BENCH MEETS Mano Gonzales


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Photography by Gabby Cantero
Produced by Paolo Lorenzana

24-year-old artist Mano Gonzales has drawn himself quite a following. His portraits reveal humanity rendered raw and in painful detail, landing him a slew of exhibits that include one held at the Picasso Hotel early this year. A recent collaboration with BJ Pascual and portraits commissioned by the likes of Isabelle Daza have gotten more people curious about the man behind the pencil.

On Instagram, Mano has piqued as much interest as the art he creates. Along with sketches that strip pop culture into personal significance, he’s racked up likes for his yoga-toned physique, cruising on his skateboard or hanging horizontally from metal framing like a muscle-bound flag on a pole. As his body of work continues to build an audience, Mano chats with B/BLOG about the creativity spurred by commuting and why inspiration and intimidation are a package deal.

So you’ve been drawing since you were a kid?

Yeah. When I was in school, my mind would always drift away. I would never listen to what the teacher’s saying. I just like creating things with my hands. Right now, I’m trying to make my own furniture—simple stools. I’m looking for a woodworking class, actually, but I can’t find a decent one online. Right now, I’m just doing things at home using my dad’s tools.

Was your dad a big influence to your art?

My dad would always sketch when I was a kid, but not people. He would sketch houses and structures. I’d say he’s a very handy guy. He would make stools for the house. He’s an engineer pero it’s something he enjoys doing on the side. He would always ask for help. At home in the province, we’d have all these machines for wood and right now, that’s where I spend my time. Last Christmas, he took me to look for old wood. We’d bring it home, cut it, and dry it. This summer, we’re planning to make stools and tables from it.

When you draw, are the characters that emerge real people or do you dream some of them up?


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When I’m at a café, I’ll start drawing. Without anything in my head, I’ll just do it. When I walk around and go to malls, I watch and see a trait or characteristic from a person and then I would remember that. So when I start drawing, I just mix everything up. Also when I listen to songs and watch movies, they give me this particular feeling, usually sad feelings. I don’t mean to do it but I’ve been told that a lot of the portraits I do are dark—it almost looks like they just finished crying.

By drawing, you have the power to create scenarios. Growing up, did you find yourself exploring your sexuality via sketching?

You go to school and your classmates would talk about sex and stuff like that, lend you CDs. That’s always a part of growing up. When you’re a visual person, you try to do it. I think that stopped when I was given a project where they asked me to draw 20 different sex positions. I was so saturated [in the material] na and like, uck, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ It was a project for Durex and it didn’t push through pero I finished everything naman.

Is there anyone you’re interested in drawing right now?

Not a celebrity, more an imaginary person. I’m really bad at drawing celebrities—that’s not the direction I’d want to go. Pero eventually, siguro when I’m Lucian Freud level na, I would draw Kate Moss or something like that. But right now, I would want to draw more strangers. Since “Humans of New York” is so in right now, maybe not. Pero people that you’d see in a public place or not notice at all. When you look at them, there’s this story that’s very compelling and that means something. The MRT is where you see apathetic faces—no emotions pero you can create so much backstory just by looking at them.

Anything you’re really looking forward to doing this summer?  

I want to do another exhibit. Maybe a solo exhibit would not be in the near future but it would be a goal. I’m exploring what else I can do, especially since I’ve met so many really creative people lately. When I hear them talk about their work, it’s 50 percent inspiring and 50 percent ma-cu-crush yung self esteem mo. I don’t feel like I’m doing enough. I want to make a show but I want people to be blown away the same way I’m being blown away by all these people I talk to.


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