The woman in the painting

- Jack Teotico () - January 29, 2006 - 12:00am
"Life for me has really been a struggle," says the lady who grew up in the town of Navotas. At the age of 13, she sold fish at the town’s market to help the family put food on the table.

Her father Jose was a stage painter or set designer for LVN studios while her mother Melania was a typical homemaker who took care of the children, cooked well and painted still lifes during her spare time. Still, one didn’t earn much painting sets during those days so very early in life, Lydia Velasco had to do her share. "Even though I was barely in my teens, I remember I was all alone. I had to keep on moving and working to bring home food and funds to help in the education of my younger brothers and sisters."

Coming from a family who liked art, it wasn’t a problem when she told her parents she wanted to pursue a career in Fine Arts at the University of Sto. Tomas. She majored in advertising and that set her on a career. In 1962, she started as an artist for the advertising agency owned by Pete Teodoro called Philprom. There she stayed for ten years, then worked as well for some of the top advertising firms in the country.

In 1988 Lydia decided to hang up her corporate gloves and try her hand both as an entrepreneur and a full-time painter. Together with a colleague Lydia became part of a design and photography outfit called Light Moves. That was a good seventeen years ago and she has not looked back since.

Five years after her jump away from the corporate world, Light Moves became more established as a business so Lydia had more time to concentrate on her first love– painting.

Understandably, when it came to the visual arts her original "idol" was none other than her father, although many more names were added to this list when she became more of a serious artist and a full-time painter. The list would be expanded to include El Greco, Gauguin, H.R. Ocampo, Danny Dalena and figurative expressionist Onib Olmedo.

Lydia was actually exposed earlier on to major artists. Among the most notable ones were National Artists H.R. Ocampo and Cesar Legaspi who were her bosses in two of her advertising jobs.

In the early ‘60s, H.R. Ocampo was her art director for advertising work she was doing for the broadcast media. Cesar Legaspi was her boss for print media. Even then H.R. was already urging her to paint and join him and several artists who would get together on a regular basis to just paint. "Kaya lang natatakot ako sa kaniya nuon kasi kissing bandit si H.R. Mga kisses pa niya, hindi lang peck on the cheek. Matagal at supsop pa," she laughs.

Looking back, she says that it’s a pity she didn’t accept the various drawings H.R. Ocampo would give her because of the ex-deal kisses; he was very generous with the young ladies although he would ask for a kiss in return for each drawing he would give them.

It was during her advertising years that Lydia honed her skills in painting and in drawing. "I was one of those that the bosses would ask to do the story boards for TV commercials of products such as Palmolive or Camay. Malalandi na iyong mga forms ko for women. I would make sure their faces contained certain expressions–umiirap, tumatawa or trying to attract attention,"says Lydia. "Even then I already knew that it was the subject of women that I wanted to paint. Women talaga ang gusto kong i-paint noon pa man." The women, however, were always strong, almost muscular with long limbs and torsos.

"I think I wanted to make a statement and try to level the playing field. I felt hindi kasi pantay ang laban,"she clarifies. "I want to project women with inner strength, not only physically but emotionally and psychologically as well."

"Mr. Malang (the artist Mauro Malang Santos with whom Lydia shares membership in the Saturday Group of Artists) actually calls me ‘Gabriela’," says Lydia grinning, referring to the Ilocana rebel Gabriela Silang who fought against the Spaniards as well to the militant group of the same name.

Today, Lydia’s women are at once sensual, motherly, sometimes religious with scapulars on their necks, othertimes coy or even flirtatious. "The women in my paintings can be a mother, a lover, or someone who knows how to enjoy herself. She can be friendly or even prone to chismis, but one thing they all have in common is that all of them are strong in character," she notes.

One is tempted to conclude that perhaps the artist is painting her inner self. To this, she agrees. "Oo nga, lahat iyan ako," admits Velasco.

"La Danse" is an exhibit of 35 paintings by Lydia Velasco done over the past two years. The show is ongoing until Feb. 8 at Galerie Joaquin on P. Guevarra St. in San Juan.

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