Editor’s note: Like most artists, Mel Vera Cruz displays his emotions through his art. Being uprooted twice in life had a profound impact upon him — first he was from an idyllic childhood learning to love art in Quezon to the rude awakening of a 12-year old boy cast adrift in Metro Manila, and later an adult immigrant in San Francisco where he experienced insecurity and prejudice in the world of Western advertising.
Born in 1964, the University of Santo Thomas graduate in Fine Arts pulled it together and came to grips with the changes of his adopted country. He left his advertising job, and is now employed as a graphic designer, and does tattoos on the side. Happily, with the support and love of his wife and children, Vera Cruz has reached a happy balance with life and his art.
I love my day job as a graphic designer, I love my wife and two kids and I give them equal time and enthusiasm as I practice my art. I accept my imperfections because that’s the way life is. I am an illustrator, a painter, a cubist, an impressionist, a realist, a tattoo artist, graphic designer, digital artist/printer, commercial artist, reformed drug addict and alcoholic, factory worker, dental assistant, production artist, abstractionist, expressionist, modernist, conceptual and pop artist, flash artist, cartoonist, portrait artist, social realist, watercolorist, a musician, caricaturist, a cook, a son, a father, husband, brother and friend. I’m proud of it all.
I have been an artist all my life and I consider art a way of life. It’s not a profession; it’s the way I live. I’ve been drawing since before I could write and stopping never crossed my mind.
I started with a pencil when I was about 5 years old. I grew up in a remote area in the Philippines and was fascinated when I saw my older brother’s sketch of the Volkswagen beetle we used to own. I was instantly hooked. I copied Superman and Spiderman comics. I was influenced by great Filipino Komiks illustrators like Redondo, Alex Nino and Malgapo. I loved studying their drawings.
Drawing also became my refuge due to my insecurities while growing up a ‘probinsyano’ or country boy. In high school, I took graphic arts as an elective and started using watercolors, oils and acrylics. I was the school’s representative in art contests.
I was about to take up painting in college but my brother advised me not to because there was no money in it. I took up advertising instead and it worked out perfectly because the experience made me different from most artists. Nine years of advertising experience gave my art a fresh dimension. It taught me illustration, layout, and new ideas. It sharpened my conceptual abilities and I learned to use non-standard materials.
I tried going back to advertising when I emigrated to the U.S., but became frustrated because of cultural differences. I know we were taught how to be Americans back in the P.I., but my provincial self persisted. I realized I must be myself.
That realization made me happy because it was then I began to focus on my first love: painting.
I’m interested in visual culture as a dynamic process: how people are represented, how it shapes public perception, and in turn, the impact it has on individual subjective experience. It’s empowering to approach art as a process of cultural production: I’m participating in creating the culture we live in, and insofar as meaning is a function of cultural context, in my own small way through my art, I can create social change.
Through the use of humor, storytelling, and playing with stereotypes, I try to render the invisible visible, to expose the structures of domination behind the apparent naturalness of social relations. My work is, in part, about creating space from the margins in the mainstream, creating space in the culture; in a family setting, community, or mass media, allowing us to be just as we are, rather than how the dominant culture tells us to be.
I am weak, I am strong, I am ugly, I am beautiful. I am evil, I am a saint. I am humble, I have too much pride. I am selfish, I’m compassionate. I love, I hate. I’m rich, I’m poor. I feel pain, I am invincible. I have nothing, I have everything. I’m water, I am fire. ~ Mel VC