Woman with basket shares a definite affinity with the much celebrated Larawan series of the artist.
In the newly published book on the artist, Bencab by Krip Yuson and Cid Reyes, the Larawan series was discussed in the 'Timeline' as "1971 - A turning point in his work is his discovery of rare Filipiniana prints and photographs in London's antiquarian bookshops which inspire him to start Larawan, a series of sepia-toned acrylic paintings based on colonial iconography which portray a visual conceptualisation of the past in relation to present issues." (Krip Yuson & Cid Reyes, Bencab, Mantes Publishing Inc., Manila, 2002, p. 279).
The pivotal significance of the first Larawan exhibition is explained well in the same book "1972 - After various exhibitions in London and other European cities, exhibits Larawan at the Luz Gallery, a homecoming exhibition which wins him critical acclaim and becomes a milestone in modern Philippine painting. It also establishes the young artist as a major influence among his peers." (Ibid).
The importance of the Larawan lies very much in the fact that it defined the artist for many years. The phrase 'Album of Sorrows' (Ibid, p. 107) was coined by Cid Reyes in the discussion of Larawan. The success of this album of sad and forlorn images and expressions was very much due to the fact that they touched the sensibilities of its audience. The images of the series are not necessarily the blatant form of exploitation as portrayed by Brown brothers' burden, but could be the quiet and gentle beauty of A typical Mestiza. The sitter, a lady apparently of a higher social standing is meticulously dressed and holding a parasol, a posture not unlike the European portraitures of the 19th century. In a quiet demeanor, A typical Mestiza is conveying the same message as Brown brothers' burden, with the quiet beauty aware and conscious of the servitude that was and still is imposed on the Philippines.
In 1998, Bencab revisited the theme in the exhibition Larawan III: The Filipina Ca. 1898 as his personal tribute to the Philippines Centennial celebration. The artist did have some reservations about continuing the appropriation of turn-of-the century images. Some of the critics saw it as non-progressive as observed by Krip Yuson and Cid Reyes "Ironically, where once nostalgia for the Philippines past and the fascination for Filipiniana were a vitalizing instrument in the search for a people's identity, nostalgia was now regarded as a deterrent in the exploration of more contemporary issues." (Ibid, p. 169.)
Nevertheless, the artist holds true to what is closest to his heart. "In truth, Bencab did confront this paralyzing dilemma. In the end, it was the realization that an artist's essential obligation is to confront aesthetic - not social, political or economic - issues that released him from the guilt of sustaining the colonial images. Thus, the works in Larawan III were exorcised of all political resonance. Instead, an arresting lyricism evoked a bygone lifestyle of simplicity and gentility." (Ibid).
Woman with basket, painted in 2005 is more of a synthesis of Bencab's protagonists rather than an obvious copied image of the past. Evidently she is the face of the Larawan series as she engaged the onlooker boldly with her intense gaze, but subtly the curves of her frocks are further highlighted with the deftly applied brown and orange hues on the curves' surface, crudely outlining the subject, giving her the rhythmic force and movement of the hauntingly beautiful Sabel. Perhaps the images of several female figures would always permeate the work of Bencab, it is their portrayal that we are able to explore exhaustively and more intimately than any other genre in the obsessions of Bencab. It is their solicitude and patience that sustained the artist in the face of an explosive age of technology and information and enabled him to continue to be inspired and productive. And lastly it is their vulnerability that gives a new intensity to the combination of crassness and tenderness that endowed Bencab's paintings of women with their pathos and their strength.