Symbols galore

The “Quadricula” or “Hocus II” exhibition  has enjoyed unprecedented success in the National Museum of Fine Arts. For those who  have not seen it ( or rather, experienced it) you have until the ides of March  to spend a Saturday morning at the   Galleries 27 and 28.  HOCUS refers to a series of paintings jointly made by lawyer/historian Saul Hofilena  and painter/restorer Guy Custodio. HOCUS is the combination of  the first two syllables of their surnames.

Recently, in n a joint interview conducted by this writer , they  explained how the HOCUS paintings are  conceptualized and the reason behind each polemical image. Atty.  Hofilena, the intellectual author,  made the following narration, with the nodding approval of Guy Custodio. He revealed that he supervises the making of each painting down to the minutest detail like the juxtaposition of figures, symbols and landscapes.  Hofilena choreographs   the positions, poses and attitudes assumed by  the figures  in each  painting because he is a historian and wants to impart lessons about our history on canvas.,

Atty. Hofilena said: “The HOCUS paintings are a first in the whole history of art, excuse the lack of humility. I read art history and I have never come across a painting, much less a series of the paintings  wherein one person conceptualizes and gives detailed directions , while the other paints the picture. In music, it was  done by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the former was the composer and the latter the lyricists. The duality of HOCUS may be  difficult to understand  because people usually associate art with decorative objects that decorate a home. HOCus is an entirely different  genre because it is a visual narrative of our history. “

I know for a fact that before Custodio even starts mixing paints, Hofilena tells him the story, a significant moment in our history full of symbols and in allegorical style.  Then he mines  his vast collection of documents, old prints and maps,   drawings and pictures of the people clothed in the manner of a particular  period. When  Hofilena misplaces a book or a document that he needs to consult for a particular painting, everything comes to a standstill  until the missing volume is found.  The HOCUS exhibitions are always accompanied with an illustrated catalogue in four colors that include a bibliography of the various erudite sources  that were consulted by the intellectual author.

Every time I visit the National Museum of Fine Arts to check on the Quadricula exhibition which I curated,  I am amazed that many young people  take time to  read  the labels of each painting, as well as the catalogue book  so painstakingly prepared by Atty. Hofilena. These are chained to the benches  of the exhibition hall, for easy reference. .  I was wrong to think that  HOCUS would appeal only to people of my generation.

I am happy to announce that 11 of the HOCUS  I painting collection (2017 vintage)  have found a permanent home on  the fourth floor of the National Museum of Fine Arts. At present, I am negotiating with several provincial  museums interested in exhibiting HOCUS and  accepting  painting  donations for permanent display.  Atty. Hofilena says he is not interested in tax rebates; he merely  wants  young Filipinos to at least be curious about the history of their country.

During the interview, I made the observation that HOCUS has preempted the Quincentennial scheduled for 2021; many of the paintings are about the so-called contact period and the tortuous transition that followed. Notably, the “Dreamweavers”, “ Staking Territory” , “The Patronato Real” are illustrative of what took place 500 years ago. Apparently, the HOCUS team will stretch the timeline of the Quincentennial; Hofilena has his own compass of history.

The lawyer/historian  says that the  next set of Hocus paintings will depict the crepuscule of the Spanish period which starts with the death of Rizal, the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine- Spanish- American Wars . “ The timeline is short if you begin with the  execution of Jose Rizal up to the end of the Philippine-American War. Although short, they were pivotal years. HOCUS will be in its element depicting those blood-soaked decades in allegory. A  paintings  shows a phalanx of angels carrying banners of the “new” religion, Protestantism. Another has a   row  of belligerent angels bearing   shields emblazoned with eagles in different kinds of positions.   With  wings outstretched, the eagle  depicts  the  expansionist  proclivity  of the USA; an  eagle soaring  across oceans  leads America’s conquering armies; even when  perched and motionless, the eagle is menacing as it jealously  guards its territory. I can hardly wait for HOCUS III.