A PORTRAIT OF GALO OCAMPO
Galo B. Ocampo used to say: "Every time Nanding
(Hernando R. Ocampo)
and I are introduced to someone, we try to beat each other in saying
'I am the greater Ocampo.'"
When one spoke of an Ocampo in Philippine painting, more often than not
people were talking of the more popular H.R. Ocampo. Both me have
contributions to Philippine art, but Galo Ocampo was lesser known because he
chose to work with the government. He was the director of th National Museum
and later the Presidential Museum in Malacanang. A head of the Philippine
Heraldry Committee, he designed the seals of the country, such as those we see
on our coins. A man who tried different media, he also designed and executed
the stained-glass windows for thi Manila Cathedral. The last years of his life
were spent in Arlington, Virginia, where his wife Loretta was undergoing
medical treatment. H would shuttle to and from the Philippines, where he
maintained a studio and home in San Juan.
Galo Ocampo first made waves when he painted the Brown Madonna which
depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary with Filipina features and in Philippine costume
at a time when everyone still clung to the image of the Caucasian Mary wearing a
Renaissance garb. With Victorio Edades, the so-called Father of Modern Art, and
Carlos "Botong" Francisco, Gal Ocampo was to to form the triumvirate in
Philippine art which spear headed the rebellion against the classicism and
romantic art espoused by Amorsolo and de la Rosa.
Surviving a heart attack further deepened Ocampo's religiosity. His art
has mostly religious themes: the famous Madonnas and flagellantes. And
of course, what he is most proud of are the stained-glass windows in the
A prolific letter writer, Galo Ocampo wrote poignant letters to friends in
Manila. He wrote: "Here in my ivory tower, a wave of memories stream
by, the silhouettes of the past are rekindled in my imagination-the in-
nocence and struggles of youth, the affirmation and recognition enjoyed by
our former maestros in U.P. and which some of us now enjoy, and alas the
twilight that must come-vivid frames to one like me in retirement. . ."
Living abroad gave him the perspective with which he could view the
Philippine art scene and analyze it. In a series of revealing and intimate
letters to art dealer Mae Reyes, he pours out his frustrations and opinions.
Excerpts give us a glimpse into Galo Ocampo, the man and the artist:
ON LIFE IN ARLINGTON
"I am on my last Madonna commission. In between painting and writing
my autobiography, like almost everybody here I have a vegetable garden
of giant tomatoes, three-foot-long sitao, ampalaya, snowpeas, and
squash which I grow on five-foot stakes. God makes my plants grow; I
just water them religiously every afternoon. Soon I will go home and
make every available space in my San Juan garden grow vegetables while
I convert my swimming pool into a tilapia pond. I sent some of the seed-
lings again this summer to a friend over there and he wrote me back
saying: 'Pare, please don't send seedlings any more. . . true, I planted
them last year, but somebody else is harvesting them at night. . ."Sus-
inariosep! Every time I want to stretch my back from painting, I go out to
out garden and attend (and talk) to my vegetables! Tlirough gardening, I
have developed a reverence for life, for persistence, and the generous
bounty of nature. God makes my garden grow, I just water the plants and
weed the garden. Gardening is akin to giving birth-it is a thrill to watch
the seed of my sitao sprout, mature, and thrive, for did I not once plant the
seed of my Brown Madonna in 1939 and look at the products I generated
of Filipino Madonnas now, where before there were only the Italian
Madonnas and Bambinos of the Renaissance."
THE DOWNHILL DRIVE
Galo was a very humble man. Late in life, he struggled to find his identity in art
and be admitted be bad forgotten that which had made him famous. "I am in the
midst of a metamorphosis in my work. The accumulated experience of a lifetime
has given me an insight on my input where I have mistakenly misrepresented
representation as a factual interpretation of my feelings. Today, detached and
far away from the Philippine art scene, I realized that a work of art is neither the
faithful (realism) nor the distorted representation (our pseudomoderns influenced
by the mainstream of art) but the immediate unadorned record of an authentic
intellectual-emotional reaction of the artist. For so long, the Filipino artist has
kowtowed to... Cezanne, Picasso, Braque, even Tamayo or Dali in the mistaken
notion that by doing so they are 'moderns.'
"I have forgotten the impulse that made me do a Brown Madonna as a rebellion
against the biblical notion of a Virgin Mother dressed in the Renaissance garb of
an Italian setting; not the flagellante series that a clock is not a surreal but a
metal timepiece that does not melt in a Dali painting. Rod Paras Perez was correct
in evaluating that my flagellantes are earthbound and not floating and Benesa
explored my innermost feelings, that I am an expressionist at heart, so quo vadis,
"If you go to the Cathedral and look at my inventive designs on my stained
glass, I think you can find the answer. In those stained-glass designs, I
expressed the emotional impact of each biblical sermon on my linear pressure,
saturated with velocity, caress, repulsion, piety, anger or aspiration. All my
multicolored and prismatic glasses within the context of theology in the life and
times of our Blessed Mothet-all 303 panels were miraculously finished in two
months of frenzied creative activity.
"During Mass (in Washington), the priest always asked the parishioners to pray
for Mama, so in turn I asked the priest what can I do in return? Fr. Clininski said,
'Why don't you help us in the decoration of the interior of the church building?' I
didn't study this in Rome in the 50s. They asked me to repaint the 14 Stations of
the Cross, repaint all the statues of the saints in the altars and voila! The
Americans were impressed with Dr. Galo B. Ocampo. Sa wikang kafamfangan,
'May tinatago pala itong bulilit na kafamfangan na(h) ito...' But like
Fra Angelico, the angelic painter of the Church, I painted with faith and prayers,
as if what I were painting were creative canvasses. After my heart attack in 1982,
when I was clinically dead for several minutes until Mama applied a CPM on my
chest, I have devoted part of my time to apostolate work, hearing Mass everyday,
saying the rosary at every opportunity.
"Where did I lose my drive-on wasted cultural and administrative jobs. Now I am
ON ART AND POPULARITY
"T'he Old Guards are fading from the art scene-Botong, HRO, Manansala,
Lorenzo, and now Hades. All these are caveat to this survivor, this warhorse that
Lconie Benesa christened who is only old in years but young and bold enough
to leave behind his Madonnas and surreal works and shift to a new medium of
expression more in sync with the times.
"Fifty years ago we rebelled against the staid formalism of genre art and today,
alas we are faced with a milieu of pseudomodern art, which is only an echo of the
modern art establishment in the west.
"Here content and conceptualized expression are tendencies
the current annual and biennial art exhibitions of contemporary American
artists. I will continue to search in depth for me in me as against the
Gauguin and Dali in me. Serendipitously I hope to strike the right chord to
harmonize with my accumulated lifetime experience far away from the
imprisoned elitist "name" reputations of the Botongs, the HROs, Manansalas
or even Edadeses...Ay naku, collectors now only buy on the basis
of names, to the disadvantage of the beginners with merit. My heart is
with them for I am always a beginner at heart whenever I start a new canvas.
"During the reunion of the UGNAYAN group of USTFA
graduates, one of the
graduates and former students of Enteng Manansala asked him: "Sir, what
is the secret of your success in painting?" Without batting an eyelash, "Enteng
blurted: "Because I am great!" Ed Santiago, the photographer, recorded the
laughter that followed in a photo showing Enteng and I laughing at my repartee --
'Enteng, I admire your modesty.'
"So, it is only the greats and near-greats who will
be recorgnized by the
committee of the powers-that-be, and those of us who are still struggling
for the conceptual identity in art must watch from the gallery the Olympians
of Philippine art who are crowned and declared the national relics of the
New Society! Amen.
"For the rest of use, who are content to follow Ralph
Waldo Emerson when
he wrote: 'Here is a man willing to spend and be spent. A man who belongs
to the day he lives in. A man who has too much to do to be careful of fame.'"
"History proves that the greatness of a nation is
evaluated by the body of
art work left. Look at Rome and Athens. Tourists go to these places
because fo the magnificent body of architecture and art work left by the
vicissitudes of history. Philippine painting up to present is ailing through
lack of conceptual values, so when we participate in biennial exhibitions
abroad our entries do not attract attention because most of our entries are
derivative of styles now existing in America and Europe."
(12 July 1986)
Ocampo, Ambeth R., "Aguinaldo's Breakfast," Anvil Publishing, Inc, 1993.