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Posted by Dexter Matilla - - 0 comments

By Dexter R. Matilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:17:00 11/17/2008

MANILA, Philippines - Joey Velasco, the painter who depicted Jesus Christ sharing a meal with poor children of Manila in a modern-day setting, is now exhibiting in the United States. Fifteen of his works are on exhibit at the American Grand Hotel in Los Angeles and in San Diego.

Wracked by shortness of breath and severe cough, all due to his continuous kidney medication and the fatigue of travel, Velasco went from the two cities to Minnesota to give talks to Filipino communities.

“The Best for the Least,” the exhibit’s title, could mean a couple of things: providing the best for the least among us, and perhaps getting the most with as little as we have.

Through “Hapag ng Pag-asa,” Velasco has provided the children featured in the artwork a chance for their stories to be known, and, more importantly, it has saved them from a world of anonymity.

Some 10-20 years from now, when they’d have hopefully risen from the world they’ve been born to, they would be known as the original little kids of “Hapag.”

Velasco is receiving an outpour of blessings by making use of his talents with as little knowledge as he had when he started painting. After a kidney operation, he was gripped by the urge to paint.

“I am 41 years old and I am a painter,” he says. “I have painted a bridge between the terrestrial and the celestial and this has given life to my art.”

Velasco draws inspiration from Jesus Christ.

“The unquenchable fire of Christ’s solidarity with man by becoming as lowly as man… That He is never a far God but a very near Savior,” Velasco says. “His invitation is to live more in solidarity with others than be concerned with my own image or rights, my own comforts or lifestyle.”

He says that his trip to the US promotes this message of brotherhood among Filipinos. That though they left the Philippines, it is as if they never really left at all.

“There’s no ocean that separates us from them because of their willingness to carry those left behind amid the flood of adversities.”

While it certainly is impressive how in such a short time Velasco has done some 40 artworks already―most, if not all, well received not just by regular art patrons but more so by the general public―but the artist shares that he couldn’t help but wonder if his late father is proud of what he has become.

A carpenter-upholsterer, Velasco’s Papang would work in his shop, without so much as a complaint over the hardship of earning a living for the family. But his hard work soon paid off. Velasco was a law student in Ateneo with a decent second-hand car and dressed in long-sleeved shirts to fit in with his more privileged classmates.

Six months later, Velasco could no longer bear the sight of his father doing it all by himself, and decided to quit law school and help contribute to the household income.

“I was only 21 but I strongly felt in solidarity with my father,” Velasco says. “A strong passion for business grew in me and I tried different endeavors. I worked vigorously. After two years, I was able to buy my father a Mercedes-Benz. He was happy but I didn’t see joy in his eyes.”

Soon after, his Papang passed away. Velasco keeps wondering if his father had been happy with his decision to stop studying law. After all, the calloused hands of his Papang toiled for a very long time to see Velasco become a lawyer.


“When I turned 41, my mother, for no reason at all, mentioned to me that my father’s happiest and proudest moment of me was when I was 12,” Velasco narrates. “There was a typhoon. From the main building of our school to its gate, which was around 200 meters away, I had to walk through the flood, carrying my older brother on my back because I didn’t want the wounds on his feet to get wet. The words came to me with so much revelatory power. I realized that the greatest trophy of a father was to be confirmed and assured that his children will care for one another. No amount of school medal or even a Mercedes-Benz can be in par with the power of love.”

The famous line “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” has become a reality for the artist. In lifting up people, one is lifted up, too, according to him. These lessons are what Velasco hopes the Filipino communities in the US would take from him.

Velasco is opening another one-man exhibit on his “Manunubos II” in La Salle Taft, Manila, at 10 a.m. today.

E-mail the author at dxmatilla@yahoo.com

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