10:54 PM

Art + Nature = Ben Cab

Posted by Prosy Delacruz

Mayumi and Yazmin Cabrera, daughters of Benedicto Cabrera
The artist himself, Benedicto Cabrera
Waiting for the Monsoon, 2008
Three Women, 2009
Concealed and Revealed I, 2009

“It is not enough to be vigilant for justice…to fight for rights…In order for us to live in harmony, peace, justice and righteousness…We must go deep into ourselves…and get connected with our Divine Being.” Father Carl Abesamis, S.J.

In a quaint restaurant in Redondo Beach, a french countryside-like home has been recreated. The place is replete with antique water containers and olive trees designed into the tablecloths, called Delicieuse Café by Patricia Samson, a Francophile or a Filipina-French. A chalk-sign by the door next to an authentic sorbetes cart reads “ Salo-Salo with BenCabrera, “ inviting folks to come in.

BenCab has been a household name for us all these years, but I have yet to meet the man in person. Jilly of FILAMArts points to a photographer, Benjie Uy, who was quick to snap photos with his camera. It was no doubt BenCab, with his artist's bearing, commanding our attention.

Most artists walk in with their entourage of camera flashes, dressed in various textures, colors and visual hues. But not BenCab.

At precisely half an hour past five pm, BenCab walked in with quiet dignity, without much fanfare and with zero flamboyance. Clad only in a white shirt and jeans, he received folks warmly.

Surrounded by family, he seemed content and had no flairs, nor did he behave like someone who had a sense of entitlement. Yet his reputation in the visual arts, for four decades now, precedes him. After all, BenCab (aka Benedicto Reyes Cabrera) has been given the honor of national artist for visual arts in 2006.

“Something triggers me to do a new series, I love to draw draperies, I like movements, I like dancers, I draw from life “, he shared. His works spanned six themes: Bali, Cordillera, Edo, Familia, Larawan and Sabel, several books and a museum he built to house his eclectic collection of indigenous art and to promote the preservation of the culture of the Cordilleras and the environment, with its own organic gardens and farms.

Even coffee, which he grows, has his name -- BenCab’s Brew. He raises ducks, chickens, and all the crops served in Sabel café inside the museum.

The place found him. BenCab shares, “ when I saw the forest, the streams, the waterfalls, and the surrounding mountains, I saw Art and Nature. Nature there is so strong, as there are now so fewareas that are not crowded. “

Linda Nietes, the organizer of this salo-salo, describes his museum as having a breathtaking view of the forest and a
fabulous view of the sunset and the South China Sea in the distance.

BenCab promotes the arts in his museum by exhorting young artists to "draw and keep drawing." His daughter Mayumi, quoted her dad , “Draw, draw, learn the lines, and learn them well." BenCab's persistence and discipline in honing his skills in drawing is perhaps what differentiates him and makes him a master of his craft.

He paints several hours a day. “ To be inspired, I have to work. When I have no new idea for a painting, I draw, I ask models to sit down and I draw, I keep drawing, until I can create again. “

From Sotheby to Sabel
Ben was effusive in introducing Mayumi, who began modeling in London at a young age of 15. She,too, is learning how
to draw as an art student, here in Los Angeles. “Yes, the young artists want to be national artists,” BenCab said, “ but it is still up to the individual, how obsessed you are, how much work you put into it. “

He demonstrated the work of young artist, Ronald Ventura. One of Ventura's recent paintings got Php 12 million or $ 266,666. His other painting, “ Framed, “ fetched HKD 850,000 or $109,819, through an auction by Sotheby.

From the young artists, the conversation switched to what inspires him, particularly the series, Sabel. Sabel came as a strong image to BenCab. She was a scavenger, a bag lady wrapped in plastic to keep herself warm. She became one of the recurring subjects of BenCab’s paintings. When he transitioned to a new series, Sabel bridged the continuity from the old to the new. Admittedly, Sabel has remained his constant muse.

In life, BenCab's muse is his long-time partner, Annie Sarthou. Mayumi describers her as a person of “quiet strength." Annie is a former curator of prestigious museums in Manila. BenCab lovingly said that “without her, my life would be an empty white canvas. “ Annie smiled most of the evening. She waited until we were ready to engage with her and was attentive and ready.

The disappearance of tradition
Sadly, BenCab thinks that the Cordillera is losing its rituals and high priests, the young ones are migrating, the old folks who tended the rice terraces are too old to work them, and some of the rice terraces have been abandoned. Lime containers, used for betel nut chewing, are no longer carved pieces of art. They have been replaced by plastic containers. BenCab laments these changes.

To reverse the abandonment, he adopted a portion of the rice terraces, to encourage folks to work, and earn something from planting in the rice terraces. For years, he saw the culture of the Cordilleras disappear. He hopes to preserve them through his books and art and to engage the youth to explore their roots and continue this legacy of traditions and rituals.

A national controversy
Fe Koons raised the topic about the controversy that happened recently during this year's National Artists’ Awards. The controversy occurred when the traditional selection process of two years, done by NCCP panel members, was summarily set aside, and two artists were replaced by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo: Carlo Caparas, a filmmaker of violent B-movies, and Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, who also is part of the selection panel. The abuse of executive prerogative split up the art community and led to a filing of a lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court.

“How can you write your own check?" BenCab rhetorically asked. Of course, he surmised that perhaps they wanted the state funeral. The audience laughed at the suggestion and expressed that this concern may soon be resolved with an upcoming decision by the Supreme Court.

More on BenCab's art
The audience’s appetite for art brought us to the Edo series. BenCab has been painting Japanese pioneers in the Cordilleras -- some were WW II spies who then stayed on to live in the Philippines. Some came as farmers, carpenters, and helped build the Kennon Road. Questions led us to Larawan, another series. Larawan was inspired by the old photographs he found in London. There, BenCab achieved international fame, exhibiting in Europe and Asia as a young painter. He married British writer, Caroline Kennedy and had three children. After Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in 1986, BenCab decided to reside in the Cordilleras.

When he came home, he found nature as the perfect place for his art which led to the birthing of BenCab Museum. “The museum houses the artist’s collections of his own works, as well as… Filipino masters and rising contemporary artists. The granary gods, lime containers, native implements, weapons …indigenous arts and crafts of the Cordilleras are also highlighted – a reminder of the rich material culture and traditions of the northern Philippine highlands that has fascinated BenCab since the 1960s.", a blurb from the BenCab Museum Brochure.

What an honor it was to meet an internationally-famed artist here in Los Angeles, who shared his wisdom, love for art and his people, nurtured in the soils of the Cordilleras.
BenCab joins two other Asian artists in exhibiting their works as figurative artists at the Andrewshire Gallery in 3850 Wilshire Blvd. (Wilshire Blvd. and St. Andrews Place) in Los Angeles. The exhibit will open on October 24, Saturday at 6pm.


Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. said...

Thanks to Nickee de Leon-Huld who meticulously edited this piece for me!

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