MANILA, Philippines - A person’s home tells the story of one’s cultural identity. For the Hizons, expressions of their heritage are what make their flat in a foreign land feel like home.
BBC presenter Rico Hizon ushers me into his home on Tanjong Rhu Road in Singapore with a great big smile. This early bird is usually awake by 4 am on weekdays preparing to update us on the latest business news in Asia. But on weekends, he has the luxury of kicking back and taking it easy.
His work as a financial journalist brought him to Singapore 13 years ago. Rico has moved four times and lived in different parts of this compact city. But in 2008, he promised his wife Melannie and their seven-year-old son Migo that the next move would be their last. They fell in love with the interiors of the 1,744-square-foot show flat and commissioned Singaporean interior designer Victor Chua to tailor-fit the space to suit the family’s needs while elegantly displaying their extensive art collection.
Rico and Melannie are serious collectors of Filipino art. With over 200 paintings in their collection, showcasing the best is a challenge. Blessed with high ceilings, Victor cleverly created a mezzanine floor, an additional 320 square feet to display more of the couple’s art. A sleek black spiral staircase leads to the loft, which functions as a family room, guest room and gallery space.
There is a whimsical and mythical vibe with masterpieces by modern artists Marcel Antonio, Elmer Borlongan and Jose John Santos III on display. I mistake Christian Tamundong’s Box Boy for one of Migo’s toys. Rico laughs and explains this is one of 40 collector pieces of the Cavite-born pop artist. Like a museum curator, Rico carefully selects and positions each piece. Roland Ventura’s sculpture of an astronaut mouse strategically stands on guard, looking towards the entrance of the flat. With arms outstretched, he seems to be graciously welcoming guests. Or maybe this astronaut is suggesting you have landed on a different planet of Philippine art.
Arranging this space is an interesting collaboration between the two art collectors. The only trophy Melannie allows Rico to display is his 2006 Ten Outstanding Young Men Award. The trophy by National Artist Napoleon Abueva fits right in with all the Filipino masters in the house. Resting below the trophy is a rare ceramic sculpture by Arturo Luz.
Luckily, husband and wife share the same taste for art. “We’re not into Impressionists. But we both love figurative art,” Rico explains. The couple has collected Elmer Borlongan and Mark Justiniani pieces since before these contemporary artists became much coveted in the auction scene.
But the best asset of this added loft space is the secret storage. Rico pushed Mark Justiniani’s painting to reveal a hidden gallery, with more panels to display paintings. Entering this space feels like you have entered a Filipino art collector’s heaven. Rico pulls out a gift from Mark Justiniani, a painting entitled Mulat that is a tribute to Rico doing the news. Amidst all these masterpieces is one artwork that is unsigned, yet priceless. Using butcher paper and a few markers, Rico’s son Migo drew buildings and airplanes. Knowing his art was worthy to be in the company of great Philippine masters, he taped it right at the prime spot in the hidden gallery. His parents kept the doodle right where he positioned it. The bigger pieces in the Hizon collection are stored in Helutrans, a professional art storage facility in nearby Tanjong Pagar section of the city. Rico reveals his dreams of someday putting up a museum in his ancestral home in Pampanga to showcase the best work of Filipino contemporary artists.
The first floor of the Hizon home is an homage to BenCab. Five paintings cover the prime wall space. After all, it was this National Artist who sparked Rico’s love for Filipino art. In 1991, Rico was assigned a segment to cover the painter’s exhibit at the Luz Gallery. It was love at first sight. He made his very first acquisition and investment. Through the years BenCab and Rico have become good friends, collaborating in getting international exposure and appreciation for Philippine art.
In their desire to share their love for Philippine art with a larger audience, Rico and Mel began a collection of palettes painted by different artists. BenCab painted the first one in 2003, with their collection growing to close to a hundred, including pieces from Malang, Pacita Abad and Anita Magsaysay-Ho. These have been traveling on exhibit at The Crucible Gallery, De La Salle University Museum, CCP Main Gallery, De La Salle University-Dasmariñas and BenCab Museum. These palettes have become compact canvasses to showcase Filipino art. In the past few years, Rico and Mel have also mounted exhibits of Filipino painters in Singapore, bringing an increased consciousness of Philippine art to Southeast Asian art collectors in this city and in the region.
When you enter most Filipino homes abroad, you will sense the homeowners’ strong cultural heritage. There is the scent of adobo or cliché visual representations of our islands on display. In this lovely Singapore home, there is no smell of garlic or rice cooking. Neither is there a single landscape painting hanging. Yet the sense of place is undeniably that of a Filipino home. The colors, the mood and the playfulness of Hizons’ extensive art collection evoke a distinct sentimentality of our culture. Despite being miles away from the familiar artistry of the Filipinos, the Hizons have recreated it in their own home. As Emily Dickinson said, “Where thou art, that is home.” Surrounded by the work of the top Filipino masters, there is no doubt Rico, Mel, and Migo are home.