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Friendship by Bettina Olmedo

Friendship by Bettina Olmedo

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Published by: The on Dec 07, 2008
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Three paintings that say, ‘I love you’ By Bettina OlmedoORDINARY GUYS SAY IT with flowers and chocolates. Writers say itwith love letters, while artists say it with paintings.Since a picture is worth a thousand words, many would agree thatartists decidedly have an edge when it comes to expressing thosethree little words.This will be illustrated in a major exhibition to be mounted by theCultural Center of the Philippines, Sept. 27-Nov. 8. This will be the firstposthumous retrospective show on Onib Olmedo, a major Filipinofigurative expressionist whose impact is felt even now. Filipino artistsof a whole new generation are self-confessed Olmedo disciples.The exhibit will feature representative works produced by Olmedospanning his entire professional career from 1971 till his death in1996. Included are paintings and sketches from the private collectionof Olmedo’s immediate family, some of which have never beenexhibited in this country, including what has come to be known as the “Vienna Collection” and portraits of his widow and children which relatea love story in the language of art.
Valentine’s Day portrait
It was the summer of 1967. I was then immersed in the whirlwindworld of advertising, writing copy designed to make consumers buywhat companies felt they needed and wanted, in accordance withPavlov’s hierarchy of human desires that fuel all of humankind’sbehavior.The account executives were always impeccably attired in theirbusiness suits, while the copywriters exuded their angst in outfits thatyoung people nowadays would describe as “cool.” I found the AEs too stuffy and plastic, and the copywriters justdownright self-conscious and self-absorbed egotists. To my mind, notone of them could be considered by nubile, fresh graduates like me as “husband material.” 
And then, one day, my friend, Fe Capellan, who was an AE but did nothave the mindset of this advertising specimen, invited me to theirfamily picnic at Hundred Islands in Pangasinan.And it was at that time that I met the guy with whom I was destined toshare my life — Onib Olmedo.What made him so attractive was the fact that he was the veryantithesis of all the people I was working with in advertising.When we got married, he decided that he had had enough of thestructural discipline demanded by architecture, shifting gears in hiscareer path by becoming an artist.However, he was not at all like the artists I had to collaborate with inthe commercial world of advertising. His was a quiet intensity and theauthenticity of a perfectly integrated human person.The paintings he produced were not the pretty, ornamental stuff thatwe had been superficially exposed to in our Humanities classes at St.Theresa’s. In fact, they were all distorted and utterly disturbing, suchthat Filipino art collectors would be puzzled, frightened and evenrepelled by them.This was in the swinging ’60s, when Filipinos had developed a tasteonly for the vibrant and colorful images of Philippine genre artdepicting indigenous themes like town fiestas, planting and harvestingrituals, religious festivals and the folklore of a people who areperpetually smiling, although they may be weeping inside.It was, therefore, with a certain amount of trepidation that I unveiledthe portrait he had painstakingly painted as a gift for our firstValentine’s Day celebration as a couple.To my surprise, what I saw was a portrait done in a purely realisticstyle. In fact, he said he had based it on one of my black-and-whitephotographs which he projected on the white wall of his studio forenlargement.All my artsy-fartsy friends tell me that I should hide this paintingbecause it is not at all representative of his style. I ignore theircomments, because I know that making an exception for his wifethrough a realistic portrait that does not distort her features is afigurative expressionist’s unique way of saying, “I love you”—
something which cannot be duplicated by the usual way of expressingthose three little words.
Daddy’s girl
Like this portrait, there were two others he produced as an expressionof love for the people who were nearest and dearest to his heart: ourtwo daughters.Bambi, the older one, looks exactly like her father but is more like mein terms of personality traits - exuberant, ebullient, caring but alsofiercely determined to stand up for her rights and convictions.Franjo took after her father, being kind, gentle, compassionate andgenerous to a fault. She was his alter ego. They were kindred spiritswho spoke the same language.Of all the members of the huge Olmedo clan, Franjo is the only onewho really understands and appreciates her father’s art. The two of them would spend hours discussing his paintings, the nuances of thedistorted floor tiles, the chair intertwined with a girl, the hauntingimages on his canvas—with skeletal features and X-ray anatomies thatbrought the viewer into the dark recesses of tormented human souls.In stark contrast to these images is Onib’s portrait of her rendered inink. It captures the sweet innocence and the magical, albeit fleeting, joys of adolescence. As in other signature Onib paintings, the eyes sayit all—they have a look of softness and tenderness.In them are distilled the defining moments in a young girl’s life: theexciting but intimidating prospects of unknown territory represented bythe first day in school; the jitters attending her first performance in aclass play and her first un-chaperoned date at the junior-senior prom;the exhilaration of venturing into her first coed university after years of a cloistered existence at a convent school.The portrait exudes the shy but hopeful aura of youth looking into thefuture which holds the distant promise of dreams fulfilled andexpectations realized.The portrait evokes happy memories of funny moments andmomentous experiences—the way Onib would relate to his daughterhis own, unique version of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, changing “Jack and the Beanstalk” to Jack and a can of Purefoods pork and

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