Bhen Alan, 25, is a Fillipino Artist who attends UMASS Dartmouth. He was raised in the Philippines for seventeen years before emigrating to Canada. He lived there for three years until he finally moved to Wareham, Massachusetts for almost five years. Through his responses, he explains how he challenges ideas through his work and more.
Were you always creative or did you learn through trade (art class/school)?
I was living in a high-browed household where academia was a priority. I felt like I was the only creative one in the family because I was into dancing, drawing, and fashion; but I have worked hard to get where I am now, I would say I have been creative but it has been enhanced by constant practice — being in art school, surrounded by creative souls and not losing the “drive”.
What are you studying at UMASS Dartmouth?
I’m a fine arts major, concentrating in painting in UMASS Dartmouth.
When did you realize you were very creative?
I don’t have an exact date of realization, but when I took interior design in the Philippines, it opened my eyes to the world of visual arts and I thought it was my art calling to be a visual aesthete.
A question I love to ask photographers/artist is: Do you believe in the term “Artist’s Eye?” If so, what does it mean to you?
“The Artist’s Eye” – I believe in it, but it can be biased in so many ways. For me, the artist’s eye means appreciating all genres and types of art and looking beyond the picture that can transport you to a different dimension.
How much time do you spend on a piece of work? a sculpture and a painting?
Depending on it’s size and how complex the work is. Usually, a painting takes me a month or two, or even longer to get it done. A due date to finish a project is very helpful to really push me to get things done.
You’ve made a lot of self-portraits, do you consider yourself a muse?
I have used my face and body in most of my artworks because I cannot afford to hire models yet. My friends are willing to pose for me though. I use my body a lot because it is always available for me and I can manipulate it in terms of gestures and expressions. Also, all my self-portraits are about self-reflection and personal experiences that needs my body to be in it.
What is your favorite(s) piece of work?
Now that’s tricky because I like everything, Haha. Recently though, I am obsessed with the “Landscape of Gold” – a self portrait drenched in caramel because I thought I achieved the realism that I always want to achieve. In addition, the background is made with real gold leaf.
Can you explain your piece “Landscape of Gold”?
“Landscape of Gold” is really about the juxtaposition between a traditional portrait head and a non-traditional accouterment (caramel). Some of my artworks are attacks on gender binarism, and this particular artwork is showing masculinity and femininity at the same time – how the elegance and softness of the caramel syrup dripping in a masculine yet submissive head. It’s a play between gender and sensuality.
When creating a new piece, whether big or small, what inspires you to create?
Experiences are my inspiration to create, if I have felt something bad, good, depressing, and or lustful, I transform that into art. Also, my “goals” are my inspiration; when creating an artwork, I always put into mind that I am doing it to get closer to my dreams, I’m doing it because this is helping me grow and be successful – well that mindset helped me created good artworks over the years.
Is there anyone you personally look up to when it comes to your artistry ?
As an emerging artist, I am bombarded with artists that I’ve never encountered and surprisingly most of them inspire me. I do not have a specific artist that I look up to because there’s so many of them. Chuck Close, Kehinde Wiley, Mike Dargas, Rembrandt and Caravaggio to name a few.
Does your roots/environment inspire you to create ?
Yes, it does. Philippines is very rich in visual arts too; the culture itself inspires me to create artworks that reflects on personal experiences and immigration, but since I am living here in United States, which is a totally different environment than the Philippines, the context of the artworks may change.
What do you hope people can take away from your creations?
I hope I inspire people to be who they are and to not be afraid of their voices, especially the people who are in the LGBT community, to always use their voice as form of power – transform it into art and show the world who they are and what they can offer.
Do you believe that you can be your own worst critic ?
I do, I am not satisfied with what I can do now, I crave for more knowledge and experience. I feel like being your worst critic is a form of humility that is important to the industry.
Do you believe in evolving/growth when it comes to contemporary art?
I do, because the content and context of artworks should reflect to the current movement– which is contemporary art. You can still practice traditional art making and style to learn foundation and to be able to know how to execute each style, but I think emerging artists find more success when they weave a traditional art form with the contemporary.
Do you listen to music when creating a new piece or do you prefer silence?
Music is a key for me to create artworks, I need loud blasting music too. I do dance when I paint, haha!
What are your favorite songs to listen to?
I don’t have a favorite song or genre because I listen to all of them, but that also depends on my mood.
Have you ever showcased your work at any art shows? If so, where ?
Gallery X (New Bedford, MA)
“Clothing Optional/Figure X-posed” April 6 – May 1, 2016
”Black and White” June 1- June 26, 2016
“The Annual Public Hanging” August 3- August 28, 2016
”Public Hanging” July 2017
Grimshaw Gudewicz Gallery Student Juried Exhibition (Fall River, MA)
BCC Annual Juried Student Show April 2015
BCC Annual Juried Student Show April 2016
BCC Annual Juried Student Show April 2017
University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
UMASS DARTMOUTH Frederick February 2018
Historic Park Exhibition show for Frederick Douglass
Douglass Community House Portrait, Installation for his 200th Birthday (organized Center for Undisciplined Research)
(UPCOMING) New Bedford National April 4 2018
What is your favorite thing about show casing your art?
My favorite thing during artshows are the people who attend and experience the art. The exposure is great but contributing art to the community brings me joy.
Describe your work in three words:
SENSUAL, AMBITIOUS, UNGENDERED
What do you like to do when you’re not creating?
I travel or watch movies when I’m not creating.
What are your top three pet peeves?
No words of honor – people who says something for the sake of saying something but actually not doing it.
When people are late – time is everything.
People who disagrees with everything – positive thinking is a key for success and happiness.
What city would you love to visit?
I’d love to visit Tuscany, Italy. Learning their culture and arts are on my bucket list.
Your favorite food?
ALL OF THEM!!!!!! FOOOOOOOODS!
What do you have to say to those who don’t believe people can have a future pursuing art?
To the people who are denied for being an artist, just keep working quietly and let your achievements be your noise. To the people who don’t believe there’s future in art, look around you—your clothes, your house, your phone, the snack package that you’re eating, your carpet, the paint on your wall, those are all forms of that that brings beauty to everyday life. Art is everywhere, it’s surrounding you whether you like it or not. The thing that you need to do is to appreciate it and love it and be thankful for it.
Where can we keep up with your work ?
Right now I am still finishing up my website, but you can follow me on Instagram. I share my travel pictures, fashion pictures, and of course my artworks there. It is also a platform for me to announce artshows and where to find me. So, please give me a follow and i’ll follow you back.
One thought on “Bhen Alan: Studying at UMASS Dartmouth, Art Being All Around Us , & Using Art as a Form of Power.”
Thank you for a great article. The Fil-Am Community, Inc. (the Filipino-American organization of Southeastern MA) wanted to know if you’d give permission for us to reprint part of this interview in our bi-monthly newsletter. Please contact me to discuss reprint rights. Thanks!