Lean Reboja’s technicolored nightmares
Artist Lean Reboja revels in surrealism
“I used to fear Troll dolls when I was a kid,” artist Lean Reboja shyly confesses when probed if he was ever frightened of monsters. But now at 26 years old, his work leans towards oddity similar to the dolls that used to scare him.
At Elicon Café, where we meet, walls are covered with murals of Reboja’s characters that, simply put, resemble monsters. The one on the ground floor features animated characters of various sizes sauntering around what seems a forest. “I’m driven by surrealism. I like [art to be] out of this world,” he says.
Reboja’s interest in art started at a young age. “I was usually scolded by my teacher because I was always drawing in class,” he recalls. He was supposed to pursue a medical degree in college, but his mother persuaded him to take up fine arts instead at the University of the Philippines-Cebu.
Here, Reboja developed his affinity for caricature. “I developed my interest in surreal characters because I didn’t want to be boxed,” he explains. While other forms of art follow certain standards of representation, caricature gives Reboja the freedom to distort reality and present a world according to his perception.
Beyond its quirky, sometimes trippy appeal, his art delves into human behavior. “Usually, my characters have a deeper story,” he says. When working on a caricature, he finds his subject’s distinct characteristics first before playing with anatomy.
But while this form of contemporary art is gaining popularity, Reboja admits, “There are those who tell me that what I do is unnatural and scary.” Still, he continues to seek inspiration in his daily experiences, as his recently concluded exhibition “Stubborn Effigy” proved. Shown at Qube Gallery in April, the exhibit had Reboja
exploring his personal struggles and translating them into eccentric pieces. They were particularly expressed through two of his works: “Passive” and “Active.” “‘Passive’ signifies my passive state where I don’t have the drive to paint,” he says of the artwork that features a caricature of himself surrounded with somnolent figures in black and white. “Active,” on the other hand, features his sixeyed portrait together with vibrant figures.
Reboja’s works are signed with his pseudonym Leanderthal, a wordplay between his name and the word Neanderthal. “It’s a fundamental stage in human evolution,” he explains. It’s also the proper term to describe the state of his characters as they continue to evolve. While his chosen art form is his response to inner struggles, caricature may also be his answer to man’s unending search for meaning. “People have different points of view,” he says. “And they are always looking for something new.”
Reboja’s works are not as quiet as he is; His canvas even sometimes seems too small to contain all of his monsters. At a glance, it’s as if they’re glaring at the viewer, and that’s when one realizes that the artist speaks without restraint through his bizarre art.
“FIREMAN” (PREVIOUS PAGE), “ACID BURNER” (ABOVE), AND “GOOD BOY” (BELOW) ARE SOME OF LEAN REBOJA’S CHARACTERS. (OPPOSITE PAGE) WORKING AS A FULL-TIME ARTIST, REBOJA BELIEVES THAT THE ART SCENE IN CEBU IS BOOMING.