ELIEZER JOHN "EJ" CABANGON
EJ Cabangon, (b. 1973, Manila, Philippines) graduated from Philippines Women’s University in Manila with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Painting. Whilst still in school, Cabangon was a finalist in the 25th Shell National Student Art Competition in 1992.
A maestro of the ‘dark and perfect art’ – his first overseas exhibition Mirror, Mirror was in Singapore in 2007. Renowned for his signature hyper-realistic oil paintings rendered in very fine detail, paying particular attention to minutiae, his works are never strict interpretations of scenes or subjects. Cabangon utilizes subtle pictorial elements to create the illusion of a reality, nudging the viewer to understand its underlying truth.
In May 2014, Cabangon took part in a group exhibition titled Facets of Philippine Art Today in Taiwan, curated by Ronald Ventura. He then showed in Lugano, Switzerland in April 2015, and participated in the last Florence Biennale held in Italy the same year. He has had over ten solo shows with major galleries in the Philippines, and at the Palazzo Mora exhibition of Personal Structures, held during the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017.
An interesting essay was written by notable book writer Victor Ocampo:
"Eliezer John Cabangon is renowned for his signature hyper-realistic oil paintings rendered in very fine detail and often very vivid colour. Although his style pays much attention to minutiae, his works are never strict interpretations of photographs, nor are they literal illustrations of particular scenes or subjects. Instead, he utilizes subtle pictorial elements to create the illusion of a reality which either does not exist or cannot be seen by the human eye. Often his work concern childhood themes of toys and children presented in an almost noir manner, or the pairing of a famous painting or photo with an unexpected commonplace object."
The result is often darkly humorous and deeply disturbing. Many of his paintings can be described by that oft-quoted simile from Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror, they are “as beautiful as a chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella” and like that great work, the viewer is left with a profound sense of unease. His paintings are like the classic ghost stories of old, inviting the audience into a seemingly harmless place, to learn a secret that we will come to regret.
To paraphrase Derrida, we as the audience must endeavour to speak and listen to the dark spectres intrinsic to these artists’ personal visions, despite our fears and the challenges they may pose to our societal or intellectual traditions. "Or ce qui paraît presque impossible, c’est toujours de parler du spectre, de parler au spectre, de parler avec lui, donc surtout de faire ou de laisser parler un esprit” (Conversing with specters is not undertaken in the expectation that they will reveal some secret, shameful or otherwise. Rather, it may open us up to the experience of secrecy as such: an essential unknowing which underlies and may undermine what we think we know.) The results may surprise us in ways we had not heretofore imagined."
Profile is a human being’s head, but of obvious cyborg origin. The face is perfectly outlined and contoured with a grid, evoking memories of 1980’s cult movie Tron, a film about human beings entering the world of a computer mainframe.
The artist suggests how the human mind is being re-structured like a robot, with “restored functions, or enhanced abilities due to the integration of technology” taking over what was earlier known as the human brain. It is virtual, indeed, but it begs the question, along with the dawning of artificial intelligence - when will cybernetic human beings become our own reality as technology encourages us to evolve into a different 21st century species?
ABDUCTED BETTY BOOP
The Abducted Series by EJ Cabangon is part of a continuation of the artist’s primary collection which was first shown in Lugano, Switzerland. Represented as musings of Cabangon’s childlike impressions, Abducted Betty Boop, evoke a sense of innocence lost; their grey misshapen forms plea for our pity and renewed adoration. They are reminders of toys, our playthings - and how young minds can be refined or corrupted with what they see, hear, or feel.
One might ask the artist why he chooses cartoon representations. Is it perhaps to partly to invoke a sense of playfulness in an otherwise horrific situation? The parody is amusing, yet disturbing – provoking a discourse, perhaps, on our children’s future. It probes us to question our perceptions of reality, exploring the limits of human vision. Undeniably, it is an art form no matter how you look at it, either from the craftsmanship and skill point of view, admiring the subtle layers of narrative added to the existing image.