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In Honor of the Master

By Angela Casco

Images by Alvin Kasib

Though clad in plain black top and trousers with a crisp white blazer, Benedicto Cabrera stands out from the evening crowd at The Peninsula Manila. This man, after all, is a Philippine art icon.

More fondly called BenCab, the 77-year-old visual artist is a National Artist for Visual Arts (Painting). His decades-long career has been filled not only with remarkable works, but also with an enduring critical and commercial success. His most recognizable paintings include some of his most beloved subjects such as Sabel and its many variations, mother-andchild, milk carrier, shoe vendor, among others.

These and more are the contents of two new works honoring the master and his body of work from the past 50 years and more—a tapestry collection, BenCab + Moooi Carpets Series 7 and a book, BenCab The Filipino Artist.

A LIVING ICON National Artist for Visual Arts (Painting) Benedicto Cabrera presents a new book about his life and a carpet collection featuring some of his paintings

A LIVING ICON National Artist for Visual Arts (Painting) Benedicto Cabrera presents a new book about his life and a carpet collection featuring some of his paintings

SWEETER THE SECOND TIME AROUND

In yet another collaboration with Dutch brand Moooi Carpets—two years after the first—comes a new collection of seven, limited edition carpets bearing the images of BenCab’s works.

The ensemble features a number of works the artist picked himself: Images of the Past, which show parallel scenarios between the past and the present; Milk Carrier and Shoe Vendor, which brings back the time when goods were delivered by vendors; Sabel and Variation of Sabel III, different versions of the BenCab’s muse-turnedicon in her recurring appearances in his paintings; Mother & Child, which portrays the special ties that bind a mother to her child; and Dance in Five Movements, the artist’s interpretation of modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan’s gestures.

“Every piece in this collection is a conversation piece,” Jeane Wee told Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.

Jeane, together with Filaine Tan, from Abitare Internazionale, the exclusive distributor or Moooi Carpets in the country, shared that the idea behind this project was from their yearly attendance at the Milan Fair in Italy, an event which the former likened to Milan Fashion Week, except it’s for furniture.

BenCab launch

TIME TO CELEBRATE Friends and supporters of BenCab attend the launch of new works about the artist and his creative journey; some of the people we spotted were Betsy Westendorp, Cid Reyes, Gia Estrella, Marivic Rufino, Iza Calzado, Joven Cuanang, and Ian Belleza

In it, they saw rugs from Finnish graphic designer Klaus Haapeniemi and French fashion designer Christian Lacroix at a Moooi exhibition. “I wish there was something Filipino,” Jeanne said as she recalled the moment she saw the designers’ collection.

With Moooi’s current owner being Marcel Wanders, who the New York Times called “the Lady Gaga of design,” an ensemble featuring the works of artists soon followed, BenCab’s included, reinventing the art of carpets as per usual. Both Jeane and Filaine pitched the idea of paintings in carpet form and convinced BenCab through “camouflaging his artworks to a Moooi setting.” From there, the first collection called Series 8 was born. Its success made the second collection a reality.

Producing these new carpets made use of a breakthrough machine from Moooi.

“Printing on a carpet is not new, but we came up with a breakthrough machine called the Chromojet Printer that is 100 meters long and four meters wide,” said Martien Valentijn, chief executive officer of Moooi Carpets. “Through it, we were able to print photo realistic images on 3D material at the highest resolution with a process involving steaming, washing, printing, and steaming again, then drying.”

With finishing touches included, the carpets—in various materials such as polyamide, artificial yarn, wool, among others—each took a week and a half to be completed.

After the whole process of selection, creation of samples, choosing which paintings would become carpets, and production, Jeanne said the final products were shown to BenCab, much to his delight.

“He was very happy. He appreciates his work in another medium,” she said. “When he saw Dance in Five Movements, he even said that he couldn’t do the strokes he did on the painting as he recalled how he made the painting years ago.”

On the possibility of a third tapestry collection, Jeanne said it was not yet in the works—at least at the moment.

“We do not know yet,” she said. “Maybe?”

ON FORM AND LANGUAGE

While much has been written about BenCab and his works, there’s nothing quite like what the new book, BenCab: The Filipino Artist, discussed.

A two-volume book by Vargas Museum curator and author Patrick D. Flores, it’s a contribution to the celebration of the artist’s 50 years of professional practice in 2015. One volume is a catalogue that presented the eight exhibitions of his works that were done in the said year.

The remaining volume gave light to BenCab’s personal voice through author Cid Reyes’ 1989 interview with him.

BenCab's guests

TIME TO CELEBRATE Friends and supporters of BenCab attend the launch of new works about the artist and his creative journey; some of the people we spotted were Betsy Westendorp, Cid Reyes, Gia Estrella, Marivic Rufino, Iza Calzado, Joven Cuanang, and Ian Belleza

“We also added a timeline, complete with photographs and new information,” Patrick said. “Ben was hands-on with that because it involved a lot of establishing facts like the titles of the works and dates.”

Also included was Patrick’s long essay on the form and language of BenCab’s art, a topic he believed was often neglected.

“What is always in the mind of the public is the social meaning of his work, like what Sabel or his Larawan series meant,” he said. “We also have to explore how he was able to communicate that and it’s through a certain system of form and language.”

Initially made solely to document the exhibitions in 2015, one of which was at Vargas Museum curated by Patrick himself, the project later added an additional volume to “explain his art. That was when Patrick was approached to provide his views.”

“It’s an honor, of course, to be writing about Ben,” Patrick said. “I thought for this book, though, we should not duplicate. We thought of focusing on something that has not been talked about much and focus on that.”

Patrick said he did a lot of research on how the critics looked at BenCab, back when he was just starting his career, unfiltered by his stature as a National Artist. “I let that surface in my discussion,” he said.

This book also took two years to finish for a good reason, as both Patrick and BenCab worked hard on tracking down some of the latter’s earlier works.

“When the works are sold, they are dispersed,” he said. “That makes tracking down the works, collecting, and featuring them in a book a difficult task.”

Patrick refused to call BenCab: The Filipino Artist as “the ultimate book on BenCab.”

“It’s a contribution to understand his art and how it has progressed from the late ‘60s to the present when he’s innovating with form and material, while retaining his interest in favored forms or images like Sabel, among others,” he said. “Besides, he’s still an active artist. Even though he’s advanced in his years, he has kept on exploring and that’s a good sign.”

Working on this project, Patrick shared that the National Artist was nostalgic, “talking about how some pieces were made in terms of medium, technique, and difficulty.”

For Patrick, meanwhile, as an art historian, he realized just how important Cabrera’s contributions were.

“[He created] this new form that was figurative, not very literal and direct, while being urgent and delicate in addressing the demands of technique and language, as well as social and political necessity,” he said.

This, according to Patrick, made him such an influential artist among socio-realists. “He wasn’t really part of them in terms of organization, but in terms of inspiration, his art was very strong as it allowed them to make connections between the present condition and historical situation, which is exactly how socio-realists view concerns now.”

No new collaborations with BenCab are in sight yet for Patrick, but he said he is excited about BenCab’s future creative endeavors.

“I’m interested as a historian how his late style of artistry will be like,” he said. “We see a bit of it already but it’s still too early to say. Maybe it’s for another book.”



Source: Manila Bulletin

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