Saul Hofileña Jr. on his HOCUS opus

September 16, 2022

(First of two parts)

My dear friend, Saul Hofileña Jr., is a lawyer, a historian, a law professor, and a former law school dean. He has authored 15 books on law, history, and art.

He is the intellectual author of a collection of 87 paintings most of which were presented to the public at the National Museum of Fine Arts. The first exhibition was HOCUS, (18 April 2017 to 29 October 2017, Gallery 21), the second Quadricula (15 September 2019 to 15 March 2020, Galleries 27 and 28). Both were curated by Gemma Cruz Araneta, former National Museum director. The third would have been titled Juicio Final, if not for Covid-19 and its deadly variants. Instead, Hofileña wrote a book telling us about the meaning of each painting, in anticipation of normal times.

All of the 87 paintings authored by him are signed by the anghel de cuyacuy an avatar depicting a moreno angel with an upo hat, seated on a stool reading while jiggling a leg (cuyacuy), a habit of Filipino men. Significantly, a crown of thorns frames the anghel de cuyacuy.

I am sharing below my online interview with Saul:

Daily Tribune (DT): What is HOCUS?
Saul Hofileña Jr (SHJ): HOCUS stands for the first two syllables of the names of two persons. Ho stands for Hofileña and Cus for Custodio.
I am the intellectual author of each painting; Guy Custodio did the painting.

The image on the cover of ‘Juicio Final.’

DT: Why do they say that the HOCUS paintings are unique?
SHJ: Aside from the subject of each painting, I think people find the collaboration unique. Frankly, I have never come across a similar collaboration except in the music world.

DT: How did you do it?
SHJ: I visited him at his atelier which is a minute away by car from my house in Dasmariñas, Cavite. To impart my ideas to a visual artist like Custodio, I make use of antique books from my personal collection, a lot of historical ephemera I have hoarded through decades and I tell Custodio what to paint — scenes from historical events, people involved, actions that took place. Each painting looks like a chapter of our history, people have told me.

‘Anghel de Cuyacuy.’

It was a very close collaboration, I would tell Custodio exactly where to paint the various figures, their attitudes, the mood that should be projected. Custodio took care of the proportions, perspective, color contrasts. After all, he is an expert in religious colonial art; he restores old churches in Bohol.

DT: How did you meet Guy Custodio?
SHJ: I met him while touring Bohol. I wanted to see the old churches. That was before the earthquake destroyed most of them. He was hanging like a bat from the cupola of the Alburquerque church, restoring faded frescos.

DT: Why did you make HOCUS?
SHJ: Aside from my interest in law, which is my profession, I have always been fascinated by history, Philippine history in particular. I have always been intrigued by the Patronato Real, because it was the Patronato that justified the conquest of these islands by the Spanish Empire. Because I am a lawyer, its legal aspect always calls my attention. To me, the Patronato Real is an irresistible mixture of law and history. I wanted to relate that vital part of our history to my fellow Filipinos, especially those who are not fond of reading but like looking at pictures.

DT: What is the Patronato Real?
SHJ: It is the Royal Patronage in English. It is a subject that always gets lost in the translation.

To put it simply, during the years that we were under Spain, the Spanish monarch sent friars and priests to our islands so that the natives would close their eyes while everything was being taken away from them. There was a union of Church and State. To quote Leon Ma. Guerrero: “The history of colonial Philippines begins and ends with the friar.”

DT: You recently came out with a book entitled Juicio Final, what is it all about?
SHJ: It is the last book in the HOCUS trilogy. It shows the final HOCUS paintings which even went beyond the Patronato Real story. I do not intend to do any other.

DT: Why?
SHJ: Because it is too time consuming. Every time a HOCUS painting is made, I first have to do a lot of research. Take, for example, the woman sewing a Philippine flag with a multitude of clocks surrounding her shown in the Quadricula exhibition. Instead of the numbers one to 12 on the face of each clock, I told Custodio to put the years which I considered important in our country’s history and enumerated their importance in Quadricula, the book published in conjunction with the exhibition. I explained why the years indicated on the faces of the clocks were important to us.
The research was painstaking and I had to think of how I could present the ideas that the painting wishes to convey. It consumed my waking hours.

Photograph courtesy
of Saul Hofileña Jr
‘Savages on Display.’

DT: How come the Patronato Real sounds so novel?
SHJ: It is because most historians do not write on what it actually is and its mechanics; most of them concentrated on its effects. HOCUS allowed me to present it and even call it by name, and its presentation in visual form together with the stories of each painting allowed me to give my narrative without offending sensibilities. I even explained the Patronato Real concept to nuns with their Mother Superior in tow. Priests and their wards also toured the exhibition to be informed. So, art is really an effective teaching tool.

DT: Of all the HOCUS paintings, what is your favorite?
SHJ: It is La Pesadilla (The Nightmare), which was exhibited in the National Museum in 2017, during HOCUS I and is now on permanent exhibit there.

DT: What makes it special to you?
SHJ: Go and see the painting and think of the year it was exhibited and you will know why. I remember standing before a blank canvas and demonstrating how it should be painted, even mimicking the sounds the giant bats are supposed to be making and thinking and researching on what should be painted on the canvas.

DT: How many HOCUS paintings did you produce from 2014 to 2020?
SHJ: Eighty-seven completed paintings and six of which are now on permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts and an additional five paintings have been gazetted for permanent exhibit at the National Museum of Anthropology foyer.

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