Patrick Cruz is a Filipino-Canadian artist living and working between Toronto, Canada and Quezon City, Philippines. Cruz studied Painting at the University of the Philippines Diliman and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University of Art + Design and a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Guelph. In 2015, Cruz won the national title for the 17th annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition and has presented work across North America, Europe and South East Asia. Cruz is the founder of Kamias Special Projects, an artist-run space in Quezon City, Philippines.
MultiplicityTO: You have an extensive background at different institutions for your artistic practice. What led you to keep pursuing different educational streams?
Patrick Cruz: I think that part of the reality of being an artist is that it’s always going to be a marginalized occupation and, sadly, the trend in contemporary art is that you need a masters degree, a terminal degree, in order be to be good at grant writing. It’s funny ‘cause I was dishwashing after I had finished my undergrad and it was kind of a reality check to me, like I have this degree and I’m dishwashing. I got existential — I had spent 40 grand on education and now I’m washing dishes; although I was still practicing art in my studio. I was working five times a week and then I’d go to work in my studio at night, so I thought that was the reality of an artist, I thought that was a given but I realized that you can change that if you want to. If I got more education, I could work the system. So part of it was just trying to understand the system and finding out ways to navigate and gain more skills, especially writing, which is so important in Canada in terms of grant writing — but it’s a blessing to practice art full time and not worry so much about time or space all the time.
MTO: We can’t ignore this, but when you were in Vancouver you studied Clownology. Can you tell us about that, why you pursued it and how it has influenced you?
PC: My brother had actually took Clownology first when we were both studying art at Emily Carr. And we kind of just jumped in not knowing what it was and thought it was funny, but it ended up being really amazing. I guess the biggest difference between clown school and art school was that in art school all of the training was cerebral and very intellectual, and your emotional body is not so much articulated or expressed— and it was almost embarrassing if you said something emotionally interpretative. In clown school the emotional body was fostered and encouraged, which was the opposite of art school and I actually realized that you need both. You can’t be purely intellectual and cold, you have to exercise that emotional body as a human, and how you connect to things, to people. And I think that’s why contemporary art gets a bad reputation, that it’s cold and uninviting, ‘cause they make it that way in a sense. So clown school was my way to decolonize my own institutional training, not that I knew that going into it but there was that realization after.
MTO: You moved from the Philippines to Canada, and within Canada from Vancouver to Toronto. What struck you the most about this change?
PC: Looking back, moving from the Philippines to Canada was the biggest shift because the cultures are just so opposite and art making is so different. But between Vancouver and Toronto there wasn’t much of a difference, although I did find that there are way more opportunities here as an artist. There’s more diversity here, so I found that it was easier for me to communicate my ideas here because there’s so many people of colour that are engaging with the same issues, whereas in Vancouver less of that was going on and maybe even lesser in the Philippines 'cause nobody cares about identity politics there. But there is no perfect place, it’s kind of just up to your attitude and how you take things.
MTO: Going off of that, within the context of our publication, we have repurposed the term multiplicity to mean living, working, or being in more than one form. How do you relate to this concept?
PC: It’s definitely reflective of the age we live in with having multiple identities, and multiple occupations especially as an artist, because people think being an artist is just doing work and going crazy in the studio but it’s actually a lot of other responsibilities and a lot of admin, so in a way there’s a multiplicity of roles that occur. And I think the time we live in has a lot of problems — there’s a multiplicity of problems.
MTO: How about cultural identity in that regard?
PC: That’s interesting 'cause on paper I am ethnically and historically hybrid, I’ve got multiple bloodlines. My mom says we have Indonesian roots, Chinese roots. But I don’t know at the end of the day if that really matters as much. What really matters is if you’re a good person. I still identify as a Filipino, with my sensibilities and my work. It’s shaped by that cultural landscape, although I have adapted here as well so it makes me a hybrid for sure. I’m just not totally sold on the cultural identity establishment because it’s easy to feel lost or have identity crisis. But honestly, being Canadian and having the privilege to have a passport, having access to healthcare — there’s a lot of things to be grateful for, and I wouldn’t say that I’m abandoning my Filipino identity at all. So I think that’s why I started the project space in the Philippines, in my hometown because it was a way for me to connect back and give back with the knowledge and the privilege I have here, and it was a way for me to not forget my roots because it is important to know where you came from because it humbles you. So it’s a hard balance to change because some people feel pressured to assimilate to the point where they forget who they are, and where they’re from.
MTO: The challenging of the idea of the aesthetic of minimalism is evident in your work. Maximalism says more is more, and can be seen through your use of bright colours, bold lines, and found items. How did this style evolve? Have you always been creating this way?
PC: From what I remembered in art history, I had learned that minimalism was about the emptying of meaning — having no meaning. And I think I’m interested in exploring or resisting this idea of a minimalist aesthetic, but not necessarily the concept of the emptying of meaning. Because maximalism tends to empty its meaning as well. Like if you go to Eaton Centre with all of these billboards, they become meaningless even though there are so many. I think minimalism and maximalism are very close, and in that regard, the loss of meaning as an aesthetic is inspiring. In Manila, I grew up with less space as my family are avid collectors [laughs]. I picked up that sensibility, but the difference is that I turned it into art, but right now I’m changing my practice so it’s not so much about maximalism and maybe maximalism becoming less about an aesthetic but more as terminology. For example, I curated this show at Trinity Square Video titled Disputed Bodies last month and I find that a maximalist way of curating is that it’s jam packed with events. That sensibility of maximalism becomes a gesture of planning, adding more details, adding more ways to activate the space, so it’s not an aesthetic anymore — it’s a way of thinking or philosophy.
MTO: When you are in a gallery, you seem to really take over the space. Elements of it are very site-specific. There are things hanging from the ceiling, footprints on the floor (By What Signs Will I come to Understand @ Franz Kaka Gallery). What is important to you about this use of a space?
PC: I guess that comes from the tradition of installation art, which I align myself more with than being a painter. I think people know me more as a painter but I actually don’t associate myself as just a painter cause I make sound, I make music, I make sculpture, performance and I don’t really see a distinction between those mediums, I think they’re all pretty fluid. So, going back to this idea of multiplicity— I think art is this spectrum of different ways of communicating and maybe the way I paint is also the way I create sculpture, it’s the same sensibilities, same inspiration — just different materials. So the use of occupying an entire space comes from the tradition of installation and it’s all about engaging with the audience and the audience becoming an integral part of the work, because without the audience it won’t be activated. And depicting an installation on a flat screen or image doesn’t really relate to it either, like a painting, when you look at painting on a screen you can still understand it, but with an installation you really have to experience it and be within it. So, I really like doing installation because it has a transformative quality. Not to say that painting isn’t but if you have installation, sometimes you forget where you are — it has this capacity to really transport you somewhere.
MTO: Installation really activates your senses.
PC: Yeah exactly. I just don’t like boring art [laughs]. I want to come out of an art exhibition feeling inspired, not angry or frustrated.
Step Mother Tongue
from Art Toronto 2018
MTO: Both travel, culture and decolonization seem to be a big inspiration for you, both visually and orally: are there certain elements from travelling to a new destination (or even going back between two familiar locations) that help innovate the concepts in your artwork?
PC: For sure, I think travelling is the best school, hands down. Travelling is the only way to be in touch with something else and experience. Compared to reading about it or watching it, travelling is just different. For me, I gained so much of my visual vocabulary through travel and meeting other artists who also engage in that landscape, and engage with the politics in that space — their concerns are so different and you get to expand your horizons, because sometimes you get so comfortable in your space that you think it’s the only world, but in actuality there’s multiple realities — going back to the theme of multiplicity [laughs], travel really grounds you to realize that you and your space are not the only important thing. Your problem may be important to you but there are other more important problems. I think it gives you perspective and its important if you want to be a critical artist: you need to be well-rounded, you need to be responsible. I think that back in the day people thought you made art to be respected but now the demands are different: you need to be aware and you need to be responsible, you need to be compassionate and empathetic of others, which is hard for certain people — privileged people in power especially.
MTO: You mentioned your visual vocabulary — we’re really interested in your work revolving around language: we know that some of it is inspired by Baybayin and travel as well, can you tell us more about it and how you developed it?
PC: Actually, that was an accident. When I make work, it is normally an accident or a chance encounter. One time I was in Winnipeg preparing for a show. I usually do this piece where I’m covering the floor with paintings and when I got into the space and installed the work I also envisioned it covering the walls, but when I got there I didn’t have enough material. I was like crap, what do I do? The opening is in two days, and because I don’t like math or measuring things, it was a problem — so this was the result. But you know your weakness is your strength is what people say, so I really tried to embrace that — I realized that making a mural on the wall would fix that technical problem. So I started to freestyle, I mean at first I wasn’t really thinking of what it was about, I just felt like I needed to fill this void. This was a maximalist-aesthetic choice and then as more people asked me about it, the more I thought about it, and the first thing I could think of that related was graffiti and cave drawings. I like this idea of prehistoric art that existed before institutional art — for me it’s a way of connecting people who don’t have knowledge about art. This type of art could elicit a response when they go into the gallery and they see this visual thing and it generates a feeling — and for me that is successful enough and so now I’ve developed it into many versions: it became clothes, it’s a bus wrap, maybe mugs in the future? [laughs]
MTO: What are you working on now?
PC: Many, many projects, so upcoming I’m working on a show in London, Ontario. And then I’m going to Berlin at the end of April for a group show. After that, I am doing a residency at a gallery in Sudbury in May, and then flying into Vancouver in June to do programming on the bus that I did, and then in July I will be in Halifax to do a solo show. August? September? I don’t know… but in October I will be in Sweden to do a residency. So there’s quite a big chunk of activities. I’m also teaching at U of T.
MTO: What are you teaching?