Before the vision of Sabel enchanted the eyes of the artist and his nation, and long before the conversation of identity politics and post-colonialism were put into the foreground on the surfaces of his canvas– the young BenCab painted this earth-toned rendition of a colloquial port harboring Chinese wooden vessels. Sampans is a rare early work done by the National Artist in the early 1960s, a prelude to his Gallery Indigo aesthetic, displaying the grittiness that pervaded his Indios Bravos group. Wooden boards rest atop each other precariously; boats crowd amongst themselves; and soft, lapping waves break the silence of a day coming to a close. While content and style contrast with his later works, there is still the quintessential skill that makes the piece recognizably by his hand – BenCab’s command of draftsmanship still shines through the impastoed work, showing an articulation in the composition of shape and weight, attested by the way the artist repurposes perspective through the black grids that carry the viewers’ eyes away from the confines of the rickety port. Complementing the washed tones envisaging this scene, there is a palpable charm that pervades: a dose of intimacy that never fails to allure.