If you scroll through the Instagram feed of TV5 news anchor Julius Babao, three things are constant — his family life with Cristine Bersola, his job as a journalist and his jaw-dropping collections of paintings, pop art toys and sneakers.
He is particularly proud of his art collection because he acquired a lot of these works from artists when they were still unknown or little-known, and not yet the stars they are now in the art scene.
This was in the ‘90s and at that time, Julius was himself starting his career as radio reporter at GMA network and trying to make a name in the media industry.
The 55-year-old news veteran told The STAR in a recent one-on-one: “I’ve been an art collector since the 1990s. When I started in GMA, that was the time I started buying paintings. Marami akong na-collect na mga artworks na super taas na ang value compared to how much I got them before in the ‘90s.
“Naging super scarce na ang mga artists na fina-follow ko and we were blessed to be able to acquire a lot of paintings from Elmer Borlongan, Manny Garibay and sina Mark Justiniani nung hindi pa talaga kilala. When I got to know them, mura pa mga paintings nila. But now, oh my gosh! Sobrang taas na ang value ng mga artworks nila.”
Julius has always been enamored with the arts. He has been painting since his elementary and high school years. Unfortunately, he said, he failed at the entrance exam that would have allowed him to pursue visual arts as a degree. Instead, he got accepted to the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communication.
Interestingly, this lifelong love affair with art collecting began when he fell in love with a painting that he could not afford to buy.
“Naglalakad ako sa mall, SM Megamall, tapos nakita ko may exhibit dun si Onib Olmedo. When I saw his works, parang may nag-awaken sa katawan ko na sobra akong na-in love sa artworks niya. But I couldn’t afford to buy them. I was just starting in my job and sobrang mahal na yung mga paintings niya at that time. He just passed away kaya nag-taasan yung prices,” Julius recalled.
“But since then, I told myself, I would go for unknown artists who eventually perhaps (would become) parang Onib Olmedo din someday. I looked for works that were kind of similar to his works.”
This newfound interest led him to the Boston Gallery owned by Filipino neurologist and top art patron Dr. Joven Cuanang, who would later become a godfather at the wedding of Julius to fellow broadcast personality Cristine Bersola.
Julius credited him as the person who first taught him how to pick out works by artists, such as Borlongan, Garibay and Justiniani, who would potentially become popular and acclaimed in the future.
The journo recalled the doctor’s advice to him as a budding art collector.
“His tip was to trust your instincts. You don’t have to buy paintings na titingnan mo siya for the investment value. Tingnan mo siya for how it connects with you, how it attracts you. ‘Wag mo masyadong isipin kong tataas ba ito balang araw or magiging National Artist ba ito one day because we can never tell what will be the future of an artist,” Julius said.
“Pwedeng sobrang galing ng artist pero dadating yung point na bigla siyang tatamarin sa kanyang pagtatrabaho, so wala rin. Wala rin maging value yung mga works na nabili mo sa kanya. So, don’t think of that. You think of the paintings that connect to you.
“Do you imagine it hanging on your wall? If matutuwa ka, mapapagaan yung feeling mo, matatanggal yung stress sa buhay mo basta tinitingnan mo lang yung mga artworks na yun, malaking bagay na yun.”
Since then, Julius would slowly accumulate artworks. “Hinuhulugan ko yung mga drawings and paintings. Tuloy-tuloy lang. Bili lang nang bili hanggang sa biglang, boom! Tumaas ang value nila. There was a boom in the art world in the Philippines and Asia. Nagtaasan lahat ng price kaya ang swerte.”
According to Julius, never in their wildest dreams that they thought the paintings they purchased would shoot up in value.
“Of course, we wanted to buy them (because)… ‘pag feeling mo marami ka nang ka-kompetensya sa pag-collect ng artworks, may certain feeling of achievement ka na nagawa na ikaw ang nakakuha ng painting ng artist na yun nung time na yun,” he said.
“But never did we imagine that it would reach to this level na we’re talking about millions ang value na. Dati nabibili lang namin ng P30,000, P25,000, which we would pay in installments for one year. Today, yung P25,000 namin, naging P2 million na, naging P1 million. Ganun ka surreal ang nangyari sa amin.”
To date, Julius has lost count of the artworks housed at the Babao home, also known as Casa Uccello, which seemingly exudes an art gallery vibe. As a collector, he said his focus wasn’t so much on the works of the masters like Jose Joya, Fernando Amorsolo and H.R. Ocampo, but rather on promising newcomers.
Julius continues to buy artworks by young artists, although his motivation has now changed a bit.
He said, “I look for qualities of work na sa tingin ko ay magandang investment. At first, hindi ko iniisip yung investment, but of course, now na nagkaka-edad na tayo, it’s a factor for me because ito yung mga iiwan ko sa mga anak ko balang araw. And I have to make sure that I wouldn’t spend that much on artworks na hindi naman ganun kaganda yung magiging value.
“Yun pala, it’s different when you’re a young collector, kelangan it’s your connection to the artwork. It’s OK to make mistakes, it’s part of the game, di kelangan sure na sure, napakaswerte (na) kung tumaas ang value.
“But when you reach a certain point where marami ka na rin alam sa art, iba na rin magiging perspective mo as a collector. I don’t buy so much now, pinipili ko na talaga. Also because wala ka na rin paglalagyan, hahaha!”
Meanwhile, another invaluable thing he’s getting from being an art collector is being able to help the less-privileged.
Through the support of his artist friends, Julius was able to spearhead art auctions where the proceeds were enough to build at least two Gawad Kalinga villages or around 70 houses.
He disclosed, “Right now, we’re building a permanent evacuation center in Alcala, Cagayan. Dati binaha yan eh. I organized another art auction for that. It’s now in the process of being built — isang malaking permanent evacuation center kasi ang feeling ko ito dapat ang ginagawa ng mga LGUs (local government units), hindi lang nag-re-rely sa mga schools. A permanent evacuation center na takbuhan ng mga tao in times of emergency na complete na lahat, may CR, may clinic.”
Julius also most recently organized an art auction that raised about half-a-million pesos for Typhoon Odette victims. The donation was turned over early this month to World Vision.
He shared, “I also use art para makatulong sa kapwa and yung mga artists na kaibigan ko, they believe in me and my causes kaya ang dali kong nakakuha ng artworks from them. Marami kami natutulungan na mga kababayan natin through the power of art.”