by Ging Flores
Illnesses would have discouraged many to stop living their lives to the fullest. But not Joey Velasco, who, a few years before turning 40, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. A successful entrepreneur, Joey took up painting as a means to cope with his illness. Little did he know that this would lead to greater things.
Depression and catharsis
After a devastating diagnosis and undergoing major surgery, Joey lost his left kidney. This brought about a depression that made him feel dark and very lonely. He withdrew contact from the world- he avoided his friends and even his family. Locking himself up in one room, Joey became a total recluse. Praying for God to get him out of his misery, God sent him a miracle in the form of a paintbrush.
A few months after learning how to paint with just the help of books, Joey’s “Hapag ng Pag-asa” started to form on his canvass. Posing for him were streetchildren that he personally hand-picked. In his painting, he depicted Jesus Christ in a Last Supper-setting sharing a meal with the streetchildren. It will take him a month and a half to finish his masterpiece.
More than 8 years after, “Hapag ng Pag-asa” will become one of the most reproduced paintings done by a contemporary artist here in the Philippines. It will also travel around the world to touch people’s hearts and spirits.
Image from http://midfield.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/paalam-joey-velasco-isang-dakilang-pintor-updated-with-ode-from-tony-meloto/
Three years after his painting’s incredible success, Joey managed to secure a home through Gawad Kalinga for each of the 12 children who posed for his painting, ensuring them better futures and better lives ahead. This yet inspired another version of his earlier painting, with the same children dining with Jesus Christ at a Gawad Kalinga Village.
Idealism and heart
Born in March 18, 1967 to Ciriaco and Adelita Velasco, Joey showed early signs of his passion for entrepreneurship. He took up law at the Ateneo de Manila but had to leave to be in fellowship with his working class parents and decided to set up businesses instead.
Since taking up painting, he has done 31 one-man exhibits and have made the rounds of not only galleries but of universities, museums, churches, and various groups here and abroad. Combining local color and religious themes, his paintings are always a hit with the crowds.
Joey has also written a book, “They Have Jesus” and has also delved his hand into independent filmmaking. Three indie films, “Sa Kambas ng Lipunan (2006),” “Ang Lumang Paintbrush (2007),” and “Kakaibang Kulay (2008)” conclude his filmography.
Despite all his artistic success, Joey has denied being called as an artist. He prefers the term “heartist” instead, and also calls himself a “socio-spiritual realist.” He is quoted to once have said, “I view my obras as ‘real’, not because of the technique but because of the reality happening in our society.” Even while struggling with a painful illness, his idealism has allowed him to go on, and help others, painting with heart, talent, and spirit.
His death at the young age of 43 in July 2010 due to kidney cancer complications has brought sadness to many. His 5-year struggle with his illness has shown us that even at our darkest hours, many positive things can also come to light. On the first night of his wake, the 12 children who were once his models prayed for him and thanked him for saving them from the streets.
Shakespeare once said that art is a mirror to nature. With Joey’s paintings, nature and the reality of life are certainly reflected in his introspective scenes. But, as the poet Bertolt Brecht also said, “art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” And definitely, with Hapag ng Pag-asa, Joey Velasco’s art did not only reflect the grim realities of poverty in our nation, but also helped alter it as well. By providing better futures not only for his 12 models but for inspiring others with his life as well, Joey Velasco is truly a man who drew his own canvass.