Looking at a Lydia Velasco painting, it’s impossible to not feel instantly captivated by the figures on the canvas. Vibrant, vigorous women unapologetically take up the entire frame. Their skin glistens in brown, green and yellow hues, and their muscular features control the composition. Their elongated bodies are sometimes clad in colorful floral prints and folkloric garments, but at other times they stand bare.
Velasco’s mission is to spotlight the power and divinity of Filipina women, and the result is astounding every single time. Growing up in the Philippines in a creative household, her interest in art was nurtured throughout her childhood. She obtained a Fine Arts degree in Advertising from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila and went on to work as a corporate artist for a number of international advertising agencies such as Pacifica and McCann-Erickson. As both a highly respected executive and feminist painter, Velasco is the embodiment of the strength and assertiveness her subjects represent.
“I was one of those that the bosses would ask to do the story boards for TV commercials of products such as Palmolive and Camay,” she said in a piece for Inquirer.net. “Whatever it is, I would make sure their faces contained certain expression—coy, seductive, smiling, or winsomely trying to attract attention.”
This attention to detail is present throughout the artist’s work. Some critics have suggested that the women in Velasco’s paintings struggle between sensuality and spirituality, but I disagree. Her delineation of the female body captures a sense of sexuality that is deeply rooted in a spiritual self-acceptance; this, in turn, creates a mystical manifestation of the female experience. By often placing her subjects in natural surroundings that are pulsating with life, such as tropical waterfalls, blooming flowers and sprawling vegetation, the artist perfectly ties together her themes of womanhood to honor Mother Nature.
Velasco applies this perspective not only to her original works, but to her appropriations of classic paintings as well. Her take on “Girl With the Pearl Earring” inserted roses onto the girl’s face and surroundings, and in 2013 she recreated the Mona Lisa as homage to the Virgin Mary. In some way, every single one of her portraits can be traced back to a celebration of matriarchy.
This makes sense considering Velasco is a mother herself. Her daughters Chigoe, Rosario and Xeryc Velasco have picked up the creative vein in the family and are all dedicated to the arts themselves. In 2014, the mother and daughters combined their work for a show titled “Mindscape.” Two years later, the family again played an important role in one of the artist’s exhibitions, “Art with a Heart,” which served as a fundraiser for her niece suffering from bone marrow cancer.
Whether it’s in the way she paints them or the way she supports them in real life, Lydia Velasco is dedicated to showing solidarity to the women of her native country. Although the figures in her work are often exaggerated, she depicts a femininity that can be both ethereal and robust at the same time; as a result, her work is a candidly honest portrayal of what it means to be a woman.