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RBC Canadian Painting Competition winner Patrick Cruz on immigration, Filipino culture and chaos

The winner of this year’s annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition, 28-year-old Patrick Cruz is a painter and graduate student at the University of Guelph. Born in Manila, Philippines, Cruz moved with his family to Surrey, B.C. in 2005, at the age of 18, and earned a BFA at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art and Design

17th edition of annual $25,000 prize awarded to one of 15 finalists

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      Who is he?

      The winner of this year's RBC Canadian Painting Competition, 28-year-old Patrick Cruz is a painter and graduate student at the University of Guelph. Born in Manila, Philippines, Cruz moved with his family to Surrey, B.C. in 2005, at the age of 18, and earned a BFA at Vancouver's Emily Carr University of Art and Design. His submission for the annual $25,000 RBC prize is "Time allergy," an acrylic on canvas piece that takes its inspiration from the hectic street life of Cruz's hometown, a city of 12 million people.

      There's a long history of painting in the Philippines, but there's also a sense of conservatism.- Patrick Cruz, artist

      "There's a sense of density that you don't experience in Vancouver, for example, or in Guelph," Cruz says of Manila. "In a sense, I grew up in chaos."

      Allergic to modernity

      The title of Cruz's painting is a reference to a quote by the Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz, known for his six- and even nine-hour films depicting the lives of the rural poor in post-colonial Philippines. In an interview, Diaz remarked that the concept of structured time is a Western transplant, introduced to the Philippines by its Spanish colonizers hundreds of years ago. "We were kind of allergic to this idea of modernity and modernization," Cruz says.

      Guelph-based artist Patrick Cruz is the national winner of the 2015 RBC Canadian Painting Competition. (CNW Group/Canadian Art Foundation)

      With its exploding colours and zig-zagging lines that resemble a winding grid of city streets, "Time allergy" was inspired in part by Cruz's memories of growing up in Manila. Its bold colours and textured lines call to mind the funky illustrations painted on the side of the city's many jeepneys — U.S. military jeeps that were repurposed as public transportation vehicles in the 1950s. Owners decorate their jeepneys with wild graphic designs, religious iconography, and images from Western pop culture.

      A formative inspiration

      Growing up, Cruz was influenced by Filipino painter and mixed-media artist Santiago Bose, whose work he discovered at 16. "There's a long history of painting in the Philippines, but there's also a sense of conservatism," Cruz explains. "It's a very religious country. Santiago Bose's work was critiquing those superstructures. I didn't understand that at the time — I was just really attracted to how the paintings looked. He used a lot of collage and unconventional ways of constructing an image that really appealed to me."

      Bringing it back home

      Last year, Cruz launched the Kamias Triennale, an experimental art show meant to take place every three years and housed in the back of his father's old house in Manila. (An aunt and cousin live there now.) Cruz plans to put some of his prize money toward the next installment of the triennale, in 2017. He also wants to include Canadian artists in an attempt to foster an ongoing dialogue between his contemporaries in the Philippines and in Canada.

      Cruz isn't sure if he'll end up moving back to the Philippines, but regardless, his work will continue to reflect the cultural whiplash that has defined it thus far.

      "I guess my first question when I moved here was, why I was here, why did my family move?" he says. "It made me research how cultures get displaced because of economic turmoil or other factors that play in those circumstances. These ideas have been orbiting in my mind for a while. So when I make work, that's always at the back of my head. It's like a cloud that's just looming all the time." 

      RBC Canadian Painting Competition finalists' submitted works. Contemporary Art Gallery of Vancouver, 555 Nelson St, Vancouver. To Nov. 29. Tue-Sun, 12pm-6pm. Free.

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