Bencab - Filipino Artist, His Art and Vision

 BENCAB by Krip Yuson and Cid Reyes, Mantes Publishing

Bencab, the coffeetable book essays the highlights of Ben Cabrera’s illustrious life as visual artist. Part one is a delicious read because Alfred Yuson chose those close-friend details that don’t clog or patronize, yet give intimate insight on the person of the artist. Part two is Cid Reyes’ intellectual digest of the art of Bencab, savvy and enlightening, truly an art critic’s stuff, seemingly low-profiled beside a feast of photographs of Bencab’s works, but in reality taking off like brush strokes as smoothly as its familiarity with the subject permits. 

Reading this book makes Bencab as reachable as the struggling artist, although already at his peak. After all, this artist is a Filipino who knows what it means to ride a jeepney and enter into the abstract thoughts of its passengers, live in a low class neighborhood and narrate all about roofs and patches, go abroad and survive a panorama of broken dreams, and travel to the past with a delight and passion for the costumes and facades of history.

The reader-friendly layout welcomes the reader into both Yuson's and Reyes's understanding of this very important person in the history of Philippine art. Highlights are enhanced by the creative and witty titles for each part… Pithy but witty labels with symbolic overtones summarize the intention that is to simply revel and take pride in Bencab’s  persona. In “Hand Over Heart”, read growth and passion as an artist; in “The Art of Being Filipino,” read compassion. 

Hand Over Heart

The chronological detailing of Bencab’s life in part one (Hand Over Heart) takes the reader to an easy journey, because crafting by Yuson is artfully short and visual, taking care that the images turn into sepia photographs that you can’t help but frame for posterity. Thus, the reader closes the book with pictures of Bencab and his Kuya Bading illustrating comics, Joya mentoring Bencab on stage design and abstractions, Bencab contemplating the provincial greenery in a bus ride from Bambang to UP,  Bencab poring over US embassy work while student protests rage outside the embassy, Bencab listening and drinking with Nick Joaquin inside Indios Bravos, and and of course, many pictures of Bencab sketching in Bambang, in his stall in London, at his house in Baguio, with his Tam-awan friends and finally laughing and joking with Yuson as he says “off the record” things.  Why, even Bencab with his girl admirers as he sketched them!

The Art of Being Filipino

In part two, (The Art of Being Filipino), it is Bencab’s non-political stance but perceptive gaze,  which informs Cid Reyes of the latter’s compassion. Not only are Bencab’s strokes being rendered in acrylic but Bencab uses acrylic to invite others to gaze beyond the opacity of the commonplace. There is something to be read in the choice of medium and subjects --- Filipina circa 1800s, heroes of the past, the color sepia, disasters, images of exile – that is more than nostalgic and decorative. Reyes asserts that Bencab’s mythical rendering of drapes and holographic distortions of faces insist on every Filipino's reality. 

On the jacket, it reads: “The essay argues for the aesthetic potency and significance of Bencab’s visual themes.” This significance is Bencab’s stamp which is anchored in a local context, yet resonating the universal plea for a second look and consideration for the plight of those who have less in life. 

Why You Should Read the Book

Bencab is an abstract of the man, in a way similar to how Bencab does his quick portraits - expertly - in pen and ink. Besides, you can expect nothing less from two award winning authors.

The book will charmingly sit on your coffee table, and every visitor can flip through its 287 pages and not get tired; look at more than the 30 photographs of the artist and feel nostalgic, and feast at more than 150 pages of pictures of Bencab’s paintings and gawk at what they have missed. Then for more information about this artist, there are four pages of a chronological index of milestones in Bencab’s life at the back of the book. Part 1 has 16 short chapters, Part 2 has 20 subtitles. 

Recommended to all Bencab lovers and people like me who can only read and dream about owning a Bencab.

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