A Song for Aleli

A Song for Aleli
signed and dated ‘H R Ocampo 74’ (lower right); signed, titled, dated and inscribed '"A SONG FOR ALELI'/oil' - 34" x 50"/ by H.R. Ocampo/1974' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
86 x 126 cm. (33 7/8 x 49 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1974
Commissioned by the original owner
Thence by descent to the present owner
Private Collection, Asia

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

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Lot Essay

"In line with his lifelong interest in colour, Ocampo concerns himself with the problem of how to express with colour alone the ideas of form, space, depth, luminosity - all at the same time. Colours, as used by Ocampo, must have the necessary ingredients of volume and space. They must be integrated and firmly related but never compromised Ocampo applies paint in dots and short fluid-strokes that come off sensitively from the electric proximity between hand, brush and canvas."
- Manuel D. Duldulao

A Song for Aleli (Lot 28) by Hernando Ruiz Ocampo (commonly known as HR Ocampo) is a superb example of the artist's finest achievements in avant garde abstraction. A member of the illustrious Thirteen Moderns fraternity, who pioneered modernism in Philippine art, Ocampo is best known for his biomorphic forms and experimentations with colour theory. As a result, strong, quasi-figurative compositions emerged, often depicting Philippine archetypes and cultural elements. Within the generation of career modernists within mid-20th century painting in the Philippines, names which rose to the fore included Ocampo, Romeo Tabuena, and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, alongside other artists such as Vicente Manansala and Ang Kiu Kok. Through works that strongly contributed to the development of the modernist visual aesthetic as we know it today, these artists came of age ranging between the 1940s to 60s, and practiced their art up to as late as the 1980s and 90s.

HR Ocampo is often seen as a succeeding generation due to the prominence of his later works, but age-wise he was a peer of Vicente Manansala and Cesar Legaspi, and together with them formed a pioneering triumvirate of radical modernists. His works are primarily abstracted forms derived from landscapes, figures and natural phenomena. Displaying strong colours, a textural presence borne of precise brushwork rather than a heavy application of paint, and wavy, undulating shapes opposed to geometric forms; Ocampo's works epitomize non-objectivism and organic development. Given how he began his career as an artist late in life and was not particularly prolific, H.R. Ocampo’s works are rare to come by. So too, is his practice shrouded in mystery as there is no specific institution devoted to his oeuvre. A slow and methodical painter, the artist was pedantic and spent a great deal of time on each piece. HR Ocampo kept a list of collectors ready to purchase his completed pieces and the demand for them was such that they were sold as the paint was still drying. However, he was known to have strong friendships with his collectors, and the present work here was commissioned by the artist in 1974, honouring his warm friendship and legacy with the collector.

HR Ocampo undertakes a creative process involving intellectual pause and consideration before beginning to paint. His inspiration is drawn from external stimuli within his environment, eventually expressed in abstraction and through an awareness of the beauty found in the everyday. When ideas occur to him, he plans and cuts out motifs and does a transfer to canvas, whilst plotting out the area of the colour tones. The texture and complexity of the painting’s surface is accentuated by a palette of differing colour tones that together, create a sense of visual harmony.

A Song for Aleli is a beautiful example of Ocampo’s skill and method and alludes directly to his ‘visual melody’ period, characterised by a varying prism of red, tawny orange and bold yellow tones. The shapes cling together in biomorphic form, seemingly moving towards the direction of the abstract with its densely rich tones. The painting is also richly textured, immersing the viewer in a dramatic poetic journey across the entire composition. Ocampo worked and painted using the stippling method, where oil pigments are directly applied using small subtle touches with a palette knife. Ocampo’s characteristic shapes within his canvasses are softly graded into shadow, which creates a sense of motion and gradient amidst the undulations. A visual symphony of biomorphic forms, the fluid shapes of the canvas bring the present lot to life, displaying a richness in the interlocking synchronization of shape, colour and form in harmonious symphony. In this way, the piece exemplifies H.R. Ocampo’s compositional goal of “unity, coherence and emphasis” which reflects his desire for a nation that exhibited these same attributes.

In my pictures, I am more interested in how shapes, hues, values, textures and lines interact with one another in space, rather than in capturing a photographic semblance of nature. I am more preoccupied with the creation of new realities in terms of stress and strain, rather than with the portrayal of such conventional emotions as hate, love, anger, jealousy, etc. I wish onlookers would stop looking for qualities which I have purposely eliminated from my pictures.”
- HR Ocampo, in his journal dated 1953

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