Beyond Brushstrokes

“Art is long but life is short. In the long history of art, from the time man painted on the caves up to the present, this is the first time that art was created by two men in the manner of the HOCUS paintings,” historian-curator Gemma Cruz Araneta remarked.

The acronym HOCUS combines the names of intellectual lawyer-historian Saul Hofileña and artist-church conservator Guy Custodio. Mr. Custodio paints what is in Mr. Hofileña’s mind through the medium of oil on canvas.

Mr. Hofileña thinks of the images and brings old books that contain the images that he selects to the artist who “writes the story of each painting before paint hits the canvas,” Ms. Araneta explained.

The paintings are referred to as collaborative works. The two creators disagree. Mr. Hofileña and Mr. Custodio revealed that a collaborative work is one in which both artist who can paint and draw, create an artwork on one single canvas.

HOCUS is different.

Mr. Hofileña admits that he cannot draw a straight line even if his life depends on it. “He says, without batting an eyelid, that he is completely ignorant of drawing,” Ms. Araneta said.

There is a character, Anghel de Cuyacuy, the HOCUS angel who is depicted reading a book and sitting on a bench. Anghel tells the stories.

After the first exhibit HOCUS, Mr. Hofileña’s tormented visions of our colonial history have proliferated. Quadricula is the second HOCUS collection.

The Spanish Quadricula, the principal painting (oil on canvas, 3×5 ft.), is very interesting because it explains the layout of a pueblo or town.

The quadricula is the grid pattern used by the Spanish colonial government when they established a town that would attract the natives who were living in their own communities. The center is the plaza mayor and around it is the church and government offices. Intramuros is a fine example of the grid pattern.

In this painting, a conquistador and friar are shown laying out the grid pattern aided by angels bearing the symbols of Spanish conquest: the sash inscribed with the names of Legazpi, Salcedo, Goiti, and Lavesares who were the pillars of the conquest; the Crown, Sword and Sea lion; the uniquely Spanish letter “Ñ”: the emblems of the Franciscan, Jesuit, Recollect and Dominican Orders.

“The historical/satirical provocations presented by Quadricula cannot be understated. Quadricula (‘grid’ in Spanish) is part II of Hofileña and Custodio’s unique collaboration called HOCUS. Such provocations are there to tickle or stimulate us, while subverting our whole inherited colonial education. Quadricula launches us into a Rabelaisian walking tour (and hide-and-seek in Filipino carnivalesque) of the labyrinth of our colonial memory,” poet Marne L. Kilates commented.

“The synergy was extraordinary. It seemed like the ideas and thoughts of historian Saul Hofileña were directly transmitted to the hand of painter Guy Custodio when depicting a personality and a historical event. You can see the people and costumes. The style is clean and clear,” art collector and retired diplomat Deanna Ongpin-Recto remarked.

Ms. Araneta followed a historical timeline. “The conquest with the Cross and Sword, the point of cintacy or how the natives reacted to the conquest and new religion. There was confusion and subjugation.

“There are paintings about the eternal battle between Moros y Cristianos; forced labor, the KKK, death of Rizal and the Revolution,” she said.

Mr. Hofileña explained, “I am a historian, but I am still a lawyer. The HOCUS paintings are my evidence. Evidence is the means sanctioned by law to ascertain in judicial proceedings the truth regarding a matter of fact. There is documentary evidence which I used to give meaning to the HOCUS paintings.”

The painting Lashes in the name of God (oil on canvas, 3×5 ft.) shows a native woman tied to the communion rail of a church while a man lashes her back upon orders of a friar standing in the pulpit. Town folk are the witnesses who must learn the painful lesson.

During the colonial times, the lashing scene happened. The evidence is primary sources such as the account of French traveler Guillaume Le Gentil who visited the Philippines in the 17th century, and Englishman John Foreman who wrote a book about the Philippines. He said that the natives went to church out of custom or habit but they refused to go if they had no clean clothes to wear. They were lashed not only for missing Mass but also for being vain. The gobernadorcillos and village chiefs had to be seen in church on Sundays and holy days. The penalty would be heavy fines or lashing.

The Quadricula HOCUS II exhibit is definitely worth a visit. It is on view at Galleries 27 and 28 of the National Museum of Fine Arts. (It opened last September and will be on view until March). There are regular lectures by historians, heritage conservators, artists and scientists.

Six paintings are now on permanent exhibit. The rest will be distributed to other museums in the Philippines.


Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.