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Nurse-Turned-Artist Makes Beautiful Portraits Using Duct Tape

Kel Cruz makes use of unique materials in creating art pieces that portray social realism.

Some people have known from the get-go that they would become and make a living as artists. Kel Cruz considers himself as one of these people.

Born in Baguio and raised in Pangasinan, Kel started playing with art materials at a very young age. “I started doing art as early as 3 or 4 years old along with my older cousin,” he tells My Pope Philippines. 

While his cousin eventually became an architect and manga illustrator, the 24-year old Kel became a nurse for private and public hospitals in Pangasinan. (Read: Art Bolinas: Why He Quit Corporate Life to Paint Images of God)

Of course, the passion for art eventually came to the surface. Kel quit his nursing job to become an art director and artist known for using unconventional materials and techniques. Success followed with works being featured on CNN News, BBC News, and History Channel.

Duct Tape Art

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At times, Kel Cruz also creates mosaics of icons and famous people. (Photo from Kel Cruz Facebook)

Constant experimentation led Kel to do paper weaving, fingerprint art, plastic twine straw art, name stamping, and ball pen installation. He even designed the biggest rice cake mosaic recorded in the 2019 Guinness Book of World Records, but today, he is famous for using one of the most unconventional materials for art, duct tape.

Kel’s detail-oriented art pieces managed to capture the attention of sponsors that provide him with art materials. “I have a duct tape supplier or sponsor from Thailand and Manila,” he says. (Read: Ramil Sumangil Beats All Odds With ‘Books for a Cause’)

Like his fellow artists, Kel takes inspiration from those who are foraying into art with unconventional materials. For him, it’s Red Hongyi.

“When I started using unconventional materials, one of my inspirations is a Malaysian artist based in Australia, Red Hongyi. She also uses unconventional materials for portraits,” says Kel.

Desire to Make Art ‘Different’

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Social realism. Kel Cruz tackles poverty, ethnicity, and diversity in his art pieces. (Photos from Kel Cruz Facebook)

While Kel finds inspiration from other artists, he also makes his art different. “The difference between my work and Red Hongyi’s work is I make mine more intricate or detailed,” he says.

In fact, Kel adds that he prefers setting his art apart from the notion of beauty. “Most of the time, I get comments or reactions from people saying my art is different. I like that better than hearing that my art is beautiful or nice.”

In terms of subjects, Kel takes a lot of inspiration from his environment. He draws animals, famous people, and daily life. He is into social realism. (Read: These Masterpieces From the Louvre Museum Are Now Online!)

A quick look at his portfolio would immediately tell the audience that his duct tape art tackled themes of poverty, ethnicity, and diversity. In his recent exhibits, he also delved into the challenges that come with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aspirations for the Future

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Kel Cruz loves to create mosaics about animals and day-to-day living. (Photos from Kel Cruz Facebook)

Kel insists that he doesn’t have a plan for the future or that if ever there is, art is the only certain aspect of it. (Read: Meet the Davaoeña Artist Who Celebrates Women Through Painting)

“I just want to make art until I get old or be a veteran whether I’ll be a known one or not,” says Kel. He wants to mentor young artists and continue creating art for people to appreciate.

Finally, Kel insists that while it is cliché, art is his passion. It is what keeps him going. “Yes, there are times when you just don’t feel like making art, but if you’re a real artist, it just hits you back… You just really can’t stop making art. As my mentors say: you can rest, but you must never stop.”

Kel is part of the ongoing exhibit at the Art District Gallery in Escolta. He will also join the “Sampayan” at Pinto Art Museum in the coming months. Online, you can find his artworks on Instagram and Facebook

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