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 Hofileña 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.  Hofileña, 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.  Hofileña 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. Hofileña 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 lyricist. The duality of HOCUS may be difficult to understand because people usually associate art with decorative objects that embellish 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, Hofileña 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  Hofileña 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. Hofileña. 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. Hofileña 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; Hofileña 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 painting 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.