Caña BARES all in his 9th solo exhibit
White-washed, blacked-out, bare but not barren
by Ricky Francisco, curator
Frank Caña’s 9th solo is a sharp departure from his typical style. Stripped of color, the canvases he presents for this show are a stark contrast from the bright, and sometimes psychedelic palette that characterizes his body of work. This is because this solo is not a characteristic exhibition. This is an art project – a response to a challenge to create works devoid of color to showcase form and texture, in an attempt to find new ways of representation. It is a review of past experience, and a re-viewing of materials, to find new ways of communicating his art.
Franklin Valencia Caña has been painting since the early 90s. A graphic professional, he worked for advertising firms before pursuing his painterly passion and becoming a member of the Saturday Group. His initial foray into painting landed him a front page in a local art auction catalogue, and the keen interest of Malang, a senior member of the group, who later became Caña’s mentor and father-figure. (It was Malang who convinced him to sign his works with his middle name, Caña, instead of the conventional family name, to set himself apart from his brother, Magoo Valencia, who came to the art scene earlier.)
Caña is known for his use of transparent layers of circles and crescents overlaid on his works. These represent the globules and reflections of light he saw in glass marbles when, as a teen, he viewed his surroundings through them, and be pleased with what he saw. These crescents and circles are his signature style, which he dubbed as “kaleidoscopic.” His typical subjects include themes familiar to modern Philippine art, namely, landscapes, nudes, mother and child, the cross, and shanties (barung-barong). These he depicts in vivid color awash with white circles, semi-circles and crescents, and rich in textural detail. Having built a career in painting these themes, Caña nonetheless continues to expands his repertoire by combining his familiar themes and creating new and surprising variations, such as with the work, “Ondoy Crossover” where a cross was formed by the interlocking arms of Filipinos helping out each other in the time of disaster. And through the main works of his 8th solo exhibit where he visualized the similarities between the raw beauty of nature and the nude female form by transforming flowers and trees, or the negative space around them, to show the curves of the female body. In both cases, his introspective nature and spirituality become apparent.
Zooming in on his introspective nature, the challenge to create works in pure black or pure white and portray the essential elements that make him who he is, for this 9th solo, became a way of refocusing and re-viewing what he stands for, and simultaneously, stimulate his visual vocabulary. Aptly titled Bare, the exhibit shows us who Caña is at his core. It is a meditation in form, and the monochromatic presentation aids us in that. Pure white and pure black are often associated with loss, but in this case, we find that it is not the case. Rather, the lack of color helps us to focus on the message of a work, and contemplate it in its richness.
Christ, a work in pure white, depicts a horizontal plank of wood with a nail hole near the edge, is contrasted against a background of a textural variation of Caña’s signature semi-circles at the upper portion of the work. A strong symbol of the risen Christ, any believer would see what it alludes to. As a work, it stands for the active hope that is inseparable to Caña’s faith and spirituality.
The barung-barong, a favorite subject of his, gets reinterpreted in a pure black work, where the aesthetic quality of the wavy corrugated galvanized iron sheets are used as a backdrop for a used tire. Typically seen on the roofs of shanties, tires are used as weights to counter the strong typhoon winds that batter the city regularly. Presented as an object whose form is to be contemplated aesthetically, Caña presents us with his past, having grown up surrounded by shanties in his youth. His introspective personality allows us to see beauty in what is typically seen as urban blight.
The importance of sight for him as an artist is depicted in the pure black work Vital Eyes. Cleverly using concentric circles to focus our eyes to the center of the canvas, a small mirror right smack in the center shows us our own eyes when we take a look. The mirror can also be a departure to meditate on the world it reflects. The title, a witty pun on vitalize, shows the inextricability of sight and to living, from the artist’s point of view.
His life is not complete without his loving wife, Tess. Contemplating on their relationship and how life would be without her, Caña thinks of an apt metaphor for emptiness with When the Cookie Jar is Empty.
A productive life means making wise use of the time given to us. Using the candle as a metaphor for time allotted to us, Haste is a candle burned on reverse, making for a faster burn, an apt symbol for a life lived contrary to what it was intended for.
Rock It is a sculpture in the round. Playing on the potent phallic symbol of the rocket, and the power it contains, the title also plays around with the reckless abandon and hard edge of rock, the musical genre. A surprising partner to Rock It is Temptation, an all black work with a crown of barbed wire in the center surrounded by patterns and reliefs of roses. Here, holding the libido in check appears to be an almost painful process.
Caña’s self-portrait takes on an enigmatic turn with symbolism let loose. Here, he depicts himself as a mask, with horns made of painting implements, animalistic and primal.
The artist’s work station is represented in Chaos Theory where the artist scrounges for available material, and with creativity, orders chaos and transforms it into art.
Bare maybe white-washed and blacked-out, but it is not barren. In it, Caña reveals an intimate collection of works that allow us to see him beyond pretenses and conventions. To create the works, the artist had to be frank with himself and set off in a journey of rediscovery. Through the works, he shares himself with us and engages us to re-view and re-discover.