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Posted by Dexter Matilla - - 0 comments

By Dexter R. Matilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 12:34:00 09/24/2008

THERE’S AN ONGOING JOKE between painter Joey Velasco and his colleagues: His works have become so real that if the canvas were to be cut by a blade, it would bleed.

Velasco considers the joke a compliment. He admits he has a bleeding heart for the downtrodden. Social injustice inspires him to produce pieces that give hope and uplift the spirit.

It all began when, at 38, he went under the knife to have a large mass removed from his kidney. Despite the operation’s success, the artist still went into a depression which, he says, “can be likened to being trapped in a dark, lonely, deep well.”

“I totally withdrew from the world, from my work and social life,” he relates. “I avoided any contact with my friends and even my family, locking myself in one room as a total recluse. I knew what loneliness meant. I prayed for God to throw me a rope and I claimed I was ready to grab one, even if laced with broken glass just for me to see the light once again.”

His source of light came in the form of a paintbrush. He immediately utilized his newfound weapon against the darkness by painting Hapag (Meal Table), in 2005, depicting Jesus Christ breaking bread with 12 poor children from the slums of Manila, much like the Last Supper.

This he did by going around the Metro — looking in cemeteries, under bridges and depressed areas in Payatas — until he found his 12 little “apostles.” He says he did the painting to remind his four children to count their blessings, especially when they eat.

New exhibit

This “socio-spiritual realist” artist continues to apply the light-and-shadow technique to his works. Chiaroscuro has become his signature.

“I view my obras as ‘real,’ not because of the technique but because of the reality happening in our society,” he says.

“There is a subtle play of the darkest dark and the brightest bright. I guide myself with questions like ‘Where is the light coming from?’ ‘Is it a warm light or a cool light?’ It is in identifying the light source that the figures are illuminated and the artist achieves ‘realism.’”

This is how Velasco describes Paleta de Sangre, (Palette of Blood) one of 13 new works just unveiled at the Ayala Mall Lower Level, Glorietta 3, Makati City.

Manunubos (Savior) is the name of the exhibit and the works—as well as the stories behind them—should once again draw admiration from both art patrons and just about anybody whose heart finds respite in the love of the Almighty.

For “Maria, Ina ng Banal na Puso ni Hesus, (Mary, Mother of Jesus’ Sacred Heart) Velasco used a female caddie in one of the golf courses in Manila as model for Mary.

“The congregation that commissioned the painting chose her because of her Filipina features and tanned skin,” Velasco reveals. “She carries the heavy bag of the golfer and walks long miles every day through all the 18 holes. Rain or shine she has to stand by her player, a slave in the fairway.

“She symbolizes Mary’s obedience. ‘May it be done to me according to your word.’ It is also Mary’s invitation for me to thread not only the mountainous path of Nazareth or the undulating fairways, but also the journey of constant ‘yeses’ as I submit to the Father’s will.”

Receiving the Host

An experience during Sunday Mass was the inspiration for Hele (Lullaby). Velasco saw three young men with Down’s syndrome stand up from different pews and fall in line to receive the Eucharist. More than the visual interest, Velasco closed his eyes and at that moment wanted to enter their world.

“With the distinct line across their palm, they receive the Host,” Velasco says. “They have small hands and short fingers but their touch can move the immovable and thaw the coldest of hearts. I noticed they had different shades of almond eyes that could cross and had clogged tear ducts. Those beautiful eyes only seek the goodness in people. They are not cynical or judgmental. When they love, it is unconditional. When I entered their little world, I was definitely in communion, because I saw Jesus dwelling in them.”

When he finished Hapag, Velasco was once again hospitalized for six months. But this time, he had the experience with the children and the memory of the unique journey in art to strengthen him. So instead of succumbing to depression, he wrote a book with an IV needle inserted into his veins. From there, he went on to produce three film documentaries.

“Painting, writing, filmmaking, things I never did or planned to do in my life,” Velasco says. “Everything happened in the past years or so… when I was at my weakest point.”

Velasco admits he still asks himself what inspires him, what gives him direction despite doubts, and what gives him strength. Like a mantra, he asks these questions before the break of dawn, as he prepares for another day of work in his studio.

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