This is part of a series of profiles on a new generation of leaders, thinkers, creators, innovators, and trailblazers across many fields in the country. The list is drawn under the theme “What’s Now, What’s New, What’s Next” in celebration of Manila Bulletin’s 121st anniversary as an exponent of Philippine progress.
Nicole Coson: Making her mark in the art world
In London, nobody cares who Nicole Coson is, or who her mother is or her grandfather was (Teresita Sy Coson and Henry Sy, of course), or how big her family’s business is back home.
The 27-year-old, like any other artist who has tried to break into the epicenter of the world’s art capital, will need make it on the grounds of her own talent and tenacity in the city’s ruthless contemporary scene (nearly 2,000 galleries, which exceed hubs like New York and Paris).
Her recent inclusion in the 2020 Bloomberg New Contemporaries, which has been the leading organization in the UK that chooses emerging artists to support since 1949, is yet another validation for the Central Saint Martins’ alumna, who graduated with first degree honors in 2014. Last year, she gained her MFA from the Royal College of Art. She has also been nominated for the Saatchi New Sensations Award.
Coson casually broke the news on her Instagram account in June last year: “Excited to be selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2020! This announcement happened to come on the day I packed all my things from the Royal College of Art donning masks and gloves removing all evidence of my time there within a short, allocated time frame. Even when the world feels at a standstill, change is still the only constant. Kinda sad but really happy to move on! #bloombergnewcontemporaries.”
The rigorous two-part selection process is led by a panel of three internationally renowned artists (this year Alexandre da Cunha, Anthea Hamilton, and Linder) who have no knowledge of the applicant’s gender, age, nationality, or education while reviewing submissions.
After showcasing her pieces in a specially created digital platform for New Contemporaries last September, Nicole alongside the 35 other emerging artists exhibited at the South London Gallery in December.
The artist has a trademark process, which involves an etching press machine (she has one of London’s biggest in her apartment), and applies analog printing methods. In her website bio, Coson says, “I apply analog and digital languages on materials in opposition such as raw steel and paper, shiny aluminum and canvas. My works also have a lot of personal history weaved into them, specifically focusing on episodic memory, living with the trauma of loss in death and the secondary loss we experience when we inevitably and unwillingly begin to forget.”
Coson has exhibited in some of the more prominent galleries like Galerie Untilthen, Paris; Silverlens Galleries, Manila; Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2020; Saatchi Gallery, London; Annka Kultys Gallery, London; Dyson Gallery, RCA, London; Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila; and Division of Labour, London. (Krizette Chu)
Toff De Venecia: Creative industry advocate
When it comes to working in the arts and for the arts, few young names are worth mentioning today. One of these is Toff De Venecia, the theater savant who is also the representative of the fourth district of Pangasinan.
Apart from managing his own theater production company, Sandbox Collective, Toff is also actively fighting for the rights of workers in the creative industries, particularly for those in theater and the performing arts.
“My congressional work with the creative industries as lead convener of the Arts and Culture and Creative Industries Bloc of the 18th Congress (ACCIB) and as chairperson of the Special Committee on Creative Industry and the Performing Arts has exposed me to the big, bright, beautiful world of the creative industries,” Toff says. “The Philippine creative industries should move towards the German concept of gesamtkunstwerk, or the total art, or art that makes use of all or many art forms, or strives to do so.”
As a congressman, Toff has been pushing for measures such as the Freelancer Protection Bill, the Philippine Creative Industries Development Act, the Film and Television Incentives Act, the Film and Live Events Recovery Act, and even the Eddie Garcia Act, which has been passed on third reading in the Lower House. At the same time, he continues to be an active stakeholder, “particularly in theater and the performing arts,” he adds.
As far as his creative work is concerned, Toff explains that he is quite fortunate to have been in contact with many other artists in a number of creative industries, “which I have exacted inspiration and also forged several collaborations,” he says. “With hope, when things are better and theater is back again, I’ll get to direct a show and definitely produce more work under Sandbox Collective.” (Rom Mallick)
Bobby Rubio: Floating Pinoy pride on the world stage
For many, the name Bobby Rubio only floated in 2019. But this Filipino artist has been working tirelessly to showcase Pinoy talent on the global stage for years now, even before his Pixar original short film Float was released in October 2019. It featured a Filipino dad living in the US, not unlike Bobby himself, who discovers that his son has an unusual ability.
Like most people, Bobby found 2020 to be a challenging year. But he came out of it with a renewed sense of purpose and love for his art. “The biggest lesson I learned from 2020 is that the animation industry has a worldwide reach and everyone is connected online,” he tells the Manila Bulletin. “Whole movies and series are being made at home and projects can be completed from great distances, from miles apart to whole countries apart. With my own personal art, I would like to inspire people worldwide and be connected to my audience.”
Through his work, Bobby has served as a bridge for Filipino culture to reach the rest of the world. That his short animation Float featured Filipino characters is just one example. “I am optimistic that there is more in store for Filipino animators on a global stage. I think the world is craving more diverse stories and our Filipino culture is rich with so many stories to cultivate and tell,” Bobby says, adding that there are so many talented Filipino creatives out there who can contribute so much “on screen as well as behind the scenes” in writing, producing, animating, and directing.
“Filipino creators can continue to make amazing works of art in comics, animation, and live action. Great talent, projects, and stories cannot be denied. If a story is strong and can resonate universally it can break barriers,” he adds. “We all know when we see fine craftsmanship and when we have stories that touch our hearts, I believe that Filipino creators can make such projects that cannot be denied and will have a global reach.” (Rom Mallick)
Elijah Canlas: The acting prodigy
Young actor Elijah Canlas is proof to the new generation that acting, the capacity and the talent to give justice to a character’s story, is still the best formula to bag the most coveted Pinakamahusay na Aktor by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino for a film.
Coming from a family where love for the arts runs in the blood—his mother did theater and ballet—Elijah started acting in plays at the age of five. At 20, he won best actor at the 2020 Gawad Urian for his role in the film “Kalel, 15,” which he did when he was 18, side-by-side award-winning actors Jaclyn Jose and the late Eddie Garcia.
For the same film, Elijah was also named best actor at the 17th Asian Film Festival held in Rome, Italy, and at the 68th Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) Awards.
After his iconic portrayal as a teenage boy in “Kalel, 15,” Elijah then showed his versatility as an actor when he co-starred in the hit online BL series, “Gameboys.” As most actors faced uncertainties in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, the young actor emerged as a winner.
And while some of his contemporaries are staying mum or trying to play it safe when it comes to expressing their thoughts on socio-political issues, Elijah isn’t shy to tell his truth. On social media, the current student of the BA Philippine Arts program of the University of the Philippines Manila, openly shares his views about different issues, from breaking the stigma about HIV to his stand on the Anti-Terrorism Law.
He’s a newbie in the entertainment scene, yet Elijah is already decorated with numerous awards because of his natural talent, and his passion for and dedication to his craft. (Jessica Pag-iwayan)
BigBoy Cheng: The multi-faceted pop-culture influencer
For those who are into collecting toys, sneakers, and streetwear, or who are into food or art, the name Christian Cheng, or BigBoy as he is fondly called, definitely rings a bell. Believe it or not, he isn’t just the scion of one of the country’s biggest foam producers, the man behind Uratex, he also has a rather wide range of interests.
With a huge following on social media, BigBoy is known as the country’s “streetwear king,” famous for his massive shoe collection. His extensive—and expensive—collection includes a pair of Air “Dior-dans,” which costs P850,000, and a pair of Marty McFly Nike shoes from Back to the Future.
Throughout the years, he’s also actively collecting vintage and art toys such as the 1970 single-box Popy Voltes V diecast toy set. A big fan of the brand Supreme, BigBoy has its tool boxes, pinball machine, and Supreme x Coleman mini motorbike.
And things do not end there. BigBoy is also an art enthusiast. In 2019, he collaborated with National Artists for Visual Arts BenCab. BigBoy’s gallery, the Secret Fresh, is located at RONAC Art Center in Ortigas. It houses a limited edition BenCab x Rega Turntable and some of BebCab’s t-shirts and hoodie collection. Aside from opening his own gallery and collaborating with different artists, BigBoy is continuously acquiring art pieces, including one of the works of England-based street artist, Banksy.
To support local food businesses, the pop-culture influencer also makes food vlogs through his YouTube channel BigBoy Cheng, where he features local food restaurants and food businesses. As a way of helping the businesses he features, he makes sure he pays for everything he eats. (Jessica Pag-iwayan)
Kublai Millan: Opening a window to Mindanaoan art
If you follow singing contests both here and abroad, you know there is an abundance of talented Filipino singers the world over. The same can be said of visual artists in the country—there are so many talented artists from various regions of the Philippines who are not given enough attention.
To ensure that his fellow artists from Mindanao do not suffer this fate, Kublai Millan has made it his mission to promote the arts from the region, with the help of other artist members of the Lawig Diwa group.
“There is so much that needs to be done for visual arts in Mindanao. The work is never done, so I see myself continuing with the vision of helping propagate the desire for rootedness to help create an art genre that is truly Mindanao,” he tells the Manila Bulletin.
As an artist, Kublai felt the effects of 2020 on the art industry, with galleries and museums closed, and planned exhibits put on hold. Yet he did not let the year that was take away what could be, particularly for his own art and for Mindanao art as a whole. Lawig Diwa and Kublai, in fact, were able to successfully stage the 2nd Mindanao Art, thanks in no small part to the help of virtual exhibits.
“I have been consistent with my aspirations and message: To plumb the depth of your art you have to be grounded to who you are, be in touch with your heart, and to always care for the environment,” he says. “The year 2020 happened because we ignored all these. Meaning, the message will remain the same. Maybe what will change is the coverage, the immensity and intensity. That’s just how it is. We must just keep on stepping up.”
And step up he continually does, to put Mindanao art and culture at the forefront of the Philippine art scene. (Rom Mallick)
Mark Andy Garcia: The anti-trend artist
Every artist has his own distinct signature. What makes 36-year-old painter Mark Andy Garcia stand out is his anti-trend style. In a conversation with the Manila Bulletin, the 2015 Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) 13 Artists Awards winner humbly says that nothing is special about him.
Known as the anti-trend painter, Mark does not go with what’s hot or what’s in. Instead, he focuses on telling stories that he truly understands. “I’m just a typical painter,” he says. “Maybe what makes me different is that my works are deeply rooted in the words of God because I’m a Christian. But then again, there are a lot of Christian artists like me.”
Taking inspiration from his personal experiences, Mark shares this part of him through still-life and landscape images either by oil or watercolor. “It’s important to me that I only paint what’s within my territory. That’s why I value my experiences because these are what influences me on what I am going to create,” he says. “When you do things that are not naturally you, your audience will feel that your work is just a copycat.”
Just like the rest of us, the Metro Bank Art and Design Excellence grand prize winner also feels the impact of the pandemic. But if there’s one thing Covid-19 has helped him realize, it’s the importance of taking things slow to be more productive. “Lots of things have happened in 2020, but the lockdown brings calmness to me,” Mark says. “Since we don’t have exhibits and we have nothing else to do at home, it pushes me to create more and to focus on my craft.”
For younger artists who are also dreaming to be the next trailblazers in the art scene, Mark has a few pieces of advice. “If they are not really good at drawing but they are telling their truth, they will get there someday. I, myself, was not as good as my contemporaries but I survived in the long run,” he says. “But, most of all, don’t be lazy. Set a good standard for yourself.” (Jessica Pag-iwayan)
Maxine Syjuco: Art influenced by family and spirituality
For those who don’t know her, multidisciplinary artist Maxine Syjuco might come across as intimidating. She, after all, carries herself with a peculiar air of confidence that might be too much for those with a weaker spirit. But for all her toughness, Maxine is, in fact, a gentle soul. And it is in this mix of gentleness and strength where she derives the energy to continually make art.
“My art is a celebration of freedom and self-expression. To me, being experimental and innovative are the key goals,” she tells the Manila Bulletin. “As an artist, I don’t believe in ‘stages’ or ‘milestones.’ Instead, I allow my art (and myself) to move forward naturally—expanding through self-knowledge, and exploring the inner-workings of the subconscious mind.”
Coming from a very artistic family—with parents Cesare and Jean Marie who are both artists, plus siblings who are all also involved in the arts—certainly helps. But Maxine points out that what propels her is introspection. “I never create art to ‘please’ other people. I never create art with a certain ‘audience’ in mind,” she explains. “I create art as a form of catharsis and pure self-expression. Some have said that my art is haunting (and sometimes even ‘disturbing’ or ‘scary’). To me, it is simply the embodiment of the voices within the depths of my heart and soul.”
This is why 2020 proved to be a crucial year for Maxine, as it gave her more time to dwell on what is essential. It served as a jumping point for her and her band Jack of None, which also includes her brothers A.G. and Julian, to represent the Philippines in the 9th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, Greece.
“I believe in seeking depth, and I abhor superficialities,” she says. “My art has always been heavily influenced by ideas (and themes) of family and spirituality, but 2020 has made me realize—more than ever—the importance of spirituality in order to stay grounded, courageous, forward-thinking, and ready for the unexpected.” (Rom Mallick)