By Walter Ang
June 23, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The eye-level painting nearest the door by Welbart shows dramatic red curtains oh-so-slightly parted in the middle, revealing the faces of two harlequins in a deep, furtive kiss. High above everything else, with a sole wall dedicated to it, is one of Babao's favorites, Elmer Borlongan's "Bus stop" depicting several would-be passengers in various poses of sleepiness.
These two pieces are an apt prelude for every visitor: yes, there's a lot going on here, this is just the holding area, and you've only seen the tip of the iceberg. A kinetic bust (a sculpture with moving parts) by Gabby Barredo stares at the door, beckoning new arrivals to stay and digest the eclectic exhibit curated by Babao in his home-cum-gallery.
If there is anyone to "blame" for his obvious passion for visual arts, it is Onib Olmedo. Although Babao wanted to take up fine arts in college, he never thought he would one day be collecting art. But back in the mid-90s, he passed by one of Olmedo's pieces at a mall-based gallery and was smitten.
"It was beautiful. I got goosebumps," he recalls. "I had no idea who the painter was. They told me he was dead already." He was still a starting reporter and blanched at the price, but the love affair had already been sparked. "I told myself that someday, I would buy one of his paintings."
A few years later, he acquired his first Olmedo painting on installment. It wasn't long till he'd amassed a collection that includes the works of Ang Kiukok, Mauro "Malang" Santos, Arturo Luz, Benedicto "Bencab" Cabrera, Jose Goya, Gus Albor, Lydia Cruz, Mark Justiniani, Froilan Calayag, Pedro Garcia, Emmanuel Garibay, Ronald Ventura, Bernardo Pacquing, Jerson Samson, Alfredo Esquillo, and Manuel Ocampo, among others.
If an "accomplice" to this stockpiling has to be named, it is Dr. Joven Cuanang, proprietor of Boston gallery (home of the Saling Pusa arts group of Borlongan, Garibay and Justiniani) and Pinto Art Gallery. "He is my adviser and mentor when it comes to art," says Babao.
His deep affinity to the visual arts has also resulted in friendships with the artists he deals with. Malang, Bencab and Ang Kiukok were his wedding godfathers. "I have more friends in the art world than in the media," he says.
Babao is clearly immersed in the art world and waxes enthusiastic about the current state of the Philippine art scene. "So many people are buying art now. Some artists have waiting lists of over 60 buyers each. Imagine how many years they would have to keep on painting to fill the demand!"
He cautions, however, that those who buy art solely for potential financial gains should reassess their objectives. "Investment should be secondary. What is important is that you like what you buy," he says.
This July, Babao is mixing all these elements of passion, art, friendship and investments into a palette of noble enterprise. He has parlayed his connections into donating paintings for a fund raising auction where all proceeds will go into building an entire village for Gawad Kalinga in Bagong Silang, Caloocan.
Gawad Kalinga is a movement for nation-building that aims to transform poverty stricken areas with the goal of building 700,000 homes in seven years (2003-2010). Babao's wife Christine sponsored one home last year for a GK village for her birthday and encouraged him to do the same.
He has upped the ante and decided to sponsor an entire village. "We'll be building 25-30 houses and we'll be calling it Art 40 Village," says Babao. The number 40 is holds sentimental value. "I'm turning 40 this year and this is actually my birthday project."
"When I broached the idea to my artist friends a few months ago, I had an overwhelming positive response," says Babao. To date, close to a hundred artists have signed up and he's still getting calls from artists who wish to join the undertaking. The auction will be held on July 20 at Pinto Art Gallery, Antipolo where Babao had his wedding reception.
After the houses are built, Babao plans to invite all the involved artists to paint murals on the facades of the house to inject public art into the community. "Art is not just for appreciation," he says. "I have a lot of passion for it and I want to use it to help those who need it."
For details, call 722-9205. Visit art40.multiply.com to preview paintings up for auction.
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