'Heartist' painter Velasco passes away

By Caroline Howard, ANC

Posted at Jul 21 2010 12:31 AM | Updated as of Jul 21 2010 11:00 PM

MANILA, Philippines - In 2005, weighed down by a life-threatening kidney ailment, businessman Joey Velasco found a way to distract himself from pain and misery--by clinging to the healing power of art.

In his website (http://www.joeyvelasco.net/), Velasco's friends posted a statement saying he suffered from a heart attack and seizures days ago.

He had been battling kidney problems for years and lost his left kidney.

Velasco was an entrepreneur who started painting to deal with the depression brought about by his illness.

"Ang laging binubulong sa akin ng wife ko noon, surrender to the Lord, full surrender. Nanghingi po ako sa kanya ng lubid para makawala. Metaphorically, hindi siya nagbigay ng rope. He dangled a paintbrush and I grabbed it. Doon, liwanag. New life," he said in an interview on Probe Profiles.

He specialized in religious art and was called a "heartist" for depicting Jesus in everyday Filipino life.

His newfound devotion brought him serenity, and this was manifested in his art.

Inspired by the Last Supper, he made his first and most notable piece "Hapag ng Pagasa" in 2005, out of a lesson he wanted to teach his children about the value of food .He recast the theme by having Christ share a meal with street children. 

In 2006, the work won the Catholic Mass Media Awards.
But there was more to the work.

"Ang na feel ko, my painting can communicate to the soul. Everyday, kung sinong makakitang tao, same pattern of question, how can I give my share, how can I contribute. Di ko maassemble yung sarili ko e. Sila talaga bumubuo-buo ng piraso ko. Nahanap ko yung sarili ko na ito pala ang magbibigay ng meaning sa buhay," he said.

Eventually, following a vow he first made to help the children who helped him, donations came.

Filled with new inspiration and without any formal training, Velasco churned out religious painting, more than 100 of them in 5 years.

Word spread about his artwork.

Aware of his own mortality, he found meaning in every experience.

He also wrote books, produced short films, and engrossed himself in sculpture.

"For a long time, di na ako nagsusuot ng relos e, I don't live chronologically, by time. I live by the moment," Velasco said. "Whenever I paint, I consider it my last obra. Takot na takot po ako. Pero ngayon, hindi na."

Friends and fans grieve for the passing of the artist on Tuesday.

Velasco's works are living proof of an enduring faith that saw him to the end, when he finally came face to face with his maker, the one who inspired his art.