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Hernando Ruiz Ocampo - National Artist for Visual Arts

Hernando Ruiz Ocampo - National Artist for Visual Arts

National Artist for Visual Arts, writer, and journalist Hernando R. Ocampo - better known to the Philippine artworld as HR - was born in Santa Cruz, Manila to parents Emilio Ocampo and Delfina Ruiz. He took up a pre-law course at the Letran College and commerce at the Far Eastern University. Moreover, he joined Narciso Reyes in establishing the Veronicans, a pre-war group of writers. Despite being offered scholarships to study abroad, he declined, preferring to stay with his family and home. As a self-taught artist, he learned drawing and painting from magazines such as Life and Time which showed color reproductions of paintings done by the masters.  

According to art writer Emmanuel Torres, Ocampo’s usual painting process is to outline or put a number on each section or shape in the canvas, then he would fill each shape with paint according to a color code he wrote on his note. This shows how meticulous and diligent he was in his art making process.

Besides being an established artist and well-known writer, Nanding, as he was fondly called, held top positions in his career. From 1954 to 1958, he served as Director of the National Media Production Center. Eventually, he joined Philprom Advertising as its Vice President. 

Ocampo is considered as one of the three major figures of Neo-Realism (Post-war modernists) in the country together with Vicente Manansala and Cesar Legaspi. He was also listed among National Artist Victorio Edades’ Thirteen Moderns which introduced modern art in the country. Ocampo was also the founder of the Saturday Group, an informal group of artists who convened every Saturday at the Taza de Oro Restaurant, Roxas Boulevard, Manila. 

oil painting entitled “Piniritong Isda” (Fried Fish)  Hernando Ruiz Ocampo

Emmanuel Torres mentioned that it was in the 50’s that the artist was able to create several still life paintings depicting household objects such as earthen pots and fish forms. Found inside Gallery XIX, Pillars of Philippine Modernism Gallery is his 1951 oil painting entitled “Piniritong Isda” (Fried Fish). This is the only artwork of the National Artist with this subject in the NFAC. 

This artwork shows interlocking geometric forms and contrasting colors and, according to the late art historian and writer Alice Guillermo, “marked his transition from figurative painting to abstraction”. In 1954, he was awarded the Republic Cultural Heritage Award.

An excellent writer and journalist, Ocampo penned a short story entitled “Unang Pamumulaklak” (undated). A copy of this short story was donated to the National Museum of the Philippines on October 13, 2018 by Ms. Dora Afable, Ocampo’s friend and former staff, along with other memorabilia, photographs, and other archival materials of the artist. You may access this short story through this link:

Hernando Ocampo died on December 28, 1978. In 1991, thirteen years later, he was posthumously conferred the National Artist for Visual Arts Award.

Once we are allowed to re-open, we invite you to view his paintings inside the Pillars of Philippine Modernism Gallery and at the #PCNY Core Collection of 1974 Homecoming Exhibition to view Mr Ocampo’s artworks and that of his contemporaries. While our flagship museums here in Manila are still closed because of quarantine restrictions, we invite you to follow our #MuseumFromHome series as we altogether learn amidst the pandemic. 



Text by NMP FAD

Photos by Bengy Toda and NMP FAD

© National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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