A high ceiling and sprawling walls provide the sheer vastness required by blown-up images of mounted paintings, such as those in Zean Cabangis’s body of work.
This year’s edition of the world renowned Art Basel in Hong Kong provides the grandest of spaces for about 248 premier galleries from 32 countries and territories. According to a statement of Art Basel Hong Kong, it features “both historical material and cutting-edge works by established and emerging artists”, including Cabangis who is among other selected local artists representing the Philippines.
Hong Kong’s Convention and Exhibition Center displays the creativity behind utilizing such space, which is transformed into a captivatingly large tableau where Cabangis’ work becomes a reverie of impressions, of intersecting images, objects and texts.
“It is a series of paintings depicting places and landscapes that actually show no actual place or, as I call it, no place,” he explains.
Cabangis continues, “About this series, I was trying to show a sense of displacement and uncertainty to one’s feeling of home and sanctuary by putting in multiple layers of familiar images. The title of the works evokes a sense of longingness and of being lost and confused to one’s provenance and direction.”
In the great big world of international art, Zean Cabangis is making it big, for the country and for himself. However, he confesses that this is how he felt while doing his work for Art Basel. He draws parallels between his pieces in this latest exhibit and his personal contemplation as an artist—that he is at a crossroads in his art career with regards to technique and concept. “But in the end,” he says, “I wouldn’t know if I don’t do it and find it out myself.”
He is known for using acrylic and emulsion transfer as his medium. This is a recurring process that allows him to create multiple photographic images and a sensation of accumulated layers, a style that is Cabangis’s signature, but this time, collage is incorporated to add visual depth, for all Art Basel goers to see.
Art as allusion and allegory
Cabangis is as a trained painter whose narrative constitutes a sea of images and objects straight out of film scenes, mainstream media, architecture, nature and mostly from his bike rides. “There’s a lot from which I get the images. I just keep an open mind when I do things, especially the mundane ones, because most of the time that’s when a stream of ideas come in,” he explains.
He finds long bike rides a vital routine in processing his work, of remembering and forgetting. The physical as well as mental challenge of biking allows him to meditate and connect with his ideas, concepts and techniques in art. At other times, staying indoors, mostly in his studio, he does experimentation of his work. He candidly says, “Make mistakes and make more mistakes. Eventually, you’ll get there—to the things you exactly wanted to do, and meant to say.”
Cabangis works on keeping memories of things that are somehow lost, but are now found; of things controversial, now hidden; of things once prosperous, now stale, which has always been both a challenge and a struggle. “Creating, itself, is a struggle, and managing my time doing it is a challenge. It is a big responsibility to create pieces and to not just show it, but also to deliver ‘something’ to the public.”
Art as life decision, profession
“Aside from my father who is also a practicing artist, I made making art as my lifework because I’m too lazy to commute or go out of the house,” he frankly says. “I was able to make it to art school both at the University of Santo Tomas and UP College of Fine Arts. I chose UP because I am really not comfortable commuting. After graduation, I was hired by a company in Makati. I went to work on my first day and that was it!” he adds.
The long bus commute and traffic, as well as the work environment did not suit him. At that point after his first day at work, he confesses that he sought advice from one of his professors over a drink. “My professor just asked me one question, what did I major in? And I said, painting. Then I rested my case.”
Zean Cabangis is a recipient of multiple prizes including Most Outstanding Thesis of 2006 (College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines); Gawad Chanselor Award for Academic Achievement (Shell Student’s Art Competition, Manila, 2004); Faber Castell Painting Competition (Finalist, 2008); Artist-in-Residence at the Southeast Asia Group Exchange Program, Tenggara, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2011); Ateneo Art Awards (Shortlisted, 2013-2014 and 2017); and 13 Artists Awards of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (Awardee, 2016).
Cabangis was an Isko all the way from UP Integrated School until he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting at the College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines Diliman in 2007. He is active in both group and solo exhibitions here and abroad. Otherwise, he is somewhere out there biking.