Benedicto Reyes Cabrera — or BenCab, as he is more popularly known is widely hailed as a master of contemporary Philippine art. He was born in Manila on April 10, 1942. BenCab began carving a niche for himself in Manila’s art circles shortly after receiving his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of the Philippines in 1963.
A painter and printmaker, he has exhibited widely in the Philippines and in Asia, Europe, and the United States. He has won several major art awards in a career spanning four decades. In 1992, he received the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining (Cultural Center of the Philippines Award for the Arts).
In 2006, he was conferred the Order of National Artist for Visual Arts by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacanan Palace.
His works have been the subject of three books, Ben Cabrera: Etchings (1970-1980) by Cid Reyes; Bencab’s Rock Sessions by Eric Caruncho; and BENCAB by Alfred Yuson and Cid Reyes.
The artist lives and works in Baguio City.
Has three children: Elisar (born in 1971), a filmmaker based in London; Mayumi (born in 1973), a model and actress currently living in Los Angeles; and Jasmine (born in 1977), a fashion stylist working in London.
Born April 10 in Malabon, Manila, Philippines, at the onset of the Japanese occupation. He is the youngest of nine children born to Democrito Cabrera and Isabel Reyes of Pampanga. At age six months, his family moves to Mayhaligue St. in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Starts painting on the pavement and on walls at age seven, and is influenced by his older brother Salvador, who is already an established artist. Salvador takes him everywhere, exposing him to the world of art.
Described as “quiet, timid and shy” in his school report card.
Family moves to Bambang – a busy but poor district in Tondo, Manila, peopled with an assortment of colorful characters. It is where he first starts to develop a deep sympathy for the underprivileged. Sells comic books door to door and hand towels to jeepney drivers as a source of income.
Wins his first art award as a Sixth Grade student at the Balagtas Elementary School in Bambang, for his drawing entry in a poster contest with a human rights theme. Receives P100 as part of the First Prize.
As a student at the Arellano High School, augments his allowance by doing illustrations for his to 59 classmates’ science projects, which he sells for P.50 to Pl.00. He would later also draw portraits of James Dean and Elvis Presley to sell to schoolmates for P10.
Joins the staff of the school paper The Tambuli.
Enrolls at the University of the Philippines’ (U.P.) College of Fine Arts – one of five finalists of the Castro scholarship.
Receives the Second Prize at the 12th Shell National Students Art Competition for his painting Blue Serenity, a surreal abstraction of barung-barong (shanties).
Assists U.P. art professor Jose Joya in the execution of the set design for the ballet Swan Lake staged at the Rizal Theater and U.P. Theater. Commissioned to illustrate two books.
Has a short stint at the Cock-n-Bull Tavern as instant portraitist.
Wins First Prize for his oil painting of a talipapa (market) entered in the U.P. Student Council Art Competition.
Drops out of college before finishing his degree in Fine Arts with a major in Illustration.
Joins the new staff of Liwayway Magazine as illustrator (with Ang Kiukok, Alfredo Roces, Romy Mananquil, Arthur Nicdao) for three months when the magazine is modernized by Morita Roces-Guerrero.
Takes his first full-time job with the United States Information Service as lay-out artist, where he contracts myopia from keeping his eyes glued to the drawing board. Leaves the job after two years with a pair of glasses as a memento.
Observes and sketches from his window in Bambang a bag lady/madwoman/scavenger named Sabel. To him she is a symbol of dislocation, despair& isolation – the personification of human dignity threatened by circumstances. Undergoing numerous transformations over the coming years, she becomes a landmark for every stylistic painting transition.
Adopts the contraction Bencab to avoid confusion with other painters named Cabrera.
Together with three other painters, Bal Magallona Jr., Edgar Soller, and his brother Salvador, sets up Sining, a studio / workshop / gallery on Mabini. They soon get kicked out for being three months behind in the rent.
Hired by Mirror Magazine to design Milestone, a magazine special.
Works for the Sunday Times Magazine as illustrator for three years, after which he decides to be a full-time free-lance artist.
Discovers the camera and on weekends joins photographer Romy Vitug to scour the reclamation area shantytown for subjects . From these sojourns comes his Barung-barong period.
Moves out of his parents’ home in Bambang which gives him an opportunity at solitude to germinate a new perspective. Finds more time for photographic and sketching expeditions and closer interaction with a growing circle of artists.
Joins Virgilio Aviado and Marciano Galang in a three-man show at the Art Association of the Philippines’ (AAP) Gallery, an alliance that will be repeated in two other exhibitions in the next twenty years.
At age 24, holds his first solo exhibition of oil and acrylic paintings at the Indigo Gallery in Mabini which he establishes with brother Salvador and friends Bibsy Carballo and Francisco Navarro. Exhibiting mainly young artists and photography as an art form, it is an alternative to the other two existing galleries, Luz Gallery and Solidaridad. Introduces for the first time the character Sabel.
The gallery is next door to Indios Bravos, a popular watering hole of artists and writers where he forges friendships with the likes of Nick Joaquin, Leo Benesa, Virginia Moreno, Larry Francia and Betsy Romualdez, and meets the visiting English writer Caroline Kennedy, who will later become his wife.
Garners three awards at the 20th AAP Annual Exhibition and Competition in the Photography category: First Prize for Yerro, Second Prize for Manok, and Honorable Mention for Pader.
Joins the Saturday Group in Exhibition of Nudes, at the Solidaridad Galleries. It is the first exhibition in Manila totally devoted to the nude figure.
Discovered by Arturo Luz who includes him in the exhibition Young Artists 1968, an annual event at The Luz Gallery in Manila which showcases young talents.
Has his second solo show at the same gallery which formally launches his artistic career. Exhibits sixty acrylic paintings with Sabel, scavengers, workers, esteros (estuaries) as subjects.
Participates in the Tokyo Biennale in Japan.
Leaves the Philippines for the first time to represent the country at the renowned VI Paris Biennale, together with Virgilio Aviado and Lamberto Hechanova, with a set of hard-edged, spray-painted, abstract oil paintings. Also travels through Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Switzerland, Italy before going on to London where he marries his English fiancée.
Settles in London to raise a family. Sells oriental antiques at the Chelsea flea market to supplement his income.
Takes special studies in printmaking at the Chelsea School of Arts in London.
Exhibits with Rocio Urquijo and Virgilio Aviado at the gallery Sala Honda in Cuenca, Spain.
Noticed by English actress Glenda Jackson who buys eight of his paintings and invites him to exhibit at her husband’s gallery. Paintings & Drawings at the Room Gallery in London is his fourth solo show; his first outside the Philippines.
Chosen one of Thirteen Artists, a recognition given by the Cultural Center of the Philippines to “the country’s most active, most aggressively ambitious talents…who have gained considerable maturity and recognition…a new generation (of artists) that promises to dominate Philippine art of the seventies.” It is the first batch of thirteen awardees in what will eventually become a periodic tribute.
Exhibits Paintings, Drawings, Prints, at the Clytie Jessop Gallery, London.
A turning point in his work is his discovery of rare Filipiniana prints and photographs in London’s antiquarian bookshops which inspire him to start Larawan, a series of sepia-toned acrylic. paintings based on colonial iconography which portray a visual conceptualization of the past in relation to present issues.
After various exhibitions in London and other European cities, exhibits Larawan at The Luz Gallery, a homecoming exhibition which wins him critical acclaim and becomes a milestone in modern Philippine painting. It also establishes the young artist as a major influence among his peers.
Exhibits at the Cultural Center of the Philippines a series of paintings revolving around a theme of two old photographs: one of a bandit and the other of a gentleman.
Moves back to London after living two years in the Philippines. Away from the repressive martial law regime of President Marcos, produces works with strong political commentary.
Takes special studies in sculpture and life class at the Camden Arts Centre.
Marks his most productive period of printmaking when he gets his own etching press. Exhibits Paintings & Prints, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
Exhibits Pintura, Dibujo, Grabado at Galeria Belarca in Bogota, Colombia. Travels on to Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca in Peru.
Visits Manila briefly with a show Filipinas Ni Bencab at the University of the Philippines’ Faculty Center.
Visits Dubrovnik in Yugoslavia.
Shows Larawan II: The Filipino Abroad at The Luz Gallery, an off-shoot of the first Larawan exhibition. This time the paintings are visual diaries of Filipino migrants, expatriates and exiles, exploring themes of cultural alienation and spiritual distancing. The watercolor, gouache and collage paintings and prints are more colorful than the previous Larawan.
Exhibits drawings, prints and sculpture in Bencab’s Five Years Of Life Class at Sining Kamalig in Manila.
Holds two solo exhibitions in London, one at the Chastenet European Art Centre, and another at Camden Arts Centre where he exhibits In A Life Class, a collection of drawings.
Joins Summer Show, a group exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in London.
Rediscovers oil as a medium and paints A Page From An Officer’s Diary, a montage of images of the Philippine-American war at the turn-of-the-century. The large painting is part of Bencab: New Works In Oil shown at The Luz Gallery.
Exhibits Prints & Drawings at Galeria Norai in Mallorca, Spain.
Joins Nena Saguil, Macario Vitalis and Ofelia Gelvezon-Tequi in an exhibition Six Artistes Contemporains Philippins en Europe at the Academie Diplomatique Internationale in Paris.
Holds a ten-year retrospective exhibition of prints in Ben Cabrera Etchings: 1970-1980 at the Museum of Philippine Art which is accompanied by a book of the same title, written by Cid Reyes.
Commissioned to do thirteen etchings portraying different individuals in Philippine society, for a book, Being Filipino.
Embarks in a new direction painting images of Japanese women – an influence by the 19th century Japanese printmaker Hokusai. His brushstrokes are freer; his lines more flowing and uninterrupted.
Exhibits a new series of colorful drawings Punks at the Tricycle Theater Gallery in London, which he co-curates.
Joins Five Filipino Artists (with Cesar Legaspi, Ang Kiukok, Mauro Malang & Ramon Gaston) at the Wraxall Gallery in London.
Shows his Punk drawings at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Exhibits Etchings by Ben Cabrera at the Glasgow Print Studio Gallery in Scotland.
Collaborates with a Chinese dancer in London to create Improvisation Series, brush drawings of of her dance routine sequence, exhibited and performed at the October Gallery.
Travels to Hawaii for Being Filipino: Paintings, Prints & Drawings, a major 12-year retrospective exhibition at the Focus Gallery of the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
Exhibits Recent Works at the October Gallery in London. Part of the show is Two Filipinas In The Era Of Multinationals, a caricature of two women in turn-of-the-century costume – one wearing a Walkman, the other carrying a television set and holding a Big Mac. It is a startling contrast of pride in age-old culture and the trappings of American consumerism – a commentary on conservative attitudes that have not changed despite the age of technology.
Joins Four Filipino Artists, a group exhibition at the Chelsea Town Hall in London.
After his divorce, returns to the Philippines in time to be a part of the EDSA people-power revolution which topples the regime of President Marcos and, consistent with his being a chronicler of events, paints a second version of Two Filipinas… This time, in EDSA Event, the two women are standing in a rain of yellow confetti.
Selected Works at the Lopez Museum Memorial Gallery is a homecoming exhibition – a mini-retrospective focusing on the recent EDSA revolt. Piglas: Art At The Crossroads, a group exhibition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, also celebrates the event.
Chooses to settle in Baguio, a mountain city with a growing community of artists and a climate that reminds him of London. Builds his studio in a populated part of the city where he is never short of subject matter for his work.
Documents the Cordillera insurgency in a set of drawings done in situ.
Discovers and works on handmade paper.
Helps to establish the Baguio Arts Guild (BAG) together with other Baguio-based artists Santiago Bose, Roberto Villanueva, Kidlat Tahimik, etc.
Forms part of Artists For Peace at the Museum of Philippine Art.
Travels to Canada for the Philippine Printmakers Show at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, a three-man exhibition which later travels to other Canadian cities.
Joins Virgilio Aviado and Michael J. Parsons in Paperworks at the Finale Art File in Manila.
Exhibits Recent Works at the October Gallery in London, including America Is In The Heart, a large painting in oil. It is inspired by Carlos Bulosan’s autobiography which describes the racial discrimination against Filipinos in the United States.
Receives the Kalinangan (Cultural) Award For Painting from the Mayor of the City of Manila on the occasion of its founding day.
Joins Phyllis Zaballero in Lukisan Pilipina (Philippine Painting) at the National Museum in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Participates in the 1st Baguio Arts Festival with a 4 x 12 foot painting, People Waiting.
Greatly affected by the earthquake that devastates Baguio, joins other members of the BAG in initiating Art Aid, a healing art workshop for traumatized children. They also organize Artquake, a fund-raising art auction.
Travels to New York for a solo exhibition at the Chuck Levithan Gallery in Soho entitled “Aftermath” – his impressions of the effects of the earthquake and other calamities.
Joins other artists and book designers in the exhibition Book Art at The Luz Gallery.
Executes the stage design for choreographer Enrico Labayen’s Sabel, a dance interpretation of his favorite subject, portrayed by Agnes Locsin in her final performance as a dancer. Paints a large diptych Studies of Sabel, each 9 × 5 feet, which is used as backdrop during the performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Elected President of Baguio Arts Guild and leads the group in their vision and mission, with workshops and regional shows. They exhibit The Best of B.A.G. at the Alliance Francaise in Manila.
Participates in Il Sud Del Mondo: l’Altra Arte Contemporanea, The Third World & Beyond: An International Confrontation of Contemporary Artists at the Museum of Italy in Marsala, Italy, and New Age, New Trends, New Prints, a graphics exhibition at the Alliance Francaise in Manila.
Receives the Gawad CCP Para Sa Sining (CCP Award For The Arts) for Visual Arts, awarded by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), “for his paintings and prints which offer valuable insights into the Filipinos’ past and present and which exemplify innovative techniques and the highest artistry; and for his leadership in artists’ organizations”.
Joins Ofelia Gelvezon-Tequi and Claude Tayag in an exhibition Three Filipino Artists at the Philippine Embassy Exhibition Hall in Beijing, China.
Exhibits large works in Recent Paintings at The Luz Gallery, including the series Variations On Sabel.
Participates in the 7th Asian International Art Exhibition at the Merdeka Building in Bandung, Indonesia, and the succeeding annual shows with the same group, in Fukuoka, Taiwan, Singapore, Manila, Macau and Kuala Lumpur.
As Chairman of the 4th Baguio Arts Festival, puts Baguio on the map of global art, with international artists participating in art exhibitions, installations, performances, music and dance.
Travels to Singapore for Art Philippines: A Celebration, a group exhibition at the Empress Place Museum, with his entry Sabel, a large triptych.
Exhibits 101 Drawings at The Luz Gallery, including a 20-foot long drawing, Pinoy Nuances.
Receives the Most Outstanding Kapampangan for Arts & Culture (Painting) Award from Philippine President Ramos on Pampanga Day, “for bringing honor to the people and province of Pampanga”, his native province.
Participates in Art Line & Strokes: A Painting & Print Exhibition Of Contemporary Filipino Visual Artists held at the Hong Kong Visual Art Centre and the China Club in Hong Kong.
Chosen to be featured artist for the Philippines in the exhibition Asian Modernism: Diverse Development In Indonesia, the Philippines, & Thailand at the Japan Foundation Forum in Tokyo, which travels the succeeding year to Bangkok, Manila, and Jakarta. Visits the Zen gardens in Kyoto.
Travels to Hanoi, Vietnam.
Holds a solo exhibition at the Art Center, SM Megamall in Manila entitled Bencab’s Rock Sessions, featuring seventy pastel portraits of Filipino alternative musicians drawn from life. The drawings are published in a book of the same title, with an essay on the history of Filipino rock by Eric S. Caruncho
Creates a stir when he exhibits Portrait, a large portrait of Flor Contemplation (a Filipina who was hanged in a Singapore prison) at the 10th Asian International Art Exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore. The painting is later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Manila & is now part of their permanent collection.
Forms part of the exhibition Modernity & Beyond at the Singapore Art Museum and joins the Saturday Group in Urban Attitudes at the Art Center, SM Megamall.
Commissioned to illustrate the book El Indio Bravo: The Story of Jose Rizal, a biography of the national hero written by his grand-niece Asuncion Lopez-Rizal Bantug, in celebration of the centennial of Rizal’s death. The drawings are exhibited at The Luz Gallery.
Envisages & helps set-up Tam-awan Village in Baguio for the preservation of Cordillera culture & traditions. It is a cultural preserve & living museum showcasing authentic traditional Ifugao huts in a replication of their original setting in the Cordilleras. The Tam-awan Village group also adopts an abandoned rice terrace in Ifugao, restores and rehabilitates it so that it now produces rice, and encourages the revival of traditional planting and harvest rituals.
Chosen by the ASEAN Business Forum to receive the ASEAN Achievement Award for Visual & Performing Arts at the 5th ASEAN Achievement Awards in Jakarta – a recognition and tribute given to outstanding ASEAN individuals in their respective fields of endeavor.
Receives the Outstanding Citizen of Baguio Award for Arts from the Mayor of Baguio, his adoptive city, on its 88th Foundation Day.
Participates in the 2nd Taegu-Asia Arts Exhibition at the Cultural Center of Taegu, South Korea.
Experiments with a copying machine and, with the support of the Fuji Xerox Corporation, exhibits xerox art in Images Of The Cordillera at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
Collaborates with five other Southeast-Asian artists in a ten-day workshop entitled Urbanisation held in Bandung, Indonesia.
Joins the group exhibition Bayan at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
In celebration of the Philippine’s centennial of independence, exhibits Larawan III: The Filipina ca. 1898 at The Luz Gallery.
Exhibits Heroes Of The Past, a 5 × 10-foot drawing on handmade paper at Alab Ng Puso, a Philippine centennial group show at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
Travels to at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to exhibit The Filipina ca. 1898 at the Featherstone Meetinghouse For The Arts.
Works on large commissions, mostly based on dance movements.
Builds a larger studio and workshop in a quieter section of Baguio which houses a growing collection of his various interests, mainly: primitive wooden sculptures and functional objects from the Cordillera region; early maps, prints, books & postcards on the Philippines; paintings, prints and sculptures by emerging Filipino artists. An oriental garden showcases a bonsai collection, a hobby he took up while living in London
Creates his largest work yet: Images of the Past, a 9.5 × 7.5 foot painting commissioned for the lobby of the Rizal Tower of Rockwell Land Corporation’s high-rise complex.
Travels to Europe to track down and document his paintings in private collections for a book on his lifetime work.
A 1983 oil painting, Waiting For The Monsoon, is included for the first time at the Christie’s Singapore auction of Southeast Asian Paintings.
Exhibits large paintings, Larawan – Portraits from the Past, at the Plum Blossoms Gallery at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
Inaugurates the Village Gallery in Tam-awan Village, Baguio, with an exhibition of paintings on handmade paper.
Spends a month in Bali, Indonesia, as artist-in-residence with Valentine Willie, a Malaysian art dealer who has just opened a gallery in Ubud. Sketches local characters for an exhibition at Valentine Willie Fine Art at The Chedi.
With Virgilio Aviado, co-edits the visuals for a book Eros Pinoy, an anthology of erotic Filipino art and poetry. Co-curates an accompanying exhibition of erotic paintings at the Art Center.
Exhibits Homage to Sabel at The Luz Gallery on his 60th birthday. The entire exhibition of paintings is dedicated to Sabel, his most enduring image.
Bencab, the book, is published by his biggest collectors, Manuel & Maritess Lopez.
In celebration of Ayala Corporation’s 170th anniversary, is invited to do a portraiture demonstration at the Ayala Museum.
Exhibits Works on Paper at Pinto Art Gallery in Antipolo, Philippines.
Invited by the Singapore Tyler Print Institute to join their Visiting Artists Programme as artist-in residence for one month working on large-scale prints & paperpulp painting.
Exhibits Bencab: Impressions at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, the complete production of his residency there. The collection is then brought to Manila and is exhibited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines as Bencab on Paper: Prints & Paper Pulp Paintings.
Conferred the Order of National Artist for Visual Arts by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacañang Palace