Paul John Cabanalan sees the world through the eyes of a child. For this ‘naive genius’ it has been one thing after another after winning the grand prize of Metrobank’s 2017 Art and Design excellence award. The award ushered him into another world that is the Contemporary art scene and within a few months, Paul John found himself entering a new life so different from the one he had back in their farm in Brgy. Dorog, Leon in Western Iloilo.
This transition is the take-off point for XperiMental, the culminating exhibit for his residency at the Artletics studio in Dasmarinas, Cavite. In XperiMental he tells the ‘story of green’ the color of spring, rebirth and fresh beginnings through highly-textured map-like paintings. He narrates his artistic journey that started in his hometown Dorog, an idyllic sanctuary filled with flowers, butterflies, trees, rivers and lakes. The “X” here is used to mark the genesis of his travels as well as the treasure he’s looking for, like a child plotting his adventures and charting the path he is making for himself.
Play is integral to Paul John’s process. His works have an uninhibited innocence to them and he shares a refreshing sense of wonder to the viewer. Paul John creates magical playgrounds where the mundane, the mythical and the superstitious mingle. He integrates this playfulness with his architectural training by employing a structured process to his seemingly random compositions. First, he selects a color theme for the series, then he divides his canvases into spaces then goes on to paint his landscapes and figures in layers mimicking architectural blueprints depicting the different sections of the building plan.
Ever the quiet observer, he takes in details from his surroundings and records them on his canvases with a candid even impish simplicity. You see this in 22 Narra (Oil on Canvas, 40in x 80in) a group portrait and snapshot of the house in 22 Narra, his studio residence for 3 months where he depicts his housemates the Garibay family and their pets going through their daily routines. A nostalgia for childhood days permeate his imagery. This loving sentimentality shines brightly in his portrayal of his sister in a lush palace garden surrounded by a fish-filled moat in Princess (Oil on Canvas, 48in x 36in).
He combines a bird’s eye-view to an aerial perspective like medieval paintings or a child-drawn map populated with characters in works such as XperiMental Worlds (Oil on Canvas, 48in x 72in) and the Mind Mapping series 1, 2 and 3 (Oil on Canvas, 24in x 18in). His paintings make the viewer feel like a whimsical deity looking down at his creation, or a player of a digital role-playing game looking at the ever-expanding map of his territory’s terrain.
Paul John’s maps reveal a belief and a surrender to an unfolding divine plan, but at the same time, reflect a playful adventurousness eager to explore and take on the next challenge. He turns to painting to process his jumbled ruminations into tangible terrains and make sense of his place in the world and the changes coming his way. His maps become treasures themselves preserving precious memories, sealing secret fantasies and plotting his own path moving forward.