Christian Santos Culangan Unzips The Portals of Our ‘Innermost’-Selves
Straying far from society’s ideals of conformity, this Filipino artist finds strength in being real, honest and authentic in every aspect of his humanity.
Audio and visual artist, Christian Santos Culangan needs little introduction. Born in the Valenzuela City of Philippines and raised in Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City, Christian Santos Culangan is a Fine Arts graduate who specialised in Advertising at the Technological University of Philippines in Manila (TUP). Best known for graphic deconstruction of images, Culangan draws great influence from his childhood, religion and strong familial ties to create highly revealing and emotive pieces of art. Straying far from society’s ideals of conformity, this artist finds strength in being real, honest and authentic in every aspect of his humanity.
Christian Santos Culangan Unzips The Portals of Our ‘Innermost’-Selves
Tell us about your first steps as an artist?
I have always enjoyed drawing but it was during high school that I began to learn about art’s various possibilities. My school used to ask me to take photos make digital posters. It was then that I realized that art can be used to communicate ideas.
At that time, we used to listen to local hip-hop acts like Mike Kosa, Gloc 9 and 187 Mobstaz. Their music reached out to ordinary people as they sang about social issues in our vernacular language. Their blunt authenticity struck me, and encouraged me. Art doesn’t always have to be moderated! These groups also have their own clothing lines and merchandise. This aspect was more attractive to the my high school self; I printed and designed shirts for local groups. I also dabbled in video and sound art, to make our own music videos.
How important has been for you the recognition of your talent in 2013 when you awarded as Graphic Artist of the year award in your Secondary Level?
The Graphic Artist of the Year Award was given to me by my high school- Salvador Araneta Memorial Institute. It’s significant as it recognized my efforts in art making. It felt like the universe was telling me I’m on the right path.
I joined art competitions in college and was also recognized each time. I was a semi-finalist at the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence Competition (MADE) in 2016 and 2017 and won 2nd place at the Shell National Student Art Competition (NSAC). These events further strengthened my resolve to pursue a career in the arts.
The Philippines is a Catholic country where religion is a central pillar of society. How important is religion in your art? What religious references do you like to refer to?
I grew up in a devout Catholic family. My uncle was a lay minister, while the rest of the family are active members of the church. I’m not very religious myself, but I credit my Christian upbringing for my moral foundations.
I would like to consider my works as secular, but when the subject is everyday Filipino life it is inevitable that you touch upon religion. Religion is deeply embedded in our lives, sometimes we hardly notice it. Important life events are celebrated in or around the church. I made a series of works based on old photographs, the theme was mainly nostalgic; but once you chance upon a group picture taken on Christmas, then it can be easily be considered religious, since Christmas is a religious holiday in the Philippines
Recently, I made some works that engage in the existential promises of religion. I ponder on these themes as I try to process the grief of having lost a loved one.
In one of your strongest series, many of the characters seem to be bleeding, suffering and questioning modern society. What was the message you wanted to convey there?
In some of my series, I utilized zippers to maximize available resources and to represent Caloocan City. Caloocan stems from the Tagalog word- Kalook-lookan meaning “innermost”. I explore the concept of “conceal and reveal”. The zipper becomes a symbol for portals that we like to keep closed. I want to convey the explosion of feelings from deep inside my subjects. Today’s society demands conformity, the display of emotions is viewed as a sign of weakness. My works are about being real, honest and authentic. I think people should share their pains and pleasures and find strength in their humanity.
You are always looking for new techniques and various medium in your art. (You are currently incorporating more digital elements in your art.) How would you describe your style?
My works are my reflections on current events both personal and social. The form develops in conjunction to how I feel. This is why I am always searching for new techniques or materials as every event is unique in itself. It’s not that I deliberately change all the time, I think it’s more of a gradual process of experimentation. My art style is figurative, interrupted by expressionist strokes, paint blobs or found objects (usually zipper or fabric)
What is your creative process like? Where do you find your inspiration?
I start out by selecting images to paint, then I “destroy” the image by adding zippers, paint drips or bold brush strokes. The selection depends on what I am experiencing or feeling at the moment. It is a way of reflecting and processing my thoughts, like a form of therapy.
I draw inspiration from observations and experiences of everyday life. There’s always something unusual and interesting going on in the city. If you keep an inquisitive mind, you’ll never run out of subjects or materials for work. The fabric and the zipper that has now become a ubiquitous part of my work were initially obtained from my mother, a dressmaker and my aunt, a fabric trader. A lot of people from Caloocan are involved in business of clothing in one way or another.
What is the role the artist plays in the society? How do you view the current art scene in the Philippines? How important is the space given to artists in modern Filipino society?
Artists should inspire the youth to persevere towards their aspirations, to go beyond the mere pursuit of comfort. Most young people are told to stick to the well-beaten path, this may feed their stomachs but sap out their spirits. People in the creative field can encourage them to fulfill their potentials.
There’s been a lot of development in the platforms that showcase the local art scene. Initially there was just the museums and the galleries, academic institutions and the occasional common public spaces. The reach is very limited. Now, anybody can post their works online, one doesn’t have to be in the actual physical space. Artists from different fields become familiar with each others works. This encourages collaborations and fosters growth.
Any current or past Filipino artist who has influenced you?
A lot of the artists (digital and traditional) that influenced me were from my university. The faculty and the alumni of TUP are active in the local art scene but still very amiable to young art students. Among the professors are Ramon Dela Cruz and Thirteen Artist Awardees Eugene Jarque, and Joey Cobcobo. Outside school, I also worked with alumni- Emard Cañedo, Ronson Culibrina and Erick Villaruz.
Being a member of the art group- ROOM 111 (instagram.com/roomoneeleven) has also affected work process. We learn and support each other in various stages in our careers. At the moment, a more immediate force would be colleagues from my current studio space- Studio Narra (instagram.com/ studionarra) (studionarra.com). Visual artists can always opt to work solo, but it’s always an advantage to have fellow artists around for peer critiquing sessions.
The five words that best describe your art?
Personal. Figurative. Zipper. Impasto. Expressionist.
In which city can we expect to see your next exhibition?
I plan to exhibit somewhere near Caloocan City- my home town. I want to retrace my roots and introduce my work to the locals (especially the youth) of the place from where I started.
Where can we see some of you work online, are these for sale?
Some of my works are currently available at Artcube Gallery PH, Village Art Gallery, Art Verite Gallery, Kaida Contemporary, Boston Art Gallery PH and Art Break. I also upload most of my works in my Instagram.
Can you let our readers know of your favourite Art Museum in the Philippines?
My favourite is the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila. It houses some of the most significant pieces by Filipino masters from the Spanish colonial period up to the post-modern period. My top picks are Cesar Legaspi, for his unusual color harmonies, Jose Joya with his textured abstract paintings and the foremost Filipino visual artist- Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium”. His bold brush strokes leave me wondering if he used a broom to achieve them.
We used to hang around there during our free time in college. Back then I wasn’t aware of the who’s who in the arts, I only appreciated the formal quality of the works. A visit to that museum always emboldens me to produce more daring works.
If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be?
My Uncle Anthony Santos has been a significant influence in my life. It was he who took on the arduous task of disciplining us and molding our character. He was also very supportive of my choice of pursuing an artistic career.
I would also like to mention veteran artist and organizer-Manny Garibay. He’s the chairman of the team that runs Artletics Inc. I became more acquainted with him after coordinating the Linangan Artist Residency Program (one of Artletics Inc.’s projects). His visions on art, helped me realize its vital role in society and innumerable possibilities.