At his first solo exhibit, all 20 of Teo’s works were sold out even before the gallery unveiled them.
For artist Teo Cacnio, it feels like his whole life has been an internship with a master sculptor. Until it led up to this moment in early September when the doors of Leon Gallery International opened and revealed his first solo exhibit “TeO.”
Teo’s art education began, quite literally, when he was born. The son of artist Michael Cacnio, Teo grew up watching his father melt brass in their garage and form it into sculptures; he grew up with the smell of art materials. You can imagine him sitting on a stool and watching art being created in front of his eyes and holding in his little hands all the tools that made art.
His parents took him to art galleries and bought him art books, and these opened his mind to the endless possibilities of art and what he wanted to do in this world. Most especially, he was influenced by Henry Moore and his philosophy that art “doesn’t represent nature but rather expresses it.”
“Moore is my hero,” Teo says. “Sculpture is not about getting the shape of something, but about getting the shape that resonates.”
The rest of his heroes are modern artists including Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon. His modernist tendencies, he says, have become a source of lighthearted arguments with his dad—most especially the question “What is art”—with whom he now shares a studio in their Quezon City home.
When Teo was 17, he felt that he was at a crossroads. Would he forever be dabbling in art, playing at the foothills, or would he—like two Cacnio generations before him—make it his life’s work, his “profession”? Art runs in his blood and so it was almost inevitable that he would take up Fine Arts in UP Diliman, where last year he met his classmates for the first time since his batch began the course during the pandemic.
20 for 20
The 20 works that 20-year-old Teo chose for his exhibit are abstract sculptures—freestanding and wall mounted—that depict his experiences as an art student and as an individual probing the depths of the human experience.
Even as he does so, or perhaps the more that he does, he realizes that he wants his art to become everything and anything to the viewer. And to himself too. He wants to explore all artforms, including performance art, music and dance.
Is there a right away to look at his art? we ask him. He says no. The only way to look at it is with questions. He wants to be asked what this or that piece is. He doesn’t find it offensive that people don’t see what his abstracts represent or if they represent anything at all. He wants to tell the story of what a particular aluminum piece is, how it fired up his imagination and in turn he made a mold of it, melted metal and then poured it in the cast.
One piece is about the traffic on EDSA, another is about worship. Another was inspired by Michelanglo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel where, in “The Creation of Adam,” God and man’s fingers reach out and almost touch.
Teo describes himself as both a technological and traditional artist. He has the tools of technology at his fingertips and like his dad, he’s a PLDT Home ambassador for art (the telco also supported his first exhibit) and he uses digital tools to his advantage.
Nowhere is this more visible than in Teo’s wall pieces. He first made abstractions on his computer, printed them with ink on a canvas and embellished the canvas with metal drippings he picked up from the floor of his studio. “I want my art to be dynamic,” he says. If people understood them a hundred percent, it kills their curiosity, he adds. The more questions his art elicits, the better he feels about himself as an artist—like he’s done his duty to provoke thoughts and challenge minds.
And, eventually, to create understanding.
On his biggest lessons he learned from his dad as a human and as an artist, Teo says, “That’s easy to answer. Number one is simple—we grew up with God. I grew up in a very Christian household. Second is when it comes to art you can’t really rush it. Art is a long term process. It’s not something you can develop in one year. My dad told me, keep on practicing, keep doing what you’re doing. One thing that I’m really inspired about is his work ethic. He works every day and that inspires me every day.”
For his first solo exhibit, all 20 of Teo’s works were sold out even before the gallery unveiled them. That’s something you don’t see every day.