Of all the beauty and pain found within life’s pages, many continue to search for the point of it all, purpose. To mindlessly go through the motions, the struggles, and the low points of daily living—it’s a form of despair that can’t be encapsulated. In remedying such a dilemma, the key is identifying your center. It’s the essence of who you are, your identity in the barest of forms. It is your guiding principle, the simplest of intentions that informs whatever path you choose for yourself.
Kim Cruz has found this through her calling to touch the lives of the hurt and the vulnerable.
Owing her love for art to an upbringing surrounded by paintings, Cruz developed her taste and desire for it from her parent’s collection of Asian figurative art. Referencing the women these works depicted, she believes that this early exposure to the female figure effectively removed her from the “male gaze” these were typically associated with. Influenced by what was around her, she dabbled in the practice, painting for fun and giving her completed works to her family members as personalized gifts. It was a casual hobby, however. She didn’t really consider doing it seriously, instead opting to pursue courses in art business and curation with the end goal of working in a museum in mind.
Her early relationship with art was unconventional—it was a journey of twists and turns and various stops. It did, however, lay the foundation for her to redefine how the female figure is depicted in art—even if the path she took wasn’t as straightforward as anyone would have imagined.
During college, a feat no introvert including me would dare do, she dipped her toes and explored her extroverted side by becoming a MYX VJ in 2018 and a host on ESPN the following year. While the decision made, she describes, was done on a whim and for fun, she would also recall the experience as a fruitful one. After all, being in front of a camera allowed her to be more in touch with her other side.
But when the pandemic hit, Cruz was forced into a moment of reckoning about what she really wanted. Hosting was fun, but it was not something that she looked forward to doing every day. Art, on the other hand, was the force that brought her out of her own bed. She had the talent, the passion, and the business acumen—it was just a matter of practice.
“I feel very passionate about it and I don’t really overthink about it at this point. That’s the reason why I think I wanted to pursue art, because it just flows and I don’t have to force it.”
And as fate would have it, after applying for an internship at Secret Fresh Art Gallery, she would be given the opportunity to have her own show after having honed her skills and developed her own distinct art style under the mentorship of artists such as Ben ‘Bencab’ Cabrera.
Around two years into painting professionally, Cruz has staged two solo exhibitions, ‘Figure Study’ (June 2021), and the ‘Nympheas’ (March 2022)—and both shows sold out on opening night. Having transformed her passion into her career at 25, Cruz seems to have figured it all out. But make no mistake, she’s still in the middle of the journey. A little lost and plunged into the unknown, she always goes back to her center—this calling to reach out to others in whatever pursuit.
Women by woman
As an artist, Cruz heavily focuses on the female figure. An acquired taste she developed from her parents’ collection, she was constantly exposed to seeing women portrayed in various ways albeit without the male gaze. In a separate interview, she says that such exposure removed her from viewing these in a sexual or erotic light—it was just simply as they are, a form of art.
Beyond mere appreciation, she has decided to make this the focus of her own works and the way of expressing her own femininity. “There are a lot of things as a woman that I think only they can understand.”
She points to Jenny Saville as one of her idols, recalling finding inspiration from how she uses her art as a medium of expression to depict the different feelings and thoughts she encountered during the various phases of her life.
In her own way, Cruz wants to bridge that gap somewhat and tell the stories that haven’t been told yet, of the women that have been brushed aside or overlooked by society. Women without “Coke bottle physiques.” Women who may not exactly fit social constructs of beauty. Women who do not immediately catch the eye. “I feel like there’s a duality to it, and I want it to apply to my art that there’s a side to women. There are strong ones, there are those who are not so strong, there are those who are a little bit more on their rough side, and there are softer ones. I think that’s the beauty of it.”
“I want to leave a mark in this world and for my art to be meaningful. I want other women to connect with it, and to find comfort and solace with my own journey.”
She recalls an instance during one of her shows where she was approached by a woman who began crying to her because she felt a connection to her work. “That’s something I want people to derive from my art. I want to evoke discomfort, but at the same time, hope.”
“Art imitates life”
Her advocacy, however, does not end within the confines of an art gallery. Cruz understands that painting alone won’t solve everything. You have to go out and seek those you are painting for.
She has taken that next step through the nonprofit organization Called to Rescue. A collective dedicated to the rescue of minor children from sex trafficking, violence, and abuse, they work to ensure improved awareness for parents and children of all ages, and the complete healing of those they have protected. Cruz has worked with the group for over five years, participating in their in-person meetups, getting to know the kids, and administering art therapy for them.
She is also a part of the Pawssion Project Foundation, an organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and rehoming of dogs in distress.
“I love kids, I love dogs, and I love people. So I’d say these advocacies ground me. It’s honestly a privilege to partner this with my art. I’ve done exhibits for Pawssion Project, and it’s wonderful to have a grounding force apart from my career.”
She also frequently visits Siargao—together with nonprofit Lokal Lab, which “supports local communities through sustainable projects—to conduct art therapy classes for typhoon victims and use art as a medium to help process their traumas.
“So through art therapy, we process what is drawn through the assistance of a therapist.”
“We ask the kids to draw their idea of a perfect day. One thing that I noticed through the process is that they usually have similar ideas of what happiness they seek—there’s always a sun, a beach, trees, and they’re always with their families.”
“That gives me hope because their art isn’t dark. They’re still kids, and even though they’ve been through so much, they’re still able to find joy. It’s the beauty of children, their optimism about life.”
Every stop in the journey of life has meaning
Her art and advocacies may have resonated with many people but Cruz also isn’t immune to criticism. But she persists with a perspective that puts her in a position of growth.
“I love it when people tell me things about my work because it means they’re paying attention to it,” she says. “If someone criticizes my work, it means they took the time to notice it, they took the time to read about it, and they took the time to figure it out, and no matter if it’s good or bad, it means that there’s something about your work that caught someone’s eye. I’m not a sensitive person when it comes to criticism.”
“It’s like a free review. It’s gonna come for sure, especially in my line of work but it fuels me. So whenever I get bad criticism, I’m always like, ‘well, I’m 24, I can do better. I know I can still hone my skills. I have so much time.’ That gives me comfort.”
Even in times when she feels lost.
“I can’t say that I’ve already figured out my life. But one day I’m going to look back at this and think, ‘when I was 18 I was freaking out about being 19, and when I was freaking out about being 20, I was…’ It’s just cycles.”
“To young adults who are lost: It’s normal, it’s completely fine. Your 20s are the perfect time to be lost. It’s the perfect time to experiment. I’ve done several jobs and I know art will be, I hope, my endgame. But you know, if I fail, there’s always time to just pick myself up and do something else.”
“I don’t really worry about what it’s gonna be like in 10 years or what it’s gonna be like when I’m older. I always just let it go. I enjoy going with the flow. For me, just enjoy the moment, don’t beat yourself up, and don’t rush yourself.”
Photography by Patrick Diokno
Creative Direction and Styling by Ria Prieto
Make-up and Hair by Dorothy Mamalio
Produced by Colleen Cosme
Cover design by Julia Elaine Lim