Opening last June 18 at the Ayala Museum is “The Real H.R. Ocampo,” as part of its “Images of Nation” Series. The series focuses on each of our National Artists and how their artistic achievements reflect our character as a people and our aspirations as a nation.
The works of Hernando Ruiz Ocampo (1911-1978) in the present exhibition come solely from the Paulino Que collection. They line his bedroom—his most personal space, as Ambeth Ocampo points out in his foreword to the catalogue—about three or four pictures over each other, the frames only a couple of inches apart.
Que, now in his late 50s, started collecting paintings when he was still a bachelor. In his early 20s, the UST Management graduate already regularly made the rounds of galleries: Luz (on Edsa), Rustan’s Galerie Bleau, Hidalgo, Del Rosario, Finale, among others.
He followed Odette Benito Alcantara from her Metro Gallery in Makati to her larger Heritage Art Gallery in San Juan.
Odette’s husband, lawyer and banker Mario Alcantara, had retired and joined Odette in supplying the burgeoning demand for art. Alcantara and a group of high-profile finance wizards pitched art as a viable corporate investment.
Good, not fashionable
Very few individuals then could compete with the appetite and resources of big business and government institutions for art. Comparatively, Que’s resources then were modest, but his connoisseurship was his main advantage, allowing him to assemble a respectable collection which included works by Amorsolo, Manansala, Legaspi, Ocampo.
He bought art that was good, not what was fashionable. His foresight made him collect works by Onib Olmedo for example, and particularly Ang Kiukok, who became a close friend.
Que began to be sought out by art dealers (some now deceased), like art restorer Suzano Gonzalez; stock broker Rudy Salaverria; the still-active architect Adolfo Liwanag; erstwhile gold miner Anton Natividad, and Maria Cristina Roxas, grandniece of the revered collector Don Alfonso Ongpin.
Que even then had a highly developed visual sense, an intuitive taste for the refined. He would scan an art book and achieve a comprehensive grasp of an artistic movement or an artist’s body of work.
He has a remarkable visual memory. When shown a painting, Que would be able, in his own mind, to summarily rank the piece within its artistic and historical context.
He would decide he liked, or did not like, a work within two or three minutes; if he likes a work, he would prefer to conclude the deal in the next five minutes. The ensuing hour would be spent talking of art in general and current chismis.
Shift in fortunes
The economic crisis from 1983 to 1986 resulted in the slowing down of the art market. The shift in fortunes favored individuals like Que, who finally came to be offered important pieces from estates and de-accessioning collectors.
Que’s marriage only sharpened his perception, since his wife Hetty, deceptively sotto voce to him, actually reinforces his decision-making processes.
The Ques’ H.R. Ocampo collection today includes 31 works in oil: early pieces from the 1930s and many of his most important works up to 1974, after which the artist shifted to painting in acrylic.
Ocampo was a fictionist, magazine editor, producer, director, scriptwriter and even actor for stage, radio and movies, government media administrator, advertising executive, and above all, a painter lauded by his intellectual peers.
Victorio Edades included him on his list of the trailblazing Thirteen Modern Artists of the Philippines.
Ocampo garnered first prizes at the Art Association of the Philippines in 1949, 1951 and 1969. He was awarded the first ever Republic Cultural Award in Painting. He received the Gawad CCP Para Sa Sining Award in 1979.
He was honored with the National Artist Award for Visual Art posthumously, in 1991.
Over a period of 30 years, Que assiduously traced and collected Ocampo’s works from the likes of Salvador P. Lopez, I.P. Soliongco, Alice Marquez-Lim Coseteng, Teodoro Valencia, Lita Umali-Berthelsen.
Fellow artists like Virginia Ty-Navarro, Emilio Aguilar Cruz, José Joya and Salvador Bernal had treasured their Ocampos. Formidable connoisseurs like Lydia Villanueva Arguilla, Wili and Doreen Fernandez, Luis Araneta, Eugenio Lopez Sr., Mr. and Mrs. Roberto Villanueva considered H.R. Ocampos indispensable to their collections.
Que meticulously recorded his pieces’ chains of ownership whenever possible.
With Ocampo’s connections in media, his works had always received considerable attention and coverage in various publications. Que carefully compiled references to his Ocampos in publications, and exhibition data previous to, and subsequent to his acquisition. All of these serve to bolster his pieces’ authenticity.
Que took the trouble because counterfeits of Ocampo’s works were being made by the late 1970s. H.R.’s late works were particularly easy to copy, because he had shifted to the acrylic medium by 1974.
The main difference between acrylic and oil paints is the drying time. Acrylic paint is fast-drying paint containing pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion, dilutable with water. Acrylic allows an artist to work quickly, due to the fast evaporation of water, but it is basically opaque.
Meanwhile, the vehicle and binder of oil paints is linseed oil. Oils allow for more time to blend colors and apply thin, transluscent layers. Oil paint becomes increasingly yellow and brittle with time, while acrylic paint remains flexible.
Thus, oil paints flake off, while acrylic paints do not. While oil paint is able to absorb substantially more pigment, oil provides a less clear refractive index than acrylic dispersions, which retains a different degree of saturation.
Artists’ acrylic colors were available in the US by the 1950s; high-viscosity acrylic paints were made by the early 1960s.
Oil and acrylic
But Filipino artists preferred the qualities of oil paint, although they experimented with other media. Manansala, Luz and some others used enamel paint (also oil-based, but not intended for artists’ use). Anita Magsaysay used egg tempera (pigment mixed with egg yolk, water, wine or vinegar).
Artists’ acrylics and specialized primers came to be used by affluent Filipino artists like Lee Aguinaldo only from the very late 1960s because they were relatively expensive and had to be procured abroad. They were locally distributed only from the early 1970s. H.R. Ocampo used the medium only from around 1974.
There is little chance that H.R. Ocampo pieces in the acrylic medium dated earlier than 1970 are genuine.
So many counterfeits—incredible in subject and style, and unacceptable in medium and technique—are displayed in galleries, authenticated by mercenary experts and peddled to unwary buyers greedy for a bargain. H.R. Ocampo must be turning in his grave.
It is easy to dismiss H.R.’s paintings as easy to copy because they are merely decorative. But those in the Paulino Que collection reveal Ocampo the intellectual, who had a profound knowledge of Western philosophical concepts and Modernist ideas, although he never studied abroad.
Through his art, he created a New Reality, but his spectrum was that found under the Philippine sun, and Ocampo’s sensibility and historical place were always Filipino.
The Ayala Museum exhibit affords the public a rare look into Paulino Que’s trove of the real H.R. Ocampo.
For more information, check www.ayalamuseum.org. A very limited number of the large-format Exhibition Catalog will be available.