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Vicky Zubiri: The one-eyed painter is laughing

/ 05:03 AM June 12, 2018

Vicky Zubiri beside a bucolic Batangas beach setting

Although she is blind in one eye and lives with chronic headache after a botched surgery, Victoria “Vicky” Zubiri is bright and chirpy, and always looking polished and stylish.

Painting has become her coping strategy and pain management tool.


Through the years, she has joined group exhibits and has held two solo shows.

On June 15, she holds her third solo show, “Of Peace and Lightness,” at The Peninsula Manila.


“Painting is more challenging now. I can’t see on the other eye. Yet, I indulge in it because it gives me peace,” says Zubiri.

A person who loves challenges, she is determined to not to let “disability” disrupt her active lifestyle and creativity.

Skies, seas and sails are recurring themes in Zubiri’s paintings.

Zubiri has been interested in art since childhood. Her mother, Rosita Ocampo, a coloratura soprano, exposed her to the performing arts and introduced her to foremost painters Vicente Manansala and Hernando Ocampo.

She took courses at the San Francisco Academy of Art and Chinese painting at Ateneo Confucius Institute under Hau Chiok and Cesar Cheng. She studied Western watercolor with Johnny Ventosa, and is learning acrylic painting under Fidel Sarmiento at Sunshine Place Senior Hub.

In 2004, however, she faced a great challenge. She complained of cloudy vision and sudden headache. A cataract surgery was performed in the hospital. However, her left eye started to protrude.

An MRI exam at Stanford Medical Center in California revealed a 7.5-cm tumor was pushing the eye to the brain. Surgery had to be done immediately.

Zubiri’s painting of a Buddhist monk gazing at a temple in Myanmar

However, while on a trip to Paris, Zubiri felt extreme pain on the left eye. She returned to Stanford where it was discovered that a 2.5-cm tumor still remained.


After the second surgery, the assisting doctors, not her neurosurgeon, told Zubiri the bad news: Six nerves that were connected to the eye, the ear and the muscles for chewing had been damaged by the operation.

Since then she has been blind on one eye and dealing with headaches.

Instead of feeling dejected, Zubiri maintained an active social life. Ten years ago, she established the FilFest Cultural Foundation, which aims to expose the young people living south of Metro Manila to the performing arts, at Insular Life auditorium in Alabang.

“My parents taught us to be achievers,” she said. “The harder a situation is, the more I am determined to succeed.”

Painting has given her solace. It is her way of expressing her emotions.

A painting of a lady in Myanmar walking by the lake

Her favorite subject is the bird. One of her early works was a bird with a bad wing, flying against the slanted drops of rain.

“It’s as if I wanted to take off but I couldn’t,” she said.

The birds have taken different forms. Some are perched on a branch, as if contemplating the universe, or spreading their wings as if going beyond the mundane world.

The bold colors of the parrot reflect her sunny personality.

“Like the bird, I’d like think I’m a free spirit,” said Zubiri.

Her canvases are drenched with the colors of the sea and the sky. Billowy clouds and expansive blues symbolize peace.

While painting, she is transported to another world and feels relief from physical pain. Boats on the sea, another recurring subject, represent her journey across hardships.

Zubiri celebrates the joys of travels by capturing vignettes, such as the burnt sienna and ochre of Italian villas; a bicycle leaning against a wall in Italy; a Burmese fisherman looking down on his reflection on the water; the color-saturated houses in Murano; a bridge over a canal in Venice; a café in Paris; the fisherman in Batangas; the classic Taal volcano and lake.

She makes a joke about a still life of a Veuve Clicquot bottle on a bucket and a flute glass. “I don’t take painkillers for my headache. I drink champagne instead.”

When Zubiri goes over the paintings, she is amazed at the clean strokes and the precise lines. “I often ask myself, how did I manage to do these?” she said.

There is always support to cheer her up: her husband of 56 years, businessman-politician José Maria Zubiri Jr., and her children, José Maria III, Manuel, Juan Miguel, Beatrice and Stephanie. —CONTRIBUTED

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TAGS: Health and wellness, Lifestyle, Victoria “Vicky” Zubiri
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