Slowing down with... Bjorn Calleja

A short interview with artist Bjorn Calleja.

Slowing down with... Bjorn Calleja

(above, excerpt of "goobledygook (after Hieronymus Bosch) 2018" by Bjorn Calleja)

In a seemingly Quixote-worthy quest to expand the reach of art into every corner of our heres and nows, I would like to know more about artists whose work I have found interesting. "I am I and my circumstance", said José Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher. Without the circumstances, the context, we cannot understand. Let's delve in.

Today we have Bjorn Calleja with us (Twitter, Instagram, artworks at Hicetnunc). I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I have. Maraming salamat, Bjorn!

Q: What is your background?
A: I am a visual artist from Manila, Philippines. I work primarily with paintings, using oil paints, acrylics and spray paint on canvas, I also make sculptural works and installations, because certain ideas would need them, also because I just need to get my hands away from painting sometimes. I am also trying to incorporate animation in my work, I’m really bad at it though. I earned my advertising BFA from Far Eastern University in 2004, where I was also a part-time lecturer for a year (2016). Aside from doing exhibitions, my early career involved corporate jobs and stints as a graphic designer.

I grew up in Sampaloc, Manila, a district in downtown Manila known for its universities, cheap eateries, and a flower market, a melting pot culture from diverse group of people from different social status and regions in the Philippines who moved there for either work or studying. I spent most of my teenage years hanging out with older people from the streets, I believe this informed me most about the real world urban situations, community, poverty, sex, drugs, violence and hustling, which makes life really beautiful.  I could also say that this upbringing was significant in how I developed a fascination with the ways people affect other people, a society, or the world at large, despite how one’s actions and decisions as individuals can often seem small and insignificant, which I believe is the dialogue that I am attempting to open, the play on scale, the choreography of perceiving, and how the miniscule characters populating my paintings affects the entirety of the image.

Q: How did you get into art?
A: I was fond of drawing as a kid, early influences were cartoons and comic books, It wasn’t until I was at the university when I found out I could be a painter, I used to participate in painting competitions during that time, this was also the time where I was being drawn ito the Manila art community, which was the real prize for me.

Q: Is it your main activity?
A: For the past 5 years I have been full time with it, before that were the corporate jobs, graphic design, I ran a studio for a few years, and teaching.

Q: Which are your artistic influences?
I wouldn’t have started painting if it wasn’t for James Ensor, I love the energy of his paintings. Hieronymous Bosch I also find very interesting. I am a fan of art and art history, so I think a lot of artists have been very influential in my work. When I was starting, I was a fan of the lowbrow art scene, artists such as Mark Ryden, Todd Schorr, Jeff Sotto, Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murakami, and the Beautiful Losers were all very inspiring to me. The later years introduced me to the works of Jonathan Meese, Tal R, Anselm Kiefer, Peter Doig, Jules Di Balincourt, Nicole Eisenman, and so many more, I try to steal a little bit from everyone.

Q: What has the art NFT movement meant to you? Has it changed your art practice?
A: This is all new to me, I only started minting for a month because a friend (@cosmiclewser) introduced me to Clean NFTs. I’ve been creating my animations for sometime now, and the movement has given me a platform for the said animations, initially I was just posting them in Instagram. I believe it could open so much possibilities for my art practice, but my technical knowledge is very limited compared to what a lot of the artists in the community are doing, I only have my brush and my phone as tools.

Q: Does it enable you to do something that you couldn't do before?
A: I did my first collaboration work with fellow Filipino cyberpunk photographer @luciusfelimus, which is the first work that I produced that is intended to be a digital work. I believe that there is no roof to what is happening within the NFT community, hopefully I can evolve my work also, but I like where me and my work is at within the digital sphere.

Q: Would you like to highlight any of your works?
A: Nothing really specific, you may check out my Instagram (@osongkalye) (a note from Marcelo: do check it out!)

Q: Any story you'd like to tell us around any piece?
A: Nothing really specific about any piece, but I am in love with the concept of time and space within the animation and the painting, how an image occupies a certain space within the painting and a specific time within the animation. Also most of my animations are about transformation, I relate them with my personal spiritual journey and how the landscapes affects one’s perception of the world.

Q: Which NFT platforms are you using? Both as an artist and as a collector or passerby.
A: I tried minting one CryptoArt in when I got verified, but I am thinking of staying with hic et nunc, just because here is space and now is time.

Q: What would you like to see in the platforms you use in the future?
A: I would rather ask that to the other artists who know about this better. But maybe a couple of sales here and there would be great.

Q: Would you be interested in having some kind of support towards, e.g., promotion, artists discovery, the possibility of working with curators, functionalities to make collaboration and debate easier? Etc.
A: I would love that. I believe the movement is young, especially at HEN, I can see it structuring itself into a form of a digital art world in the future, maybe factions within the community will start to evolve into movements, I just hope that it wouldn’t be as elitist and exclusive as the real art world is.

Q: Any thoughts regarding the underlying decentralized nature of Hic Et Nunc and other NFT marketplaces?
A: Freedom is only good until it gets abused.

Q: Any other artist whose work you'd like to recommend?
A: There are so many good ones. I like to share the light with my fellow Filipinos, @cosmiclewser @grmepls @UlapGlitch @Onlyocean1 @aiya_and @sintang_ligalig @Salawaki_3000 @apolstamaria @oohgaga_ @TeamManila @OoakosiM @daydreampipelne @asshulz @_loopymoon @AriasJopet

Q: Any closing thoughts?
A: Also some friends I met within the space: @rare_force1 @OriginalGoldCat @Thisisarobot2 @peterjavidpour @vjthor @berkgedik @presstube @bruce_kolown @ilan_katin @kaanbilaloglu @wgeary @GuysWily and so many more.