Lean Reboja: The monsters in his head

Ever since I got interested and started documenting street art in Cebu, the playful and colorful street mural works of the artist Lean Reboja has always captivated me. From seeing his Grandmama’s Fish (2017) and DreamCloud (2017) around the city, I’ve been keeping tabs of his work, not only by hunting down his other murals around Cebu City but also bought one of his art as well as visited his shows. I got in touch with him recently and below is the Q&A with the artist.


Lean Reboja
Lean Reboja below his work at the Elicon House

Stan Cabigas (SC): Can you tell me about yourself, a short background of you.

Lean Reboja (LR): I took up Fine Arts Major in Studio Arts at the University of the Philippines (Cebu) and graduated last April 2013. Born from Davao but based in Cebu since 1999. I am a full time visual artist and I usually do paintings, drawings and digital illustrations.

SC: How did you start your art? What prompted you to pursue it?

LR: As a child, I really love to draw. I got my motivation from my older cousins who often boast that they draw very good landscapes and space shuttles. I tried imitating them because i got really envious with their skills. Coupled with the love for cartoons and pop culture characters, I tried to improve and draw a lot for fun. By high school I wanted to try medical courses (nursing then doctor) but last minute plot twist, my mother pitched me the idea if I want to try Fine Arts in UP Cebu. I did. And never looked back. No regrets.

SC: What kind of work did you do after graduation?

LR: I gravitated on dreamlike, pop surreal imagery. I usually executed my artforms through paintings, drawings and digital illustrations.

SC: How do you describe your current art? Why monsters? What is the background story?

LR: I describe it as an autobiographic, dreamlike imagery. It is mixed and intertwined with my personal experiences and emotions and also mirroring the human tendencies and the endurance of the human spirit. I use monsters or bizarre creatures to relay my messages, usually with a sense of symbolism and metaphors.

SC: Who influenced and inspired you? Local and/or international artist?

LR: I really love the works of Rodel Tapaya, Jonathan Wayshak and Hieronymus Bosch.

Leanderthal
One of the artist’s murals inside Elicon House

SC: Can you tell me about your work at the Elicon House? When was this done, how did it came about? Were you given free reign to decide what to execute? Is there a story behind the theme?

LR: This was a fun project to begin with. I am a good friend with the owner, Edna Lee. She gave me the artistic freedom to play with the hotel’s walls. As long as the concept discusses about nature conservation and has a flora and fauna vibes to it. She also gave me the chance to include my characters as part of the storytelling. The project was done for a month in 2017. (I featured Lean’s murals at Elicon House with more photos at my travel blog, langyaw.com.)

SC: How is it to be an artist in where you’re based? And how was the reaction from the market?

LR: Its really difficult in terms of the financial aspect but the personal satisfaction of accomplishing something or finishing a piece of art is truly priceless. I am just continuing to do my art even though sales may be scarce at times. Just keep creating art. Fortunately, collectors from Luzon and Visayas are now recognizing  and started collecting my works.

Lean Reboja
Lean Reboja, left, moderating an Artists’s Talk. Fellow artist John Villoria, right.

SC: Can you talk about you and the Cebu community of artists? 

LR: The artist community here in Cebu is really intact. We are mostly acquainted with one another and meet most of the time at art events. The Cebuano art community is really friendly, supportive, very talented and quite fun to get along with.

SC: How are you in this pandemic and how are you coping?  

LR: Aside from the physical distancing, the news and the negativity of how the government handles this situation is quite distressing and taking a hard toll on my mental health. I tend to release these negativity through my artworks. I am on my social media hiatus right now but I will be releasing my works probably this month (August). All my upcoming shows have been cancelled but I still continue creating art, show or now show. For the sake of my sanity and also to serve as a documentation for this tough and trying times.

Lean Reboja
Ambitious Beasts, 2017 by Lean Reboja. Acrylic on canvas. 122×244 cm, diptych. Photo from the artist.

SC: To date, what work are you most proud of, or most important to you since you started? And why? what is its significance to you as an artist?

LR: I have many works that I like but Ambitious Beasts, 2017 (photo above) is my favorite. This is the work that led me to my artistic approach up to this day.

SC: I remember you signing your works as Leanderthal. Can you tell me about this one?

LR: I derived it from the word Neanderthal and changed the first letter to L. I used it to somehow represent myself. To impart storytelling in relation to human experiences or tendencies. I’m amused with how it sounds and its longer than my name. It’s also my moniker that I used since college, 2012.

SC: I saw your Facebook post about your annual habit, now on its 5th year. What is this and how did it come about?

LR: This is an annual habit as a way to check my sanity and energy. Keeping myself busy and do works without limiting myself on what I want to work on. The series is more on personal emotions or human behavior or tendencies, personified into bizarre creatures or characters. This year, its more on personal touch but mirroring the current status of our country and the world. It’s a bit darker in approach and somehow going back to my techniques from highschool and college.

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LEANDERTHAL, 2016 Sunset Drive

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DreamCloud (2016)
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LEANDERTHAL, 2017 MC Briones St

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Street mural in Mandaue City, 2017
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LEANDERTHAL X SALTYCHILD, 2017 Pardo

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Grandmama’s Fish (2017), collab with SaltyChild

You can check out Lean Reboja’s amazing work at his Instagram profile. Message him if you you’re interested with his works.

I’ve been documenting street art in Cebu, around the Philippines and in the countries I’ve visited since January 2018 and you can check out my Instagram profile, LangyawStreet.