ILOILO CITY, Philippines – A lot has changed for 52-year-old artist Larry Casinao since he first displayed his artwork on the sidewalk of Jaro, Iloilo.
Casinao has made a living from selling his art for 25 years now, struggling to make ends meet given the twice-weekly dialysis sessions needed by his wife.
In late June 2019, Casinao went viral as the lolo artist (grandfather artist) after photos of him painting and displaying his artwork along a corner street near Jaro Plaza – a major thoroughfare in the city – were shared on social media by Ilonggo student Sal Molinos.
“While [I was on] my way home, I saw this lolo who was busy painting, with a lot of other paintings displayed along the sidewalk. It’s sad to see a local artist not having a proper venue to showcase his art and talent,” shared Molinos on his original entry, dated June 23.
As of writing, the Facebook post has gained at least 2,400 shares and 3,100 reactions.
“I hope he gets the recognition he deserves because he puts so much passion into his work,” continued Molinos.
The viral post has enabled many benevolent people to reach out to Casinao to offer help in their own ways.
The self-taught artist, a father of two, admitted that art has not been the most lucrative trade, but it largely sufficed in providing for his family for a while. (READ: Iloilo’s ‘mermaid’ women turn beach trash into wearable art)
However, 4 year ago, Casinao’s wife Angelita was diagnosed with a failing kidney, requiring her to undergo at least two dialysis sessions weekly. Since then, they struggled to keep a roof over their heads.
With his craft falling on hard times, he decided to take things into his own hands.
“Ang na-agyan namun hindi basta-basta (What we’ve been through has not been easy),” Casinao told Rappler.
Casinao, who hails originally from Baldoza, La Paz, completed a 2-year drafting course at the former Iloilo School of Arts and Trades.
A few years ago, he started selling both his oil paintings and charcoal portraits house-to-house to potentially reach more people and garner more sales.
Casinao’s endeavor brought him to the far-flung Iloilo towns of Dumangas, Janiuay, and Barotac Nuevo, among others. However, he admits that days would fly by without him selling a single painting.
“May mga adlaw gid nga zero ka na, gutom ka pa, kapoy ka pa. Kilanlan ko pa mangutang para lang may iplete papuli, kis-a gahibi nalang ko sa dalan,” Casino continued.
(There were plenty of difficult days when I made zero sales. But a day of going house-to-house still left me hungry, weary, and tired. Sometimes, I would even need to borrow money just for my fare home. On days like these, I would just break down by the side of the road and cry.)
“Kung may makakita sakun nga kabataan kag magmangkot ‘nong, ngaa gahibi ka?’ ginahambal ko nalang nga napuling lang ko (When children pass by and ask me “Lolo, why are you crying?,” I’ve learned to shrug it off and say dust just got in my eye.)” Casinao added, laughing.
Casinao recounted that there were times when he’d get so tired that he’d think of just giving the paintings away, or sell them for just P300 or P500 to have enough to buy rice and a decent meal.
“Pero matandaan ko dayun akun asawa. Wala ko gid na siya ginabayaan. Para sa iya ang paghimakas ko (But then I remember my wife. I would never leave her, everything I do, I do it for her),” Casinao continued.
He revealed that before his posts went viral, he would only be able to sell around 4 charcoal portraits and 3 paintings every month.
Two months ago, Casinao decided to regularly put up his artwork outside an abandoned building along Rizal Street, across Jaro Plaza – hanging his pieces from a rusty chain-link fence to create his own humble gallery.
While displaying his work, he would often also be found beginning a new oil painting by the side of the road. That’s when Molinos managed to take his photo and share it on social media.
When Rappler contacted Casinao, it had been a few days since he had been able to set up his artwork at the public plaza due to a spell of rain. Thankfully, a local mall had offered Casinao a space to exhibit his artwork, after seeing the viral post online. (READ: Donations pour in for Grade 2 student who uses makeshift pen)
“Lolo Larry” now displays his pieces at the ground floor of Festive Walk Mall Iloilo in Mandurriao – inside the Iloilo Business Park township. He has the space for 3 months, just in time for the rainy season.
The Festive Walk Mall Iloilo management said the initiative is their own way of giving back for their first anniversary celebration.
Actress, painter, and known art patron Heart Evangelista herself was struck by Casinao’s story, commending him on Twitter as an “amazingly talented” artist who “deserves the world.”
Casinao also shared that Evangelista had called him to personally commission two artworks that he hopes to deliver to her soon.
Aside from the space offered to him, Casinao received numerous commissions and orders coming from Manila, Cebu, and many other places.
“Nakibot gid ko nga damu na ga-contact sa akun, may ga-order halin Metro Manila, kay gali nag-viral na daw ako (I was surprised that a lot of people were trying to contact me, some even ordering from Metro Manila. It was only then that I found out that I had gone viral),” Casinao told Rappler. (READ: After viral photo, father who sells banana cakes gets help for son’s liver transplant)
“Ang haum ko lang sadto nga if i-display ko akun artworks sa Jaro Plaza, sa kada 50 ka tawo nga mag-agi kag makakita may ara biskan isa nga magpundo kag mag-isip nga magbakal painting,” Casinao said.
(My hope was just that if I displayed my artworks at Jaro Plaza, with every 50 people who passed by and saw them, there would be at least one person who would stop and consider buying my paintings.)
Casinao also expressed his gratitude to Molinos for sharing his photos of him and his paintings online.
“Thankful gid ako kay Sal, ang estudyante nga nagkuha picture ko. Wala gid ko ga-expect nga damu nga tawo gusto magbulig sa akun. (I’m thankful to Sal, the student who shared my photo. I never expected a lot of people would be interested in my art and be willing to be give a helping hand),” Casinao said.
For commissions, orders, or any other form of help, you may contact lolo artist Larry Casinao through 09282379201. He exhibits his artworks at the ground floor of the Festive Walk Mall Iloilo in Mandurriao, Iloilo City. – Rappler.com
Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay is a Rappler Mover based in Iloilo. He reports mostly on the local cultural community and art scene.