguio Arts Guild. It was also around this time that BenCab would act upon his long-held fascination with the “rich material culture and traditions of the northern Philippine highlands” by making Baguio his home. Here, he would later build the BenCab Museum, where he houses his private collections of his own works, those of “acknowledged Filipino Masters and rising contemporary artists”, as well as “outstanding examples of the indigenous arts and crafts of the Cordilleras”.

The museum is operated and managed by the BenCab Art Foundation.
For this year’s Art Fair, BenCab has created a collection of free-standing sculptures that have been shaped in clay, before being cast and finished in bronze, and bent metal wall-bound pieces. While he is better known for his works on paper and canvas, BenCab practiced sculpture on and off throughout his career and has taken courses as early as the 70s to hone the craft. The images in this series represent his legacy as a lyrical expressionist, drawing from concepts that have turned his images into icons. Pulsing beneath the surface are echoes of his past renderings of the nude body, as well as clothed figures that recall the graceful draping inspired by legendary dancer, Isadora Duncan, and a new character, “Man Thinking” which treads between expressiveness and quiet contemplation, reminiscent of another iconic “Thinker” cast in bronze.

Using small and careful movements to shape the material, BenCab is able to convey sweeping gestures and a broad range of emotion on an otherwise inert object. A mastery of the practice shines through, illuminating how sculpture is a means of re-animating a subject rather than reducing it to mere statuary. As described by Henry Moore in “The Sculptor Speaks” (1966), sculpture is a means to “think of, and use, form in its full spatial completeness.” A sculptor should be able to see the object from every angle—even if he is only facing one side; thus making the craft a fitting metaphor not only for the scope BenCab covers in this collection, but for his extensive artistic career.

This is from the catalog notes I wrote for Art Fair Philippines 2014, which opens today and will run until Sunday, the 23rd on the 6th and 7th floors of The Link, on the corner of Ayala and Makati Ave (across Greenbelt 4/Ayala Museum and beside Landmark).

Tickets are available at the venue. Entrance is 150, discounted to 50 Php for students (just bring an ID). While you’re there, might as well make the most of the weekend and check out Ai Weiwei’s Baby Formula which should open on February 22 at the Ayala Museum, along with Elmer Borlongan’s solo.

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