Patrick Cruz is a candidate for a Masters of Fine Art at the University of Guelph and recent RBC Painting Award winner. We had the amazing opportunity to visit his studio, where he shared insights on his work, advice for other artists, and information on his exciting Kamias Triennial!
If you could collaborate with any other artist in the world who would it be?
Santiago Bose, a Filipino Contemporary folk artist who passed away in 2003. He was the first artist I encountered when I was 17. After seeing his exhibition I was blown away. I thought, "I want to work like that." I think he would be the person that I would love to collaborate with and pick his brain to learn the reasons why he made art.
Where was that show?
It was in the Philippines, before my family emigrated in 2005. I was accidentally brought to the show that happened to be his retrospect, which included his whole body of work on display. I was amazed. It felt like a group show. It didn't feel like one person made all that work because of the diversity of styles and content and material.
What did you want to be before you saw that show if it was what made you want to be an artist?
It’s funny because I almost became a Catholic priest. This was before I encountered that show. After high school my grades were low and I couldn't get into any university. So for some reason being a priest appealed to me, going to study theology and having your life kind of prepared, as if you know what you're doing. But I got into art school and I was like fuck religion.
Do themes from this religious background come into your work at all?
Oh, of course. Santiago's work has a lot to do with critiquing the power of the church and the power of religion that was brought in through colonization in the Philippines by Spain. It was funny to stumble upon that after the fact. I use a lot of motifs from Animism, which is a religion that was practiced before Catholicism was implemented. I like those kinds of visual languages, folk practices, and different types of mysticism.
Do you have a studio routine or ritual?
It always changes. As a ritual to start something… I just play with things. If I find a material that is interesting to start from I begin playing with it, not really knowing what it's for, what it's going to be, or what it means; it's a means to get me started. I try to find materials all the time, I always scavenge for stuff. I'm searching for nothing. I'm kind of more open to the chance that there's an encounter of a material or an idea, but I'm never forcing myself to find something specific. I think the probability of not finding something is higher if I have a specific thing in mind. I'm also not a very specific artist, there's always chance involved in my process. Its more the encounter of what I find that becomes the idea.
Have you read a book, watched a movie, or documentary recently that you would recommend?
The movie called Bitter Lake by Adam Curtis. It's a really amazing documentary. I haven't finished it, but the way he shoots the documentary is poetic. He situates small video art pieces in between heavy political narratives. It's incredibly mind blowing, I could almost cry, it's amazing.
Is there one thing that you'd really like to own to support your practice?
A really big space, just a warehouse, that’s all I want. But, the idea of fostering a space for potential artistic projects is actually happening. I'm working on this project in the Philippines which is my old house, my relatives still live there. The space is going to be called KSP, Kamias Special Projects, and it’s this exhibition space where talks could happen and workshops, exhibitions, and performances. Basically an experimental space. It’s not big, but it’s enough to foster that, or at least to begin with.
Do you usually have a large body of work that you fluctuate between or do you prefer to work on one piece for a long period of time before you move on?
It depends how you would define one piece. A body of work could be just one piece. I think when I make work the decisions are always in flux, it's always fluid. Sometimes I try to make a specific thing, like I want to paint a specific scene, or a specific feeling, but that always manages to be eaten by my impulse. Other times I try to avoid using a specific colour in a painting to restrict myself. The strategy of restriction allows myself to assess what comes natural. The manner I work is fast, allowing me to produce a lot, but I also lose a kind of concentration. But then there's days where I go to the studio and I just work on one thing and build on it. I like to have a variety to work with. When I paint there's always three or four canvases that I can bounce between, I don't like the feeling of getting stuck in one work. I found a technique to just move away and ignore the piece that I'm stuck on and then go back to it again once I feel comfortable and do more work on it.
So how do you know when a work is finished?
It’s always changing. I think maybe the philosophical answer is it’s never finished, but I think visually when the image sits nicely in your eye and you feel like it works for you, then it’s probably done. It’s mostly feeling it out for me.
Do you go back into work you previously thought was finished?
Oh yeah definitely, I think old work is like that. You know, you look at your old work and you think oh… that is definitely not done. Although, there are some old works that I revisit and there is a kind of preciousness to them that I don't want to destroy. But then part of me says if you can't destroy it, you can't move on, and so that part of me wants to manipulate it in order to get rid of that aesthetic. I'm always in search of renewal. I think it’s one way of expanding yourself as an artist. You're always in search of enhancing what you're doing, making it deeper and complex. I see painting similar to carving. You are carving and carving and carving until you feel like you've hit a wall, then you say okay it’s done. But then you come back the next day and another window has opened. It could go on forever basically, until maybe someone buys the painting, until it’s out of my hands. Or until I wreck it, then it turns into sculpture. It's always hard to know if you're overworking things, you know, people come by your studio and they tell you it's done, and you're like no it’s not done, so you work on it and then you realize oh shit they were right, it was done. Intuition is never really taught in school, or how to hone your instincts, even in that aspect of knowing when to stop. It’s purely instinctive, you can't calculate it, there's no formula. A lot of my work is recycled. It’s like a long term lover, you've exhausted the relationship and you just want a renewal so you add something to rejuvenate it up. Or like a dish you consume all the time and you have to add some spice to be to able to eat it over and over again.
You seem to make a lot of work, where do you put it all?
A lot of my work gets recycled, but right now most of my work is in Vancouver because I have a show there, but half of that was already being stored in Vancouver at my family's house. I am lucky to have a place to store it. I don't know, for some reason storing my work has never been a concern. I also know if something is really deeply important to you it will come back in some form. You can always make it come back. I don't really fear losing it, your studio is yourself essentially, and you can make work wherever.
Do you have any pieces you feel stand on their own, or does all your work exist as part of the body?
It depends on the context, if I'm working on an installation it definitely feels like one thing. When I make something, it’s very individual. It’s a one on one conversation with each piece. So they can stand alone if they need to be shown by themselves, but once they are in a clump its different, you suddenly converse with the crowd.
You were talking a little bit about your materials, that you like to scavenge things. Are there certain things you find yourself coming back to? Are there materials that you love to use?
If I am using found objects, I employ a rule because I can't use everything, otherwise I would be bringing garbage into my studio. I think I came to the conclusion that the material has to speak to the idea or a thematic that I am working on, currently I am interested in the notion of globalization, which is how things or ideas move across the globe. So, for example, I use things that connote commerce and commodity, but it’s a problem. Commodity is everything. So I can use everything! It’s a paradox, but I also love paradoxes, and making art is in itself a paradox.
Do you use everything that you pick up or do you find yourself throwing a lot out?
Sometimes there are materials that really frustrate me, but it's rare that I give up on a material. I try to work it in some way or another, but it's kind of like that terrible relative that you don’t want to see! You have to cut ties because it can be a burden at times. Even if it's a painting you're trying to solve, if it takes too long I just prime it again.
That must be very liberating!
It is! It's scary too because that's it, there is no reversal. But it's a problem solved.
Since you use found materials, do you consider your work to be collage?
For sure! I think collage was the first practice that I was accustomed to. As a kid in kindergarten, I remember my favourite activity was collaging shapes. That’s all I did the whole day and my teacher told me "you can't do just that!" But I loved it. Collage is amazing because of the ability to re-contextualize things, or juxtapose things that normally wouldn’t be together. It also speaks to my concerns as an artist. What does it mean to be in this globalized world where cultures are all interchanged, integrated, disjunctured, layered and stratified? We are all essentially collaged, a collage of cultures and histories. It’s a powerful medium. I see both my paintings and sculptures as collage.
You said you keep coming back to things, do you let those revisions show?
Yes, I think even just glimpses of it. A lot of the surfaces of my paintings are also found from previous artists. Not everything, but a lot of it. The underpainting becomes the departure of the work. A little window. It goes back to the idea of revealing a sense of history.
Could it go back to collage as well, because you are collaging two pieces together?
Totally. And it complicates the image and the notion of time and space. Sometimes you can push it forward or push it back.
You mentioned that you consider both your paintings and sculptures to be collages. Where do you think the practices of painting and sculpture come together? Do you think them as interchangeable in terms of subject matter?
I guess it goes back to Santiago Bose because my first encounter of his work was a painting with three-dimensional objects collaged on it. There is a long conservative history of painting in the Philippines and to see something that was challenging that norm was influential to me. I have always viewed painting as sculpture ever since.
I was trained in sculpture, all throughout my undergrad at Emily Carr with Liz Magor. I was attempting to understand how to deal with space and volume. Later I realized, why not conflict those languages of painting and sculpture, collage those mediums together?
When you were in your undergrad, did you ever think you would be doing your Masters as a painter?
No. I only did my masters because I got tired of my routine and I needed a way out of the city of Vancouver. I had lived there for ten years so I felt like I was ready for a change and a new challenge. I also wanted to strengthen my writing and the ability to articulate my work. I also saw it as a privilege to focus on just making art for two years.
Were you painting before coming to do your MFA?
Yeah I was very active in Vancouver, I tried to curate shows, participate in group exhibitions and do as much as I could to be involved in the community. But it was hard because I was also washing dishes in a restaurant. I was maintaining my studio practice, so for four years I was working and making art. I felt like I was building up my CV but artistically I was slowly stagnating. I needed a different setting, something fresh. Guelph! Best decision I have ever made. It was challenging because I didn’t know what to expect. I only heard things about the school from friends who had gone there. It was also hard to leave my community. But at the same time, I didn’t know if I could do that for five more years. It was a matter of questioning how I can grow as an artist.
Do you think of camouflage when you are making work?
Well mimicry is a key concept in my art practice because it speaks about colonization to some degree. When contact happens between a foreign force and a place that they engage with, normally the way to adapt to this force is to mimic the other. So the notion of mimicry is a tool that I use in my visual language. It is a kind of political gesture. Also, mimicking and camouflage speaks to adaptation. Personally, as an immigrant I had to integrate and adapt myself and mimic and camouflage myself so I could integrate into society.
Can you tell us about your colour choices? What do they signify for you?
It depends, the meaning of colour is always in flux and so the meaning of the work is always in flux. Colour can sometimes conjure symbolic meaning, but sometimes I just use colour to disrupt boarders or disrupt the image. I never really put a specific meaning on colour, there will always be a connotation or association of sorts even if I don’t assign a certain meaning to it. The notion of colour could be a political or aesthetic. It’s the same as how I use collage or camouflage, colour could speak about race, political agendas, or just something purely aesthetic. The use of bright colours in my work is often a reference to provincial palettes. I don’t know if it’s specific to the Philippines, but from my own experience, people who live in remote provinces normally paint their houses with bright, garish colours like it’s no ones business. But when you go to the city you don’t see any of that, it’s all muted, mostly neutral colours. I'm avoiding an urban, suburban colour pallet and choosing a provincial one instead. There is a kind of unapologeticness about using colour that is really bright. It's aggressive but also seductive, there's a duality with it. I always associate muted colours with modernity or contemporariness, and it's not that I'm against that, but it’s a good contrast to use.
Can you tell us about the Kamias Triennial?
The Kamias Triennial started in 2014 in Quezon City, Philippines and it’s an event that was initially created to connect the community that I lost when I moved to Canada. I went to visit my friends who are artists back home and we made an event that celebrated locality. Kamias is a fruit and the name of the street where the space is located. Most of the artists responded to the notion of the fruit, one artist made a piñata in the form of a Kamias fruit filled with dog food, someone also made a Kamias smoothie and a cake with sliced Kamias fruit on top. It was a completely experimental event and I had no clue what the result would be. I thought of a triennial because the word is so loaded. It connotes something official and often associated to big art events that happen across the globe, but my version is in a backyard of my family home. I also thought of making it a triennial because I knew I was going to Guelph for two years, so the only way to do the project again was doing it in a 3 year cycle. For it’s next iteration I am collaborating with a curator from Western Fronts, Alisson Collins, and she wants to get the Canada Council involved in the event. This is great because there is barely public funding for the arts in the Philippines. It would be amazing to pay artists, and by involving Alisson in the project I am also involving some Canadian artists to do an exchange. With the grant we would be able to fly artists out and do site specific works and installations, talks, and have the exchange between Canada and the Philippines. There is not much dialogue between South East Asia and North America, even though socially and economically there is a lot of exchange between the two. There are resources being exported, but in art there is somewhat an absence.
Congratulations on winning the RBC painting award! Can you tell us what that was like?
Thank you! It was weird! I didn’t have any expectations. I was just honest about what I was making, and the artist statement I wrote was influenced by being in this MFA program. I am very grateful to be inspired and influenced by my committee; Nestor Kruger, FASTWÜRMS and James Carl. As well as other faculty professors that has helped me in my research.
What is the process of applying like?
You submit three paintings, with the option of three supporting paintings that are not considered. I sent installation shots for my supporting images. I really don’t see myself as a painter, I see myself as an installation artist, but in that context, I obviously had to say that I am really concerned with painting. The title of the winning piece is called "Time Allergy" and it was based on an interview by Lav Diaz, an artist who makes really long films, like six to eight hour films. In an interview, he was questioned why he makes films that are long. “Are you just trying to be cool?” the interviewee asked. He responds by saying that his films question notions of time and how time was introduced by colonizers to the indigenous people. It was never a structural concept. That blew me away! I tied it to the idea of the practice of painting because it is a way of documenting time, "Time Allergy" was a response to modernity as a form of allergy, in a way "I'm allergic to modernity."
Do you have any advice to someone applying?
Write an honest statement, and make sure the work is interesting. I studied what the past winners had done, everyone had a different style and concern. Arabella Campbell who won in 2007 for example dealt with the materiality of painting, her work was about the “support”. She painted the negative space of the stretcher on the surface, in layers of white. It was beautiful and simple, work I would never do, but it was interesting. Perhaps, it’s good to find something about painting that interests you, that may have not been explored yet. I'm not sure if the competition has the same questions, but two of the questions I was asked were, “what inspired you and why do you think your work is interesting?” The inspiration question is easy but why you make the work is tough. It’s good to question yourself on what the role of the artist is. For me an artist can only reveal things. Artists are not going to cure society or change the world in a literal sense, but maybe poetically or politically, artists can raise a form of awareness, but it’s not a cure. I framed it that way, because I was also questioning it myself. I was struggling with why am I here, why am I making this stuff? I could be a business guy or something!
It must have been nice to have found that answer for yourself!
Yeah, and I only arrived at that answer by having conversations like these and asking others what they think the purpose of art is! It’s a hard question but everyone has different views on why it exists, why it’s important. And even though I have found that answer, I’m still not convinced, it may make sense in that moment but the next day might be a different answer. My art practise is about reframing, questioning and probing things and if that stops I might as well stop making art.
Do you have any plans after you graduate?
My plan is to go back to the Philippines for the Kamias Triennial in spring of 2017 and I plan to move to Toronto in September. I didn’t want to go back to Vancouver right away, I feel like I haven't explored this side of Canada enough and I still don’t know Toronto that well. There is a huge Guelph community in Toronto, too, which is great!
Do you have any shows coming up?
I have a duo project at Cambridge Gallery with Alexandra Mckenzie opening on June 24 and a solo exhibition at Projet Pangée in Montreal opening on September 15.
How fascinating was that? Thank you Patrick! Be sure to check out one of his shows this summer, we definitely will!