Fiona Graham, Head of Content, Philippines   08 June 2016

Romulo is better known in the art world as Jimbo Velasquez.

“I like the challenge, the colours. Everything I see, I paint it. I do it on the canvas … I discover myself.”

Romulo Velasquez Jnr  - or Jimbo as he’s known professionally and to friends – is a painter.

“Every time I go out it’s art,” he says.

“You have to see those lines. Those happy faces of people, everyday life that they are doing in the streets.”

Inspiration for Jimbo’s art comes from the world around him. Picture: Fiona Graham / WorldRemit

 

Romulo has spent almost his entire life in the family home in Pasay City in Manila – nearly 60 years.

Since his mother’s death in 2015, he has lived here alone.

The eldest of four, he has a brother who lives in the UK, and two sisters.

“They’re all married and I’m still single. That’s how it is.”

 

Drawing history

He didn’t start out as an artist. After university Romulo worked in advertising – until a new opportunity came up.

“It all started in 1985,” he says.

“A friend of mine called me up and told me there’s a slot for artists in a newspaper.”

The Philippine Daily Inquirer launched in 1985, just a few months before the People Power revolution reached its peak in February 1986, toppling President Ferdinand Marcos.

“The maiden issue was December 6, I still remember it, that’s history!” says Romulo.

“We printed the news so the people would know everything.

“We had to give it to the people – you had to express it through your cartooning. You have to be aware of everything around you. That’s part of being a cartoonist.

“You can lampoon their face - sometimes you overdo some faces, they sometimes get mad, but that’s the way it is, it’s cartoons. You have to do it so there will be some humour when you do their faces. If they have a big nose you exaggerate it more.”

 

Paint the future

But after 13 years at the paper, technology was changing the way his job was being done.

“I think they have some expansion in the company, and my line of work might be overshadowed by those new computers and those new guys around … you call it cost cutting.”

He’d been painting in his spare time for a while – so he called the collectors that bought his work and let them know that he would be available full time.

“You have to go deep, you get to know everything around you, you have to be observant,” says Jimbo.

“Observe everything, nature, the people, the colour of the street. That’s what I’ve been doing.”

Then one morning in 2009 he woke up and found he couldn’t walk.

“My head was too heavy, and half of it was hurting, especially behind the eyeball,” he says.

It was a debilitating stroke – leaving him facing a long, and expensive, recovery.

“When I had the stroke I didn’t paint for six or eight months, I couldn’t hold a single brush,” he says.

“It was really hard – you have to start all over again, you get used to the paint again, the stroke, you have to find it out again. You have to practise it again, the knowledge of the colour to evaluate everything.”

He started by walking to the corner of his street and back. Then to Roxas Boulevard and the ocean. Then further, then running.

His family helped as much as they could – his sister was there to support him emotionally and financially, and his brother in London sent money to help pay for his care.

“The hard work paid off – but I have to take the medicine, the doctor told me don’t stop, you have to take that for the whole life. It’s expensive.”

His brother and his wife work as house managers and have lived in the UK since the 1980s – and like so many Filipinos overseas they help support their family back home through remittances.

“Sometimes he sends some goods or some packages,” he says.

And if Jimbo needs money in an emergency, he sends it to him using WorldRemit.

“He does it in the computer. He calls and tells me to wait for the text message for the control number. Once you get that, then you get the money. It’s much easier for him to use WorldRemit to send money to me.

“It’s easy – the place where I get the money, it’s two streets from here.”

 

Connecting lives

Technology also helps the brothers keep in touch.

“It’s easier through [messaging app] Viber – sometimes he calls me. That’s how we communicate.

“Of course I miss him, sometimes I think about those days when we lived here. He also thinks of that. He still remembers things from when our parents were still alive, and we were still young.”

Romulo counts himself as lucky, he only needs to rely on his brother in emergencies or for help with maintenance on the family home – unlike so many Filipino families for whom the regular arrival of money from abroad is a lifeline.

“It helps a lot,” he says.

“Those people abroad, those sisters and brothers, they work hard to send here and their relatives are very happy to have it. There are so many poor people in our country. They are always happy when they receive the money.”

“Sometimes I think of them - have they got tired or happy for sending it?”

 

You can contact Romulo “Jimbo” Velasquez Jnr about his artwork through his Facebook page

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