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Artist at Work: An Artist’s Calling

The humble beginnings of Paul John Cabanalan


By Hannah Jo Uy
Design and layout Pinggot Zulueta

“I was born to be an artist,” says Paul John Cabanalan, “God made me one.” The talented up and coming artist’s notion of birthright goes beyond an inheritance of material value, but of destiny. For Cabanalan, creativity is a calling, one that will allow him to triumph all obstacles that may stand in his way.

Growing up, art, for Cabanalan, was not a field one enters in a professional capacity. “I was born into a family of farmers—I was once a farmer,” he shares, revealing intimate details of his upbringing in a rural area of Iloilo, with all its idyllic trappings. “My family doesn’t have any background in art or even music,” he says, “but even when I was small, I drew a lot.” It was only when he was in grade school that he recognized the early foreshadowing of the strong technical skill and aesthetics he will cultivate and further advance.

  • Paul John Cabanalan

  • Learn and Play, acrylic on canvas, 2017

  • Compound and Highway, acrylic on canvas, 2017

  • Worship and Praises, acrylic on canvas, 2017

  • Source and Link, acrylic on canvas, 2017

    In college, Cabanalan chose to take up Architecture at the Iloilo Science and Technology University as there was no option for a Fine Arts Course. During this time, Cabanalan says there was a wide array of talent in the campus grounds, but rather than intimidate, it served as an inspiration and encouragement. During his freshman year, Cabanalan says he noticed that his classmates were joining painting competitions. Though initially he wasn’t interested, during his senior year, following the encouragement of his friends, he started to enter notable art contests as a challenge.

    In 2017, Cabanalan won the coveted Grand Award under the oil/acrylic category of the distinguished Metrobank Art & Design Excellence (MADE) competition. In July of last year, he received a degree in Architecture, and while he works as a freelancer in his field, his award, and previous experience as a semi-finalist, has urged him to focus his energy and attention to painting. Difficulties that come with such a decision, he says, is simply a state of mind, or rather, a choice in perspective: “If you love your work you cannot find it difficult.”

    He describes his artworks as a “diary,” each piece revealing parts of himself to others, and uncovering layers of his own emotions and souls, to depths he may not otherwise know. “[My artwork] tells everything about me,” he says.

    Speaking on his creative process, particularly in the context of his winning piece, Genesis Cabanalan says that his paintings have four layers: “Each layer have different meaning, much like [my approach to Genesis]. The first layer, I scratch it with any sharp object. Secondly, I draw a site development plan or floor plan of a place or a room of my concept. The third layer is the different people who were with in that place, then the fourth is the different happenings, myths, tradition, and culture with in that place.”

    Fusing the freedom of creativity with a more methodical and systematic approach he learned throughout his studies, the artist has a distinct ability to master chaos and order. His works are full of subjects and figures that divulge his knowledge and contemplations about a certain place and time that are particular significant to the artist. Unafraid to get personal, the artist embodies the notion of “paint what you know,” however in being unabashed in his portrayal of his experiences, he allows himself to connect to a larger audience through insightful and poignant works of art.

    This is further elaborated in his first solo show at Art Verite, which was unveiled to the public on Jan. 6. Entitled “Dorog,” the show is overflowing with nostalgia. “Dorog,” he says, “is the name of the barangay where I was born. That was where everything molded me to who I am now, where most of my life was spent.” As a throwback, he points to the pieces which serve as a closer inspection of the details in his piece, Genesis, which was a winning entry to the 2017 edition of MADE, highlighting scenes from the comprehensive visual narrative that is both intellectually and emotionally stimulating.

    For his debut, Cabanalan was adamant about looking back to his humble beginnings and the early influences that shaped and developed the artistic mind he cultivates to this day, in an almost heart-warming artistic throwback.

    ‘Dorog’ will be on display at Art Verite until Jan. 18.

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