by TERENCE REPELENTE
Portraits by PINGGOT ZULUETA
In his 30th solo exhibition, famed abstractionist Benjie Cabangis masterfully stitches together an entire visual world. The show, “Tales of Topography,” which was exhibited at the Galerie Joaquin, was a collection of Benjie’s acrylic collages. Each of the works is an abstraction within an abstraction, or an abstraction that forms a bigger abstraction. Together, they create striking visuals that allude to terrains, earthly textures, and scenic landscapes.
“Tales of Topography” is primarily rooted from the concept of continuous natural change and its parallelisms to the artist’s painting processes. “The exhibit continues my concerns for paint and surfaces, the accidental and planned, chance and spontaneous renderings,” Benjie says. “These bring forth clues to the changes in the physical features of our topography.”
Benjie has always been interested in confronting painting grounds with already existing markings—either pre-mediated or accidental. For him, the initial ideas for paintings often come from these concerns: for paint and surfaces, chance and spontaneous renditions, the planned and, most especially, the accidental strokes. “They pose immense challenges in terms of visual possibilities that give visual cues on where to start.” he says. “Abstraction has a kind of allurement that for years has enthralled me.”
In the show, and in many of his works, it has been Benjie’s consistent artistic style to incorporate and piece together various geometric shapes, shades, tones, and elements. Although he isn’t sure if he wants to call it his “signature” style, the result remains the same in each of his works: a magnificent explosion of polarities, a supernova of colors and textures. Like the process of change in nature and landscapes, Benjie’s process in painting is one that has been gradually shaped by time, through his illustrious, decades-long artistic career. As a veteran abstractionist, he believes that there is neither a pre-mediated move nor a painting that isn’t guided by a purely cognitive process. “It’s always characterized by intuitive and loose paint handling, spontaneous renderings that create illusionist space, acrylic staining, which all result in occasional imagery and other painterly markings,” he says.
Interestingly, in “Tales of Topography,” Benjie uses both paint brushes and the metal spreader, a literal and metaphorical “change,” a beautiful marriage between traditional and industrial. While his art is brimming with complexities and conceptual uniqueness, what Benjie intends to evoke with them is simple: appreciation. “I want those who look at my art to appreciate the visual language and elements, how they were orchestrated, how these affect their sensibilities,” he says. “I want to make them aware that in abstraction there is also a creative connection between nature and the processes that go into art making. The imageries and markings that are arbitrarily done by chance and randomness can interrelate with premeditated elements in a unified composition.”
Unlike most artists who consider themselves as narrators, telling a story through their art, Benjie believes that his works are purely visual. “Though some of the titles of my paintings may invite one to think of narratives, the paintings themselves are purely visual, akin to how one would listen to instrumental pieces. But the paintings are, of course, open for interpretations and stories,” he says.
Through his works, Benjie encourages viewers to look at patterns and structures more critically, with a fresh sense of colors, forms, textures, and dissonance. Because art, he believes, is a way of responding to our world, it is a language—a visual language. And to be a Filipino artist today, he says, one has to be informed of what is happening not only in the art scene, but also on all issues affecting mankind. Furthermore, he emphasizes that there is a need for Filipino artists to assert its place, identity, and importance globally. And Benjie himself exemplifies this “global consciousness” he speaks about. As we are on the brink of a world war brought upon by imperialist crises, Benjie’s “Tales of Topography,” as well as its elements that allude to location, ground, climate, and territory, hints at our present uncertainty.