You can take the artist out of Negros, but…

You can take the artist out of Negros, but you can’t take Negros out of the artist. For 37-year-old artist Gringo Benedicto, art has been a constant all throughout his life. Though now based on Siargao Island, he’s still a Negrense through and through. Born and bred in Bacolod City, Benedicto’s childhood years in the late 80s to the early 90s is fairly typical in that era, with video games and lots of playing outdoors with friends. It was also in those formative years that his artistry started to manifest. “As a child, I had a lot of playmates. But I also had a lot of time to myself,” he recalls. “I guess that even back then, my artist mind would be okay with just being alone and staring out into space – spacing out.”

Gringo showing his artworks.

Even in school, his art was noticed immediately as he became the go-to classmate for doing art projects. His classmates would supply the materials and he’d be the one, as if by default, assigned to creating the art.

In the early 2000s Benedicto made the move to Metro Manila for college, taking Computer Engineering at De La Salle University. He coyly explains that it’s also why he went back to Bacolod, hinting at a failed interest in the course. And after some time figuring out his next course of action, he enrolled in and graduated from University of St. La Salle’s Hospitality Management program, and later the university’s culinary program.

His post-academic years were spent in both Bacolod and backpacking through Southeast Asia. Travelling the region expanded Benedicto’s general perception of what’s outside the bubble that is Bacolod. “It helped in enriching my worldview,” he reveals, “and my creativity also, just by visiting and being in different locations and situations and cultures, and all that.”

Nowadays, Siargao is home to Gringo Benedicto. It wasn’t a perchance move; his culinary background granted him the passport to become a semi-permanent resident of the idyllic island almost a decade ago. However, Benedicto hadn’t done art professionally in those early years on the island. In fact, he never once thought that he would be a professional artist given the age-old expression that there’s no money in the arts. “But then I’ve come to realize that it does pay the bills. Unstable, but it does,” he expresses. It was Siargao’s foreign visitors that would eventually encourage him to sell his art. Upon seeing him doodling on paper, they’d stop and encourage Benedicto to sell his creations. “If you sell it in Europe, it would sell for a lot of money,” he recalls them saying. It was in those encouragements that he started harnessing his art capabilities and pushed himself more.

Gringo’s artworks being displayed.

The energetic and laid-back atmosphere of the island has been conducive to putting to paper Benedicto’s imaginations and the things he visualizes in his head. The surreal imagery of his illustrations and the vivid colors would not seem alien to an island that’s teeming with flora and fauna and foreigners. His preferred medium: pen and ink, and color on top of it. It’s what he has used for almost his whole career. It’s also what he’s most comfortable with.

Benedicto soon realized that, as an artist, he was very prolific in Siargao. By taking in the energy of the environment, he found it easy to draw. He shares that, while it’s nice in his hometown as his friends and family are there, having new people on the island is very stimulating for him. Benedicto reveals that a lot of creatives of various disciplines also come to Siargao. His circle of friends are also artists but in different fields, an architect, and a DJ among them. “It’s nice to feed off of the energy of the work ethic of people here,” he says. He articulates that he and his friends, who have diverse backgrounds, draw inspiration from each other's expertise and incorporate it into their own practices.

Siargao isn’t the only place where Gringo Benedicto toiled on his craft. In his 20s, he was immersed in Bacolod’s arts culture, and has been part of group shows and solo shows in local art spots, like House of Frida and KGB, when the two were still in operation. “The art scene is really strong, the community is really tight,” he says of Bacolod’s art landscape. “That also helped mold me into the kind of an artist I am,” he continues. He expresses that the local artists encourage each other regardless of the varying styles.

Gringo and his artworks.

Although Benedicto has spent most of his art career in Siargao, there’s a familiarity that can be seen, if we dig deep enough, in Gringo Benedicto’s illustrations. A cursory glance at the bright colors he uses on his creations reveal the vibrant colors of Bacolod’s famed MassKara Festival. Even the characters he comes up with have that certain Bacolod vibe. His characters’ facial expressions, he muses, are very chill, yet still has a recognizable grimace, as if there’s something brewing inside of them. There’s also his familiarity with his Bacolod artist friends. “We all have our own different styles, but I think we all fall under this category of ‘whimsical, dreamlike, very surreal’ kind of themes,” Benedicto illustrates.

Living in Bacolod and living in Siargao, according to Benedicto, are not too dissimilar – both are laidback, except for the sometimes-overwhelming city life in Bacolod. It’s a case of an urban lifestyle versus a beach lifestyle. Where he stays in Siargao, according to him, has a very rural vibe. It’s simple living, and he’s at home in it. Just a quick scroll through his Instagram page would be enough proof that living in Siargao has been a boon to Gringo Benedicto and his art.

Yet even with what seems like the ideal simple life on Siargao Island, he keeps coming back to his hometown of Bacolod for two reasons: family and food. It’s the classics that Gringo Benedicto keeps coming back for: cansi (a sour soup dish), KBL (a savory stew made with pigeon peas [kadyos], pork [baboy], and unripe jackfruit [langka]), and the famed Chicken Inasal (grilled chicken that’s known for its distinct flavor and aroma). “Comfort food. Food at home,” he reveals. “It’s associated with my family also. It’s when I’m with my family that I get to eat these kinds of food.” Family and food, according to Benedicto, “go hand in hand.”

Article by: John Mari Marcelo

Photos by: Gringo Benedicto

Design and Architecture

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