An immigrant artist's stormy journey to finding out his true calling


The road to recognition was a long and winding one for Filipino-American artist Marconi Calindas — who hopped from career to career and moved from his native Philippines to a tiny U.S. Pacific island and now, California — before discovering his true calling.

A communications graduate from the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna, Calindas naturally dipped his toes in journalism right after college.

Although he knew he was born to "tell" stories, he felt he wasn't doing a magnificent job doing it through printed words — even though journalism brought him to Saipan for a newspaper gig.

"That feeling of inadequacy pushed me to evaluate what I really want to do in life so I started painting again," says Calindas. "It didn't take long before I realized that I can communicate better through visual arts. That was my true calling."

Now based in San Francisco — and long after leaving print journalism, Calindas faced another realization. This time around, he discovered that he doesn't want to tell just any story. He aligned the subject of his paintings to an issue close to his heart, one that pinches a nerve; an issue that he had faced every day as a gay child growing up in the predominantly Catholic Philippines and an issue he still faces every day as a gay man living in a still intolerant world: Bullying.

Painting about the struggles exclusive to members of the LGBT community is close to Calindas’ heart not because it makes out for a sound advocacy but because he knows how it feels like to go through those difficulties. His art delivers a strong message that bullying should never be tolerated, but more importantly, it speaks about the dauntless celebration of one’s sexuality.

The intrepid stories he tells through his art recently earned him a recognition from the San Francisco’s Office of the Supervisors. Specifically, he was honored for adding pride to the city’s art scene and for advocating equality and understanding for the troubled members of the community.

He also co-wrote and illustrated the children’s book “Of Petals and Hope: Sunny Sunflower Triumphs Over Bullying” with his husband Adam Cafege, who was first to notice his talent with the paint brush and suggested he takes painting seriously.

Calindas did and has since then collaborated as art director of the short film “Prinsesa” (2014), a movie about a father’s response to his child's gender-identity questions. Inspired by the Philippines’ Singkil dance and has been in the film festival circuit across the globe, the film won for Calindas Outstanding Art Direction during the Scary Cow Short Film Festival held in San Francisco, CA.

In 2012, Calindas bested thousands of entries from the U.S. and Canada in the New Era Introducing Global Project North America contest. His winning piece, which tackled a sensitive subject about teen bullying and suicide, was showcased in five key art cities: New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Miami and in Toronto, Canada from October to November 2012.

He also has been selected out of 6,500 artists from around the globe for the 2014 Embracing Our Differences Outdoor Exhibit in Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida. His painting has been enlarged to over 10-foot billboard panel for the annual exhibition. Furthermore, his works have been featured as cover images in publications for the Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration International in 2012 and 2013.

This year, he fanned out his visual art's subject beyond LGBT issues to include tourism. His first attempt earned for him an international recognition. Calindas' digital painting of Dubai’s iconic skyscraper Burj Al Arab — the world’s only 7-star hotel — clinched one of the top four awards in the 2015 Emirates Skywards Art of Travel competition.

He competed with more than 5,000 entries from visual artists across the globe. His “Simply Dubai” entry highlights his bold visual vocabulary that has captured national and international attention.

His artwork, along with the other three winners — Nick Jackson’s Paris (UK), Mukta Changmai’s New York (India), and Kateryna Bortsova’s London (Ukraine), will be featured on the Emirates 2016 membership cards.

According to Emirates, the competition gives artists the opportunity to express their creativity while connecting them with over nine million Emirates Skywards members. In addition to having their artwork featured on the Emirates Skywards 2016 membership cards, as well as online and offline communications and promotional material, the winning artists will receive $5,000 each.

“In our search to discover exciting new talent in contemporary art, we invited aspiring artists from around the world to enter a creative piece based on what our members selected as their four ‘Dream Destinations’,” Emirates announced.

A panel of expert — composed of senior employees of Emirates Skywards and Emirates Corporate Communications, Marketing & Brand — shortlisted the entries to just 16 pieces of art.

The 16 shortlisted pieces of artwork—four from each destination—were posted on the Emirates website on Sept. 13-19, during which Skywards members voted for their favorite artwork for each of the four “Dream Destinations.”

Calindas’ entry garnered the most number of votes in the Dubai destination category.


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