By Victor Speranski
I have always been fascinated by the stories of people buying an old painting at a flea market or a garage sale for $5 only to discover later they bought an original Salvador Dali or something like that. Being pretty skeptical about my own chances though, I find it exciting browsing through Trash and Treasure market stalls, Op-Shops and garage sales. Now and then I buy an odd painting here and there, rarely paying over $20. I collected quite a stack of lovely and not-so-lovely paintings over the last 10 years.
The most exciting part after bargaining for the right price for me is doing research at home, trying to work out who the artist of a particular work is. The hardest part at times is to read the signature, as many artists for some reason make their signatures very hard to read.
I had a lovely painting hanging above my office desk for quite a while. Two huts, a tree and a boat by the river. Very well painted, it had a long signature I couldn’t quite read. I made it in the end, the last name was Buenaventura. I googled it up and found some information on Cesar Buenaventura, the artist from the Philippines. Naturally, I wanted to know more and I ordered a book on Cesar from the library. It was a very interesting book which had lots of photographs of his works. I could then roughly attribute my painting as being one of his Cabra Island series landscapes. It was very interesting to find out about Mabini street artists in Manila. I studied the book well, as it mentioned lots of names and to my surprise discovered that another painting I had in my stack was painted by yet another Mabini street artist Delfin Tinonas. I’ve always read the signature as “Tinomas” and it didn’t make sense.
Yet another painting was identified after I put the photo of it on an art forum. A large cock fight scene turned out to be by Salvador Cabrera, elder brother of Bencab, National Artist of the Philippines.
Well, I became more aware of Philippines paintings by then and spotted a Still Life on a flea market one weekend. The wooden frame was similar to the one I had on my other Philippine painting. And I was right. It was Victor Cabisada Jr, another talented artist from the Philippines.
Well, enough co-incidences? Not quite. Another painting I read the signature of like “Peek Pinor”, which didn’t make much sense, turned out to be of Peck Pinon, a comedian and a brilliant artist.
I have since spotted two more “Phillipnos” at the flea market. They are yet to be identified though.
I have always asked myself, how come there are so many paintings from the Philippines around? The natural guess was that they were bought cheap in the 1960’s and 1970’s by Australian tourists and brought here. Easy come- easy go. People eventually got rid of them and they ended up in garage sales and flea markets.
I have started looking through ebay pages. Occasionally one could find a painting or two from the Philippines there, but the prices for artists like Paco Gorospe or Roger San Miguel were out of my reach. I have spotted a nice painting once by Leonardo Zablan, yet another Mabini street artist mentioned in Buenaventura book. But again, it was too expensive for me. It’s a pity, I said to myself.
I once went to the tip shop. Literally it is a shop for resaleable goods from the tip. And there was a very dirty painting on the floor. So dirty, one couldn’t see it properly. It didn’t attract me at all. But as a matter of curiosity I had a quick look at it. And guess what? It was Leonardo Zablan. Needless to say, I took it home.
I found Leonardo’s son via Facebook. He wrote to me that his father used to sell lots of his paintings to Australia. Apparently there was a lady by the name of Ann Gleeson, the art-dealer from Melbourne who bought many of his paintings. That correlates with the information from various forums that some Peck Pinon and other Philippines artists’ works were on display and for sale during various art shows in 1970’s in Victoria.
I live in Canberra. I have never been to the Philippines, but I feel there is a special connection to the Philippines now through my paintings. I guess it will eventually lead me to Manila.