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SAM PENASO: Stripewalker under the sea

As a fisherman in his hometown in Sawang, Guindulman, Bohol, multi-media artist Sam Penaso knows the formations and enclosures of waterscapes, the shapes of coral reefs and the shades of daybright fishes under the mighty sea that he translates into abstract art with authority. The frame becomes part of the art piece, grids turn into motifs of the assemblage and shadows rumble in the radius.
As a kid, Penaso learned how to spearfish — pana in Cebuano. It was his first job before he went to Manila to study Fine Arts (Major in Advertising) at the Technological University of the Philippines. His fond memories of the sea, of diving and of spearfishing became an influence and flowed into his meditative, explosive art.
As in his Stripewalker performance action and photography series, each piece of  his "Linear" exhibit — held at the Art Cube Gallery, Makati until February 1, 2018 — was imbued with high energy, intense saturations of color and deliberate exploration of the limits of his art practice. The artist's creativity was stretched as he introduced new ways of seeing the mundane.
Stripewalker originated from Penaso's TextureLines series that used highlighter hues for lines and textures that made his art come alive. In Divisoria, Penaso searched for textiles with vibrant colors, made it into a costume, thus giving the swag of Stripewalker. He travels around the world for his on-going performance cum exhibit, posing for photos at landmarks in every stop.
As his opening solo exhibition for 2018, "Linear" featured a wide array of works from sculpture to abstract painting. The use of geometric lines and shapes, as well as vibrantly contrasting psychedelic colors, offer a view of the artist's creative process in his more than two decades' journey into art. His recent works incorporate numbers and letters as he expresses his sequential development in terms of technique and use of media.
In the habit of daily painting for long hours with National Artist Vicente Manasala and Auction Superstar Ronald Ventura as templates make him prolific and productive. His concepts, art style and techniques make his art dense, discriminate and distinctively his own.
Penaso is a past grantee of the Asian Cultural Council and the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York. Before winning First Prize in the 2016 GSIS Art Competition for painting and Third Prize for sculpture, he has made his mark as First Prize winner in the 2012 AAP Art Competition and Metrobank Young Painters Annual Third Prize winner in 2001, among accolades from other art tilts.

He enumerates and numerates the 13 Questions:

1. What fascinates you the most about art and why?
I am fascinated by the lifestyle, mostly. As an artist, your only boss is yourself, you follow your own schedule, you employ yourself. You hold your own time, you have the power choose the subject of your art, and you can do everything you can imagine about your art. The possibilities become endless in creating art, and this makes the artist lifestyle very attractive as it gives you freedom to imagine, to create, and to show to people.

2. Who is the artist who inspires you the most and why?
Inspiration often comes to me from what I experience, so I have no definite artist. Although I like different artists, depending on their artwork. This is the reason I like various artists, and that they inspire me as well, from both local and foreign areas, in different forms of media.

3. Do you paint for money or pleasure?
For pleasure. And I always do my best in every piece I create. Money comes in second, mainly as a bonus for doing what I love the most - which is creating art. The practical side of art is always present, because without money an artist cannot create art pieces, cannot obtain materials especially for installation or performance art, and so on. I think creating art for pleasure is art's or the artist's soul, and money comes as its product and then the cycle makes the two important parts of both the creative and the practical life of an artist.

4. Under what condition do you prefer to do your work and why?   
I paint during the day. I often wake up early, usually I am up by 7 a.m., and I start working on my paintings, my sculptures, and creating sketches for future art projects. I stop at 5 p.m. At nights I attend the exhibits of different artists to see their art works as well as to expose myself to the current paces in the local art scene. I also enjoy admiring the work of others, especially that of my friends and of up-and-coming artists. At the same time, this gives me time to bond with my co-artists and friends, which I think is one of the simplest yet most rewarding pleasures in life.

5. Are your works Filipino in spirit and why?
Yes. I use subjects inspired by the environment and I often include these elements in my paintings and in my sculptures. The Filipino desire to be at one with nature, to become a part of it, is a symbol I often use subliminally in my art works. As a probinsyano growing up in the province surrounded by the bounty and beauty of nature, I have always been inspired by the environment. I think this is part of our natures as Filipinos, we are connected to our roots with the environment, and this gives my art works a strong connection to Filipino themes.           

6. What future projects do you have in mind?
One of my greatest dreams is to extend the thriving local art scene in Manila and in my hometown Bohol, which is where I came from. I plan to do this as future projects, to incorporate Boholano artists into the art scene, and to create a community of artists in Bohol to expose them with the modern techniques, and expose Boholano art to the public.                                                      

7. Does criticism help you become a better artist?
Yes. It's a challenge to the artist, because the comments can give constructive criticism. An artist knows whether the comment is true or not, so it's a win-win situation for both artist and the critic.                                    

8. How do you determine when an art work is done?
When all elements are complete - color and composition, for example. It is quite difficult to explain because it always depends on the subject and an untrained eye may not be able to see what is lacking or what should be added. Experience also makes the perception of whether an artwork is complete or not, especially if you paint every day.

9. Do you associate with other artists to stay competitive or to socialize?
Yes, because you also need to mingle with other artists to create a bond but it does not mean you have to compete with them. Creating a community, enjoying the people and enjoying art most importantly makes art very significant to the life of an artist.

10. Will you describe your work space as orderly or disorderly?
Very disorderly. I rent two apartments and both are in disorder. The first one acts as my showroom where I also paint and put my finished art works. The other is like a junkshop because that is where I my scrap materials and tools for my sculptures.

11. How do you keep your art fresh?
For me, exploring new concepts, techniques, materials, and ideas keeps art fresh. This is the reason why I always change my style and my subjects, depending on the concept.

12. What is the question you'd like to ask yourself and how will you answer it?
The question is: If I did not pursue art, what type of job would I be in? And my answer always is that in an advertising company. Simple as that and this makes me grateful for choosing art.

13. How do you want to be remembered as a visual artist?
That I am a Filipino artist who came from Guindulman, Bohol.

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