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Posted by Dexter Matilla - - 0 comments

Last night, the Joey Velasco Foundation was launched at the Club Filipino in San Juan. On my way to the venue, I remember feeling how perfect things had been going yesterday. I didn't have a hard time driving to San Juan from Paranaque and there was this one open parking space waiting for me near Club Filipino. I made it at just the right time.

As soon as I entered the Kalayaan Hall, I saw rows of tables occupied by people I didn't recognize. But I didn't feel out of place. Not at all. Because it felt really special being around people who were touched by Joey and the work he did here on Earth. At once I saw Queeny Velasco and ever so kindly, she led me to a table where Dr. Dan Lerma and his wife were. I was introduced around and found out that I was likewise in the company of Joey's Bosconian friends, all of whom were celebrating the Feast of Don Bosco that day. And of course, Dr. Dan and I were representing UST--and the Dominicans in a way--and it's already common knowledge that 2011 is the Quadricentennial of the oldest existing university in Asia.

I have always wanted to post here Joey's works and how he described them in his own words. Upon hearing the wonderful things that people had to say about Joey inspired me last night, I knew I had to do it. So I am doing this today, Feb 1, 2011. So I went and checked my Yahoo email because that was what I was using most at the time I was just getting to know Joey. I hadn't transitioned full time to Gmail yet. So I typed "Joey Velasco" in the search bar and the first such mail that had anything to do with Joey was one that I sent myself.

And I was surprised at what I saw:

Three years ago today, I sent myself an email of the draft to the story "Joey Velasco's journey in art and life". It was the first story I wrote about Joey Velasco.


Paleta de Sangre (Palette of Blood), 2008. Oil on canvas, 48 x 64

As a social realist painter, I was swiftly ushered to the dramatic use of the contrast of light and shadow (chiarascurro) which was influenced by the old masters like Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and our own Luna and Hidalgo . 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 illumined and the artist achieves ‘realism.’ I want to give the feeling that if you cut the canvas with a blade it would bleed.
I view my obras as ‘real,’ not because of the technique but because of the reality happening in our society. “Where is my own light coming from? “What gives me direction in spite of darkness?” “What makes me paint?”  It struck me that Jesus had been painting my own portrait on the canvas of my soul, not using paint but the palette of His blood . Through the field of art, He was introducing Himself to me. It was as if he was trying to tell me who He really is. “Saan nagmumula ang sinag?”

Hele, oil on canvas, 2008, 48 x 64

Something within tells me not to receive communion in that 3:00 pm Sunday mass. I felt gripped by a sense of shame and turmoil deep inside. The pain and reality of my life would creep back up. I was filled with worries, fears, doubts and inadequacies.
While sitting on my bench I got distracted by people. I saw three young men, all with down syndrome stood up from different pews and fall in line to receive the Eucharist.

I whispered to my wife, “Buti pa sila nangomunyon.” She smiled and just looked at me, “Anu, i-pepaint mo nanaman sila?” More than the visual interest, I closed my eyes and wanted at that moment to enter into their world.
With the distinct line across their palm which is called Sydney palmar line, they receive the host. They have small hands and short fingers but their touch can move the unmovable, and thaw the coldest of hearts. I noticed that they have different shades of almond eyes that can cross and have clogged tear ducts. Those beautiful eyes only seek the goodness in people; they are not cynical nor judgmental. When they love it is unconditional, and forever and it is with all of their mended little hearts. All these years, I just thought that they just have extra chromosomes, only to discover the gracious reality that they are also extra ordinary children loved by God.
When I entered their little world, I was definitely in communion, because I saw Jesus dwelling in them.

Take Up Your Flag and Follow Me, oil on canvas, 2008, 48 x 64

I usually feel Jesus most present in the dry, barren and empty periods of my life, my moments in the desert. Jesus, who is my life, nourishment and hope, is there to pick me up and lift me out of darkness and desolation. Jesus lifts up the tattered flag of a country that has been ripped apart for 400 years of exploitation, poverty and strife. Though it remains a cradle of life and abundance, its people suffer of deprivation and are continuously being raped of their identity, pride, and culture. What remains of the race is abandoned and left for dead in the desert.

I find myself once again caught in a turbulent maelstrom. Our nation shows signs of frustration and weariness, hopelessness and despair as a tattered land. At times, it is tempting to be petrified by
inaction. How can I fight the massive and protracted war against graft and corruption? How then can I join the battlefront?

Jesus is boldly depicted raising a tattered Philippine flag, a poignant symbolism of the countless upheavals the country has been through” from the Cry of Pugad Lawin in 1896 to the volley of musketry in Bagumbayan in 1898; from the Fall of Bataan to the infamous Death March in 1942, from the anguish of 1983 to the euphoria of 1986, and then again in 2001. The pain and suffering of his people are etched on the countenance of Jesus. But His stance is upright and his grip is firm. We are in His love and mercy that unites us,strengthens us from the shackles of fear, helplessness and hopelessness. But His face beckons; the eyes challenge me; the
tough stance tells me there is no way to lose. “Take up your flag and follow me.”

It is an invitation of ownership. That it was not by accident that I was born a Filipino. The soft bristle of my paintbrush may serve as my sphere and the stretched canvas my shield. That in the art field I can find the battlefield where exists unnamed Filipino heroes and patriots –with Him as the supremo-not to be buried to oblivion but to be immortalized in my art as they pursue the ideals of the human virtues of unrelenting courage and confidence, infused with the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity. He is offering his life in the frontlines of the battlefield. I’ve got to follow Him. We will definitely win this war. And the battle cry is not anger but love.

Maria Ina Ng Banal na Puso Ni Hesus, 2007. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30, MSC collection

She is a caddie in one of the golf courses in Manila . She carries the heavy bag of the golfer and walks long miles everyday through all the 18 holes. She has to make sure where the ball lands every time that she may not be reprimanded by her player. Rain or shine she has to stand by her player, a slave in the fairway.

The congregation that commissioned this painting chose her as the model for Mary because of her Filipina features and tanned skin, but I personally opted for her because 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 the mountainous path of Nazareth nor the undulating fairways, but the journey of constant ‘yeses’ as I submit to the Father’s will.

Manunubos, 2008. Oil on canvas, 78 x 158

When people ask, “What is your medium (in painting)?” I wonder what the Divine artist used as His medium to communicate with us. My trip to a dump site gave me an answer. I was struck by a small tattered ‘parol’ [a star-shaped lanern] which hung at an abandoned garbage truck. I couldn’t help but think of the possibility of Jesus being born in such a lowly place.
A garbage site is one of the saddest and most humiliating sights; children digging into a mountain of muck, at times jumping into the jaws of trucks to salvage things out before they even reach the dump site. These are the outskirts of our community, unnoticed until a tragic garbage slide happens. It is humanity at its worst.
Nothing is more extremely lowly than God becoming a man. He was using the best medium in his art: solidarity with man by becoming as lowly as man. His invitation? To live more in solidarity with others than to my own image or rights, my own comforts, or lifestyle.  Such is the most amazing medium in the world because it communicates the immeasurable love of God.


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