Mindanaoan Artist Visual Irony in Lexicon of Surrealism
By Phillip Somozo
This Davao-born visual artist frequently stepped upstage during his college years for consistently winning painting competitions. His stuttering childlike speech, incompatible with his towering 6-foot height, sometimes made people laugh. Today, Bienvenido Banez, Jr., towers all the more for achievements uncommon among Filipino artists.
Diagnosed with mild learning disability during childhood, Ben’s focus of attention has always been his art. Rightly so. In 2002, he won first place in the Asian Fellowship Painting Competition of the prestigious Vermont Studio Center launched from Vermont, USA. Last year, in New York City, where he based himself after his Vermont fellowship, he was the only Filipino among the more than seventy international, surreal visual artists featured in the grandest-ever birth anniversary celebration of John Milton and what is considered as the greatest English poem, his Paradise Lost,.
Earlier, in 2004, the president and executive director of Williamsburg Art & Historical Center in Brooklyn, while viewing Ben’s painting, commented to a fashion photographer that Banez is the “greatest living surrealist from the Philippines.” This comment from contemporary Surrealism’s prime mover, Terrance Lindall, himself the organizer of Milton’s biggest birthday bash, may have been trivially said. But today it is substantiated by yet another achievement in Banez’s career: his name, profile, and sample work are recently published in a German edition of “The International Encyclopedia of Fantastic, Surrealist, Symbolist, & Visionary Artists” or Lexikon Surreal for short. Thus, Bienvenido Bones Banez, again the only Filipino in the inventory, now appears along with Surrealism greats such as Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, Salvador Dali, Ernst Fuchs, Andre Breton, Alex Grey, Keith Wigdor, and Jon Beinart to name a few, in the same book.
In page 35 of Lexikon Surreal, Banez’s work, “666 Screaming,” appears in full color (see photo); while in page 44 his profile is printed in German. Translated into English, it reads:
BANEZ JR. BIENVENIDO BONES
(Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines, 1962- ) Filipino visionary, male, lives and works in the USA. Studied in the Ford Academy of the Arts in Davao City, Island of Mindanao; associate professor in the Philippine Women’s College-Davao. 2002 winner in the Asian Fellowship Painting Competition of the Vermont Studio Center, Vermont, USA., and has lived since in the USA. http://welcomebones666artworld.trilogistick.com )
If greatness also means winning an international art fellowship, the admiration of a globally-distinguished art organizer, and being genus among a roster of historical figures and international achievers, then, this Mindanaoan artist has at least cut himself a slice of the surreal pie.
Banez’s art is an expression of fundamental belief in Evil having gained dominion over the Earth. Injustice, inequity, conflicts, wars, environmental destruction, human suffering—for him all these are manifestations of Satan’s rule—a perception ancient as the Judaeo-Christian doomsday prophets and feasted upon by the human mind ancient to modern.
What makes Banez a paradox among surrealists is his depiction of hellish conditions not as murky depths, but psychedelic sceneries where spectra of colors enthrall the viewer to a fantastic world only he could conceive. Figures—human, geometric or biomorphic curiosities—lose tactility and become translucent images and luminosities swirling, shimmering, or disintegrating in a world bereft of gravity.
Marvelous colors, resembling those of jewelry and precious stones, at closer look turn out to be cellular infections, acid-chemical concentrates, or spreading volcanic lava, eating up human figures, corrupting techno systems, and contaminating the cosmos—the artist’s vision perhaps of bio-chemical warfare and natural catastrophe combined to destroy the Establishment. Neonlike brushstrokes snake through his canvases—flowing traffic that at certain points entangle on some physical perversion and gets jammed on a plexus of human agony nestled on infernal flame.
Esthetically mesmerizing the colors are in a Banez canvas, the perverted figures and miserable faces of humankind are as morbid and offensive to good taste. Apparently, the artist schemes to capture the viewer with wonder; then, in succeeding moments, pounces on his cognitive faculties with horrors of the wages of sin. This rare Banez visual irony fits well with Surrealism as originally defined by spokesperson Andre Breton: Beauty must be convulsive. In this context, Banez earned his ticket to the theater of the absurd where Hieronymus Bosch and company once sat and dreamed.
It is notable that Banez, despite his psychedelic colors, is not and was never a drug abuser. His recent works indicate he has evolved from common representational surrealism into unique abstract surrealism as his figures and images lose physical and material volume, reduced to their astral constituency—something that only the very rare eye of contemplation could see. It is said only 2% of the world’s total population could see with contemplation’s eye.
His abstraction of surrealism is a direction not commonly trodden by surrealists down history. This is the future that Banez should look forward to, to discover new horizons where he as Man is created not to languish in murky infernal depths, but to fulfill his vivid godly inheritance. It does not set him apart from his fellow Filipinos but pulls them up as artists universal as any other race.
Lexikon Surreal is authored by Gerhard Habarta. Measuring 9 x 6.75 inches, it is printed hardcover, with ribbon. It contains 1,122 artist biographies from 69 countries in 464 pages, with 950 black and white and 458 color reproductions.
For more information visit www.lexikon-surreal.com or Google Search lexikon der phantastischen kunstler/banez jr. bienvenido bones.