Remembering Corazon Aquino, the artist

Remembering Corazon Aquino, the artist
Rappler speaks to Jeffrey Consumo – former President Cory Aquino's art teacher from 1996 to 1998

MANILA, Philippines – Most Filipinos remember her as Ninoy’s widow; one of the leaders of the People Power Revolution; the 11th president of the Republic of the Philippines; the 1st female president in Asia; and as the “Mother of Democracy” in the region.

She is cherished by millions as the woman in yellow who led the fight for democracy, bringing it back to the country after 21 years of dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos. She is also referred to the mother of TV and movie personality turned social media superstar Kris Aquino, former Philippine president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, and their sisters Pinky, Viel, and Ballsy.

Only a relative few, however, remember that Cory Aquino was also an artist, a talented painter.

While other artists have claimed to have had Aquino under their tutelage, it is Jeffrey Consumo who is often credited as the art teacher who made an impact in developing the artistic talent of the late former president.

In an exclusive interview with Rappler, Mr. Consumo traced the timeline he served as Aquino’s teacher, lovingly referring to her as “Tita Cory.”

Cory had her first art class with Consumo on April 17, 1996. Consumo recalls that Ballsy, Cory’s daughter, attended the session, as well as Cory’s sister Passy Teopaco, part a small group composed of relatives, and former members of her Cabinet.

TEACHER. Jeffrey Consumo is the painter credited with helping Cory Aquino hone her skills as an artist.

The class was held at the Sumulong-Cojuangco residence in Dasmariñas Village in Makati, and would be held there every Wednesday from 3 to 5 pm until 1998. By 1999, Aquino would occasionally summon Consumo to her Times Street residence for one-on-one lessons.

Consumo says he was very lucky to have the former president as a student. She was a fast learner who would mimic her teacher’s paint strokes, and was quick to follow instructions. She was a natural.

Consumo recalls, “Ang ginawa ko, gina-guide ko. Eto yung canvas. Eto yung pintura. Eto yung brush. Eto yung gagawin. Idraw-drawing ko ng brush, pinapakita ko yung gagawin. Tapos mag-paint over na siya.”

(What I would do is I would guide her. This is the canvas. This is the paint. This is the brush. This is what you do. I’d draw with a brush and show her what to do. Then she would paint over it.)

Consumo would leave her to her own devices when he saw that she was at ease and finding leisure and progress while painting. Even if they tried painting other subjects, Aquino had a particular fondness for painting flora and would go back to painting flowers for some reason, and Consumo let her be.

“I was just her guide,” he said.

Consumo describes Aquino as a kind-hearted and helpful woman who opened doors for him. Before he knew it, she had invited so many people to participate in their class, considering they started with only 6 students. Her sphere of influence helped make Consumo’s clientele of high profile personalities grow.

Mabait talaga siya,” Consumo said. (She was really kind.)

The class even had an exhibit in 1999, but none of Aquino’s paintings were for sale, although a couple were raffled off.

Not for sale

ONE HUNDRED FORTY EIGHT. Cory hardly ever titled her works, preferring to number them. Photo courtesy of Metrobank Foundation

In 2013, “A Gift of Self,” an exhibit showcasing around 30 of Aquino’s works, was held in commemoration of the late president’s fourth death anniversary.

Aquino never sold any of her paintings. They were given as personal gifts to friends, former members of her Cabinet, and other people who supported her throughout her administration. Once in a while, she would auction or raffle off one of her artworks to help one of the numerous charities she supported.

Consumo himself is a lucky recipient of Cory’s work. He claims to have a few of them, with dedications lovingly hand-written by Aquino herself. 

From hobbyist to prolific artist

Consumo claims that Mrs. Aquino painted close to 300 works since 1996, the year she started having classes with him. She painted mostly with oil and acrylic on both paper and canvas. She wasn’t fond of water color because she preferred to be able to “feel” the paint, according to Consumo.

“She started it as a hobby,” says Consumo of Mrs. Aquino’s inclination towards painting. “Pero hindi na siya tumigil kahit hindi na kami nagle-lesson. Tuloy-tuloy na.” (But she never stopped even though we weren’t having lessons anymore. She just kept going.)

FIFTH PAINTING. Cory was known for her penchant for painting flowers and vibrant colors. Photo courtesy of Metrobank Foundation

While the use of vibrant colors and exaggerated figures in Cory’s paintings veer towards Expressionism, the first painting she made on her first lesson with Consumo was actually a zoomed-in imitation of a painting by Monet, a French Impressionist.

The style Cory adapted was her own, as her art teacher of more than 2 years never taught her or prevented her from painting in a certain manner.  

She was never self-conscious as an artist. There’s a feeling of naiveté – a sense of purity – in her paintings; as if every stroke was made neither hesitation nor pretense; every motion of the paintbrush flowed freely, with a calm composure and genuine emotions leading the way.

All personal

Aside from the usual paper and canvas, Cory also painted on plates, bags, and even throw pillow covers. While she had an obvious preference for making floral paintings, she also painted images of rosaries, crosses, and of women.

Cory never thought of herself as a professional artist. Painting never pressured her; if anything, it was her way to relax. It was never her intention to sell her paintings; hence, all her work is personal – either kept for peer consumption or given as gifts to special people in her life.

Among those close to Mrs. Aquino was the family of business magnate and tycoon George Ty. Mrs. Aquino was the chair of Metrobank Foundation’s Board of Advisers for 16 years, from 1993 until the time of her death.

She gave paintings to George, his wife Mary, son Arthur and daughter-in-law Zandra, and daughter Alessandra on various occasions.

In 1996, she gave her “Fifth Painting” to Mary Ty as a birthday gift. She gave her “One Hundred Forty Eight Painting,” which she made in 1999, to George and Mary Ty, after an overseas trip.

In 2002, Mrs. Aquino gave “Eighty Six,” to Arthur and Zandra. In 2006, she gave an untitled acrylic painting to Alessandra, the youngest daughter of Mary and George.

EIGHTY-SIX. Cory was close to the family of George SK Ty, who were gifted with a number of her artworks over the years. Photo courtesy of Metrobank Foundation

The paintings Aquino gave were fragments of memories and close relationships she shared with special people. Her work, “Sisters and Friends Forever,” shows two women that represent her and Mary, who was evidently one of her closest friends.

Cory’s favorite amongst all her paintings is one titled “Crosses and roses.” In the painting, there are seven crosses that represent the seven years and seven months of Ninoy’s imprisonment, and the seven attempted coups during her presidency. Multi-colored roses surround the crosses. At the back of the painting, inscribed in her own handwriting, is a haiku she wrote: 

Crosses and roses

make my life more meaningful.

I cannot complain.

This haiku, written at the back of her favorite painting, brings us back to who Corazon Cojuangco Aquino is to many Filipinos – a wife, a mother, a president, and a survivor. Cory, the artist was an extension of all the other things she was; and her paintings, a visual representation of her joy, suffering, the people in her life, and the life that she lived – colorful and in confused disarray sometimes, but beautiful nonetheless. –

Editor’s note: This article previously stated that Ninoy Aquino was imprisoned for 7 months and 7 weeks. This has been corrected.

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