Back in 2005, the country was surprised with a painting of Jesus Christ in his immaculate white robe breaking bread with twelve grimy street children. From one exhibition to another, the heart-wrenching oil on canvas painting, Hapag ng Pag-asa, made quite a stir in the artistic circle, social media, and local parishes. It even replaced Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper in Filipino families’ dining rooms. What made it more interesting is that the search for the maker of this modern artwork led to a humble man in crutches suffering from kidney disease.
At EDSA Shangri-La Manila’s Art of Wine event last April 26, guests gathered at the unveiling of Joey Velasco’s Way of the Cross series of cast bronze with the Hapag ng Pag-asa as the month-long exhibition’s centerpiece. Gracing the cocktail affair were Presidential Sister Viel Aquino-Dee and her husband Joseph Dee, Gawad Kalinga chairman and founder Tony Meloto, EDSA Shangri-La Manila’s General Manager Amit Oberoi, and Queeny Velasco.
Art From the Heart
Joey Velasco, husband to Queeny and father to four kids, began painting when he had an operation and saw in a dream an image of the Madonna. With a strong will to remember the image, he got his art materials and painted it—the first of his series of paintings that changed his life, his family's, as well as of the people who have seen his works.
Although Joey didn’t have formal artistic training, he was able to paint on canvasses powerful images of various people representing the many aspects of society as well as Christ in the modern times.
“He told me that the reason why he centered his paintings on Jesus was because He is the reason he lived. We are living because of Him, so why not paint about Him and integrate His teachings to the situation of the Filipinos?” Queeny said.
With vivid colours, emotional strokes, and captivating drawings, Joey has established himself as a heartist—an artist that makes art from the heart. In his untimely death on July 2010, Joey left his family with almost a hundred art works varying from sculptures to paintings, including 30 major oil paintings like Cast All Your Cares, Mga Munting Sireneo, That We May Live, Thy Will Be Done, Gusto Kong Maging Bayani, and the famous Hapag ng Pag-asa, that were all reprinted into postcards, calendars, and posters for every Filipino home. Indeed, the heartist was not only able to transform his life but also the others who were touched with his works and were inspired to do something for the poor.
Art Transforms Life
“He was able to prove that art is a good medium to convey message to others and lead to something great,” Queeny said. “After exposing the Hapag ng Pag-asa, many people were asking how they could help the street children. Art is not just something to look at and admire but it can also transform life.” With the cooperation of Gawad Kalinga, the couple was able to put up the Joey Velasco Foundation, which helped the street children in some communities in Metro Manila, including those who modelled for Joey’s paintings, to study and have decent shelter and clothing. “He saw the situation and was able to transform it—with the help of Jesus,” Queeny said.
Years have passed since Joey's passing and Queeny moves forward—carrying with her Joey's masterpieces to share messages of hope, love, and transformation that helped her and her family especially in their most difficult times. “In his journey in art, which spanned about five years and seven months, we have seen how Joey turned his suffering into a blessing. The fact that he was able to carry his cross gracefully with a smile on his heart strengthened our family.”