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13 QUESTIONS: Benjamin ‘Ben’ Cruz

An early work of pioneer Singapore resident visual artist, multi-awarded Benjamin "Ben" Cruz, is the 40" x 54" graphite/acrylic on canvas in grayscale "Abang" (2001, Malaysian for "brotherhood," which will go under the hammer at Leon Gallery's Leon Exchange Online Auction on January 20, 2018, at 2 p.m.
This important work shows a queue of Muslim men of varying nationalities wearing white thobes with koofis, one slinging an orange towel, while performing umrah.
This pre-fame work shows a very strong efficiency in illustration with its use of space, simplicity in color and sense of balance that the artist would later incorporate in his paintings. The choice of the universal subject puts perspective in future work by erasing nationality as a divider of people.
In Cruz's paintings, acrylic pigments on canvas swirl in a blend of colors, contours and concepts with the ethereal fluidity of watercolor. He plays on the bendability of dimensions and layers of humans, objects and enviroments in an invitation to experience familiar yet surreal nature scapes morphing in the mind that projects a larger picture and a multi-level meaning that makes them powerful art.
He overlays representation with non-representation to come up with powerful images commenting about the beauty of life, love and their loss mostly in monoscale overdubbing them hints of hues.
Although his works depict sparse spaces that seem to float in the ambiance, the rendition makes the different aspects of the subject blend seamlessly in several scales . It gives his works an overwhelming feel. This style creates works with a semblance of high originality although it has been observed to have been rehashed by younger artists.
Born in 1954, Cruz became interested in art as an elementary pupil, just like many visual artists. In high school, he enrolled in night art classes. This led him to decide to take Fine Arts, majoring in Advertising, at the University of Santo Tomas.
Cruz practiced as a graphic designer/illustrator in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Singapore where he worked for the Business Times starting 1988 up to 2007, a total of 20 years. Painting in his free time and joining art competitions when he could, he perfected his award-winning, realistic-abstract renditions of dream and their emerging worlds. These allowed him to receive overdue regional recognition.
Now a senior citizen and retired in 2008, Cruz paints full-time and continues to bring to greater dimension his manipulation of distorted images of reality in large-format works that have been showered with plaudits.
He won the 1st Prize in the Barangays City National Painting Competition with "Tagumpay ng Batanguena Alay Kay Nino" (2014). His other achievements include five commendations in previous competitions, garnering the UOB 34th Painting of the Year 2015 (Established Artist category) Singapore competition.
Although he holds solo exhibitions mostly in Singapore, his first solo show "Punong-Puno" was held at the San Beda College Museum, Alabang, Muntinlupa City in 2013; his 2nd one-man show at the Kaida Gallery in Scout Madrinan, Quezon City in 2015; and his last solo show at SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City in 2015.
Reflecting his quiet nature, here are Cruz's brief and direct answers to the 13 questions he chose from the 20-item questionnaire:

1. As a visual artist, what is the one thing the public does not know about you? That I was also a graphic designer/illustrator for 35 years.

2. What fascinates you the most about art?
I am a man of few words. Self-expression through art is what fascinates me. It is the outlet of my emotion and creativity.

3. Who is the artist that inspires you the most?
No particular artist. I admire and respect them all kaya nga di ko malaman kung saan ako kategorya,sa abstract o realistic.

4. What training did you get as an artist?
I studied Fine Arts Major in Advertising at UST, but in high school, I enrolled in commercial art, a vocational course. Kahit underaged, ako ang pinakabatang artist sa klase namin. Profesional na silang lahat. Talagang inspired na inspired ako sa galing nila basta matuto lang ako. And I succeeded.

5. Do you paint for money or pleasure?
Of course we all need money to purchase materials, but art appreciation offers more satisfaction. This must be an artist's ultimate goal as no amount of money can give the same motivation.

6. Under what condition do you prefer to do your work?
No particular condition as long I'm in the mood to paint. Walang oras akong pinipili. Sa tingin ko maganda na, tigil muna. Tulog muna. Tapos gising. Bukas, tuloy uli.Basta gusto ko laging busog na busog ang mata ko sa development and culmination ng ginagawa ko.

7. Are your works Filipino in spirit?
Some of my works are Filipino in spirit, but you see, I pursue universal beauty. Mahilig ako sa nature -- simple yet difficult to execute -- that gives me the ultimate trip. But I prefer themes that could be well appreciated by others.

8. Does criticism help you become a better artist?
Kailangan ng bawat artist 'yan to improve. Yes, criticism helps me make better artworks. They acknowledge
my work so they comment.

9. How do you determine when an art work is done?
When I feel satisfied with the over-all look of my painting, that means my work is done. It takes several returns to a work-in-progress before I get this feeling.

10. Do you associate with other artists to stay competitive or to socialize?
I do socialize with other artists, bond with them to learn new trends and build more friendships. I decided to stop working abroad not only because of the encroaching advance age, but to put less stress in me so I might socialize more in a sincere effort to enjoy work more. I do more now as I am not ruled by deadlines, and I paint at may own pressure and pleasure.

11. Will you describe your work space as orderly or disorderly?
A visual artist's work space need not be orderly, but I sure need a bigger work place where I can move around. My work space might project chaos, but a thorough view shows order in the confusion. It is ruled by an infinite sense of harmony only understandable to me. That's okay as its use is exclusive to me.

12. How do you keep your art fresh?
Pumupunta ako sa art galleries; art events like fairs or exhibitions; I often research on social media or printed materials that keeps it current and contemporary.

13. What aspect of your art is distinctively yours?
As of now my realistic abstract style is the distinctive feature of my works. This makes my art unique, which I am truly proud of.

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