Filipino-Canadian Patrick Cruz casually strode up to the podium in the Liu Institute for Global Issues on Monday, February 29th, 2016 and undeniably wowed the audience with his collection of powerful, unparalleled creative talents. Through his art, he voices a distinctive statement on the perils of migration, the vacillating turbulence of having love for two countries, and the reshaping of newly blended identities. This homecoming artist talk was hosted by UBC Philippine Studies Series and Centre A. As the first prize winner of the 2015 Annual $25,000 RBC Painting Competition, Cruz’s work has been recognized for its commentary on adaptability, hybridity and globalization.
Cruz’s enthusiastic love for art began at a young age, but the idea of professionalism was never on his mind. Cruz considered it fate when he was accepted into Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines. He felt validated in his craft and resolute in his intent to foster his passion. But one year later, Cruz found himself travelling to Canada and facing a flood of alien experiences. He endured, laboured, and overcame the initial marginalization that many encounter at arrival. He even sustained his art studio by washing dirty dishes.
Now, as a graduate of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and a current grad student in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Guelph, Cruz has returned to Vancouver with an inspiring and impressive artistic showcase. I, along with the attentive crowd, spent a riveting evening observing the evolution of Cruz’s artistic style and discussing the political themes woven throughout.
Cruz opened the evening by displaying a photograph of a traffic jam in the Philippines, where capital city Manila has been named as having the “worst traffic on earth”. He spoke of the congestion and intensity of the Filipino lifestyle and his interesting transition into Canadian culture when he moved to Surrey, British Columbia in 2005.
After his year at University of the Philippines, Cruz was accustomed to a traditional approach to art. He had spent his time in the Philippines copying statues and perfecting grayscale shading. At Emily Carr, however, Cruz discovered the importance of the idea behind the art. When greater emphasis was placed on concept rather than skill, he began to recognize the weight of conceptual artwork.
Cruz’s earlier sculptures were described as cultural actions. He was purposeful in his effort to explore the layers of culture found in immigrants. Fond of time-sensitive acrylics, his paintings popped with bright, earnest shades which he referred to as a “provincial palette of colours,” mimicking the vividness of the Filipino flag. Cruz opened up about the alienation he initially felt due to his choice of bold colours, which differed from many of the other artists working and learning alongside him.
Cruz found himself unconcerned with pristine, finished appearances. He began incorporating flowers into his pieces, juxtaposing the migratory manner flowers distribute themselves alongside the journey of immigration. He referred to these flowers as “spiritual portals.”
Subsequently, Cruz displayed his compact statues which echoed the clutches of Catholicism, mimicking idols made of found objects. He aimed to channel the sensibility of Filipino culture and its tendency to lean towards improvisation. He found himself expressing a history he didn’t personally experience, but one that had left behind affecting remnants.
“Art may not be the cure,” Cruz stated, “but it can be revealing.”
As a blended hapa, Canadian influences became visibly laced in his work, and Cruz declared this to be when Western art sank into his subconscious.
Cruz’s work progressed, but his playfulness remained evident in his work. “I think Filipinos are funny,” he remarked, but spoke further about the darkness that can be found in Filipinos as well, due to their dismal, repeatedly colonized history. As a certified student of clownology under independent educator David Macmurray Smith, Cruz shared how laughing can be a way of forgetting the thoughts deep in the psyche, a way of looking past the poverty, crime and chaos that surrounds those in the Philippines. Cruz continued saying, “It is about survival,” and in his work, not only is the struggle between two cultures apparent, but a clash of lightness and grimness as well.
While displaying the work accomplished in his Master’s program, one particular exhibition stood out for me because it seemed to deviate substantially from his usual work, void of vibrant colours. Cruz interpreted this particular creation as a reflection of globalization and the homogenous condition. In the middle of a room with grey walls and a grey floor lay different objects covered in complementary grey paint. Cruz described this as a parallel to a volcanic eruption covering everything in ash. His objective was to explore the idea of a cleansing, of new life flourishing after destruction. Though the execution differed from his established style, Cruz maintains his constant theme in artistic production.
During the dialogue following Cruz’s talk, Dada Docot, co-founder of the UBC Philippine Studies Series, expanded on the differences in the two art cultures — Canada’s and the Philippines’. She explained that in the Philippines, artists are divided into two camps: social realists and conceptualists. As a conceptualist who expresses political views through his art, Cruz lies in the middle of these two camps. This has given him the freedom to be explicit with his voice, using his art as a platform to incite awareness and progressive change. Cruz shared with us his goal to initiate open conversation between Canadian and Filipino artists, connecting the two cultures in hopes of establishing residency in the different countries.
Nearing the end of the dialogue, Cruz asked the crowd, “Where is home?” As a blended Filipino-Canadian, the question rested in my own mind as I tried to answer it for myself. As for Cruz, he stated that while physical environment can contribute to one’s life force, he became cognizant of how geography cannot strip away cultural sediment. Now, he channels this life force regardless of his location.
Afterwards, I asked Cruz, “Have you found peace in your new, blended identity? Have you found that sense of belonging?” His answer was incredibly enlightening. Cruz replied:
It is still a struggle. Being a Filipino-Canadian, or anything hyphened with Canadian, will always be a struggle because there is a negotiation of identity. But I wouldn’t necessarily want that peace. That turbulence, that uncertainty — it’s a source of inspiration.”
Learn more about Patrick Cruz and his exemplary, influential artwork at these upcoming events:
Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-6pm