Artist Annie Cabigting Wants You To Be Mindful Of How You Look At Art
Amidst numerous curated art fairs, exhibitions, and events, it is refreshing to note that Manila has become a destination for its booming contemporary art scene. Filipino painters are now breaking records in both local and international auctions. and these artists are beginning to think beyond their art, and into their viewers’ experience.
Annie Cabigting defies the norm and rides the tide. She is purposeful, yet spontaneous. She details intricately, but sees the big picture. The life Annie has carved for herself today is nothing she imagined. She shook the art scene with her recent show at Finale Art File—Museum Watching—where the stage was as important as the art. The viewer was drawn into a space that mimicked a museum in Italy. While Finale was one wide-open space, walls were built within the gallery to contain and create the mood. The entrance was through a curtain wall that led into a dark, cavernous space with a few tufted benches and an ornate marbled table that evoked 18th-century Italian flair sparingly laid out on a museum floor. The room was painted black, almost in deference to the art pieces. The main source of lighting came from the spotlights that washed the walls. And on these black walls hung Annie’s masterpieces bearing her signature style of ordinary people, with their personal stories minted on their gestures and clothing, staring at extraordinary art, oftentimes static and unforgiving.
As a collector and an avid museum visitor, Annie has pioneered an innovative way of staging a show, crediting the designer Miguel Rosales and curator Nilo Ilarde for helping her create the perfect backdrop in which to experience her art. This is a first in the local art scene. Being one of the country’s most established contemporary artists, Annie presented her work in an unprecedented manner. Indeed, she rides the tide of her success, but knows her moral obligation to inspire young artists to be exacting yet daring in their work.
Flashback to 1994, Annie graduated from the University of the Philippines with a major in painting. Though she did not grow up drawing nor painting, she passed the fine arts entrance exam, and saw this as an inexpensive education at a time when money was tight. After graduation, there was no career, only a clear purpose to continue painting. She led the quintessential artists’ life—teaching art, doing odd jobs to sustain herself as an artist, and living day-to-day. Her art brought her to creating digital graphics, as she rose to become a creative director of a content company that provided graphics to the leading telcos. This further led her to eventually set up a small (three-person) advertising agency catering to multinationals.
Soon after, almost as if playing with her heartstrings at a fairly later age, her U.P. professor and mentor, modernist Roberto Chabet, coaxed her into mounting her first show. For Annie, who had become comfortable with a steady job, the thought of abandoning the hand that feeds was daunting. But, with full spontaneity, she mounted her first solo show entitled 100 Pieces. It became a winning entry in the 2005 Ateneo Art Awards and an ode to her mentor who inspired her to think conceptually in her creations, and not merely to copy.
For 100 Pieces, Annie worked on a single photo of Chabet’s work published in the Philippine Contemporary Art book, deconstructed the photo into 100 pieces, and painted each piece. Annie looks back at this time as if the world was conspiring to change her path, and luckily, she went with the flow. 100 Pieces was her first attempt at featuring people looking at art, which we see in many evolutions of her work until today. A year later in 2006, her work Navel, which features a lady staring at a Poklong Anading artwork, launched her signature style. Fast-forward to today, her signature remains, but her skill has evolved by leaps. Credit this to a perfectionist attitude, a willingness to take time to find inspiration, and to experiment with unexpected concepts. She has sold her art pieces wrapped, forever left to the imagination. This approach contributes to a scarcity of Annie’s works as she commits to only one show a year with at most five works.
A striking contrast to Annie’s high-profile persona in the art world is an alternate lifestyle that is quiet and withdrawn. This painter is also a gamer. She speaks a younger generation’s language when talking about PC Guild Wars, Final Fantasy, WOW, Elder Scrolls, and other video games she enjoys. When playing, she escapes to recharge, reflect, take a much needed mental and physical break. She has found true friends—and true love—online and fondly speaks of familial and friendly ties she keeps with her gaming community. To begin with, one way she forayed into art was through the digital world. Much of her intent at experiential art seems to draw from the role playing and fantasy universe she immerses herself in.
Museum Watching presented four new pieces of people observing art at The Metropolitan Museum in New York. Her visit to The Met was much less about looking for subjects to paint, as it was about broadly observing people’s behaviours from an outsider looking in, which are the lenses from which Annie views her work. In Madonna nel Met, Annie features this voluptuous lady looking at an early Renaissance Madonna in an unapologetic pose. This is one piece where the eye focuses on the subject’s fairly shapely hips, ill-fitting clothes, flabby toneless arms akimbo, as if presenting herself as the modern Madonna. The contrast is thought-provoking, the detailing stunning. The same can be said for her other eye-catching painting of a man in his prime donning a metallic silver jacket and looking at Alexander Jean Baptiste Hesse. This piece called La Chambre Bleue is just beautiful in its colours, composition, and subject matter, almost making one want to beg for the man in silver to turn around to show his grace.
Clearly, Annie’s work reveals her skill and her true north, still loyal to the conceptual teachings of her mentor, Chabet. She is at a time in her life when she is pushing the boundaries of her art. And being a true game-changer, the world awaits her next move.
Photos courtesy of Anne Cabigting and Finale Art File
This story was originally published in Philippine Tatler Traveller (Volume 13), available in all newsstands and book stores, and downloadable on Magzter, Zinio, and PressReader.