Drummer Takes It Easel

Leo Cunanan and his mentor, SYM (Photo courtesy of Leo Cunanan)

Leo Cunanan and his mentor, SYM (Photo courtesy of Leo Cunanan)

Leonardo Orpilla Cunanan Jr. has always loved music and he was a drummer in bands for many years. But somehow his life became more interesting when he found the world of visual art. Now, he is an established visual artist in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and is enjoying every minute of it.

Cunanan spent his childhood in the Philippines, where imagination was encouraged. He remembers playing with his friends without relying on any toy to have fun. His father taught him to draw a face.  And at six years old, he listened to the first record of the Beatles on his new turntable.

Music has always been part of his life. “I enjoyed banging spoons on the wall until my father brought back a little drum set from Japan when I was six,” he recalls. When he was a teenager in Vancouver, he took up drum lessons and started a band called The Echoes with his high-school friend Bong Bacani. When he later joined another band Butch Jularbal, an extraordinary musician, saw his potential and asked him to be his drummer. Along with bass player Jun Clement, he joined Jularbal’s traveling music projects in Western Canada. The band, Butch and the Sundance Kids, played professionally from 1985 to 1991.

In 2005 Cunanan joined an original band with Monica Gregory and Joel Wyttenbach. They cut their first album in 2012 entitled Beautiful Disorientation, which is available on iTunes. They played many clubs in Vancouver to promote their album.

Cunanan had to quit playing in the band because he became involved in Dahong Pilipino, the first and only print and online Filipino directory in British Columbia. Founded by his father, Leo Cunanan Sr., the directory’s objective is to serve as a guide for newly arrived immigrants and Filipino Canadians. It also has a website,  www.dahongpilipino, which caters to Filipinos in Canada.

Cunanan’s direction in life changed when his father introduced him to Sofronio Y. Mendoza or SYM. The Philippines’ leading impressionist, he was the founder of Dimasalang I and Dimasalang II Artists Groups in the Philippines.  He was eventually the founder and mentor of the Dimasalang III International Artist Group, which is based in Vancouver. Governed by a board of directors, it is dedicated to promote awareness of contemporary arts and culture in the community. It is important to note that Cunanan is the new president of theDimasalang III International Artist Group.

SYM taught and inspired Cunanan to become a visual artist. He instilled in him “the importance of gaining understanding and knowledge of the basic concepts or fundamentals of art to achieve one’s vision.” Cunanan works with mostly charcoal and pastel, starting by finalizing the drawing first. Then, he works on it portion by portion. “I like to use a blending stump,” he describes, “to get different variations of tones that gradually blend together as one. Then, I use pure charcoal or color for definitions to finish the painting.”

How does he get his inspirations? He carefully studies the works of masters of art, he says. Life experiences and people are also important because of how they have helped mold him as a person and an artist.  He also acknowledges serendipity, especially mistakes he committed, which actually enhanced his artworks. “To repeat those mistakes without ruining my work is a challenge,” he jokes.

Boy’s Best Friend is a memorable work because he put a lot into it, and he learned tremendously from the experience. Melissa (third prize, The Federation of Canadian Artists’ Autumn Salon 2013) is the first portrait of his four children. And Wine and Fruit Medley (award of excellence, The Federation of Canadian Artists’ Still Life 2013) was his first submission as a new member of the Federation of Canadian Artists to the group’s still-life show.

Boy's Best Friend, Pastel, 19.5" x 25.5", Anna Maramba collection, Exhibited in 2013 juried Annual International Representational Show (AIRS) "Special because it was a struggle, learning experience in art and accepted to exhibit for an international show." - Cunanan

Boy's Best Friend, Pastel, 19.5" x 25.5", Anna Maramba collection, Exhibited in 2013 juried Annual International Representational Show (AIRS) "Special because it was a struggle, learning experience in art and accepted to exhibit for an international show." - Cunanan

Third place award winner for my first portrait of my four children starting with Melissa. The colored version was also accepted for an international show and was purchased by Cathie Sessions (picture attached with Jack Tearne, another collector of my work). Melissa, 2015, charcoal,19" x 25", Third Place winner, Federation of Canadian Artists' 2015 Autumn Salon Artist's collection

Third place award winner for my first portrait of my four children starting with Melissa. The colored version was also accepted for an international show and was purchased by Cathie Sessions (picture attached with Jack Tearne, another collector of my work). Melissa, 2015, charcoal,19" x 25", Third Place winner, Federation of Canadian Artists' 2015 Autumn Salon Artist's collection

Leonardo Orpilla Cunanan Jr. became a successful visual artist beyond his wildest dreams.  He worked very hard, and he had a one-of-a-kind teacher, SYM, who helped him achieve excellence.  His camaraderie with other Filipino-Canadian artists has also enhanced his creativity.

Life is indeed a wonder of wonders. To him, the greatest honor is when people appreciate and purchase his artworks to display in their homes.  “Now, that’s very fulfilling!” he confides.

Leonardo Orpilla Cunanan Jr. can be reached at leo@leocunanan.com.


Rey E. de la Cruz

Rey E. de la Cruz

Rey E. de la Cruz, Ed.D., Positively FIlipino Correspondent, writes from Chicagoland when he is not loving the arts and traveling. He is the author of the children’s book, Ballesteros on My Mind: My Hometown in the Philippines, which also has Ilocano, Spanish, and Tagalog versions.


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