Jef Cablog: A Filipino Artist of the Cordilleras
As an artist, I do not limit myself to the world of letters where I am very much immersed. I also like the visual arts.
Because of this, I now and then visit Philippine museums and galleries to view the latest artworks that are on display. Though I myself am not an art collector, I simply enjoy the pleasure of appreciating the works of noted Filipino artists and the younger generation.
In August 2015, I had the chance to attend the opening of “Coexistence”, a one-man show at Galerie Francesca in SM Megamall (one of Manila’s largest shopping malls) which is a mall-cum-art center.
The featured artist was a certain Jefferson “Jef” Cawaon Cablog. I wanted to personally meet him so I sought him out among the crowd. When I finally found him, I was pleased to meet a short, thin, ponytailed fellow clad in a dark long-sleeved shirt. His simplicity and meekness so delighted me that it made me wonder if he were indeed the artist who created those nine large paintings that were hanging on the wall.
Thus, I took the opportunity at once to talk to him and get to know more about his life and works.
His early life and education
It turns out that Jef grew up in the Cordilleras, a vast mountain range in northern Luzon of the Philippines that covers several provinces (including the Mountain Province and Baguio City). The Cordilleras is inhabited by highland tribes.
Jef’s birthplace is Barlig, a town in the Mountain Province where he spent most of his childhood. Growing up, he recalls being close to nature, climbing trees, collecting wild berries, and swimming and fishing in the creeks, streams and rivers.
After his elementary education, he moved to Baguio City where he presently lives. Here, he finished high school at the Baguio City National High School, and then attended college at the University of the Philippines-Baguio campus where he pursued a fine arts course from 1998 to 2000.
Location of Baguio City where Jef lives
A botanical garden in Baguio
Barlig, Jef’s birthplace. In the foreground is lush greenery similar to the famous Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao.
As for the title of the exhibit, “Coexistence”, Jef explained to me that through his art, he hopes to champion the preservation of natural resources particularly the bodies of water. “These give life to our communities and help shape our culture.”
Each of his abstract paintings carries this explicit theme. Vital, for instance, depicts a drop of blood mixed with a drop of water. This symbolizes that all living things (represented by the drop of blood) need the pristine waters (represented by the drop of water) in order to survive.
Vital, 72 x 72 inches
In Symbiosis, the harmony among the organisms in an ecosystem is underlined. In Remission, on the other hand, signifies the capacity of nature to heal when damaged.
Another striking piece, Chapor (Ash), conveys that no living thing is constant. No matter how beautiful it is, it will eventually fade and die.
Other abstract works of Jef with strong nature messages are Biotic, Primal and Resuscitate.
Symbiosis, 48 x 60 inches
In Remission, 48 x 60 inches
Chapor (Ash), 48 x 60 inches
Resuscitate, 72 x 96 inches
Marong-Ag (Brave One), 72 x 72 inches
Likewise, the artist has well captured on canvas the physical characteristics of the Cordilleran tribesmen, as shown in Marong-Ag (Brave One) and Downstream. Quite notable in most of his human figure paintings is the somber look which seems typical of indigenous people.
As I viewed the oil paintings, I was overwhelmed by their hugeness. Jef informed me that it had taken him two months to finish one painting, the largest of which measures 72 x 96 inches.
I came close to one of them, and gently rubbed my fingers on the canvas. The paint was layered! I later learned that this is uniquely Jef’s style, as he uses a palette knife for his creations.
Stylewise, there is also a mix of Gustav Klimt, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso in his works which are rich in colors and imagery. Yet, Jef’s paintings look more realistic than the works of these abstract artists whom he admires.
Here are 2 videos showing Jef at work at his studio :
The strength of Jef’s talent has made him chalk up a string of achievements, as he has participated in numerous art exhibitions and competitions both in the Philippines and abroad.
Worth mentioning are the following:
2013 - Judge’s Honorable Mention at Salon International, International Museum of Contemporary Masters of Fine Art, Greenhouse Gallery, Texas
2013 - Finalist at Richeson 75 International Art Competition, Richeson School of Art & Gallery, Wisconsin, USA
2013 - Affordable Art Fair Singapore, F1 Pit Building, No. 1 Republic Boulevard, Singapore
2013 - Affordable Art Fair HK, Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Centre, Hong Kong
2010 - Finalist in the Metrobank Arts & Design Excellence (MADE) Competition, Manila, Philippines
His personal life
Jef’s better half is a nice lady with a unique name – Wrachelle. She takes most of his publicity photos and videos. As fate would have it, the two met each other through a common friend in one of Jef’s exhibits. After seeing each other again at one of Baguio’s artist villages, they started dating and after some time, were married in 2009.
Outside his studio, Jef enjoys cycling and playing video games.
Like other luminaries in the Philippine art scene, Jef Cablog is another byword. He has certainly stood out – and he continues to be a model for future Filipino painters to come out and shine.
This international art magazine features Jef’s works.