LAMBERTO R. HECHANOVA JR.
ARTIST / SCULPTOR
ABOUT THE ARTIST
"As early as 6 years old, I already knew I wanted to become an artist...", relayed by the artist himself. Right from Bert's early childhood recollection as a 3 year old child, fond memories of his past time was spent creating toys out of found objects and most of his time sketching on their sandy soil backyard. That early experience of creation and play led Bert to imagine his life's calling, although not in his wildest dream did he expect the achievements he will reach in the future.
IN THE PHILIPPINES
Lamberto or 'Bert' as his friends call him, was born on March 29, 1939 from Kabankalan, Negros Occidental province in the Philippines. His father Lamberto Sr, was a School Principal in their hometown grade school, while his mother passed away at a young age. His artistic passion was evident early on as noticed by his school teachers, classmates and peers. He used to bring his own comic illustration pages in school where one of his teacher fondly read them during class hours. Upon finishing High School in Pavia Iloilo, he was awarded 'Artist of The Year' as he took the responsibility in creating the yearly event stage decorations and school signages. Bert grew up assisting his father with carpentry works from house building and repair, to designing float and stage designs during their annual hometown fiestas and big events. Being the eldest from the 6 siblings when his father re- married, he helped guide his brothers and a sister with him when he decided to go to Manila to further his Degree in Fine Arts at University of Santo Thomas. He was a self- made man as he juggled his busy time to work from billboard and mural artist, to finishing his school requirements and artworks. Bert also worked as an Artist in Advertising Agency where he quickly rose from Art Director to Visual Creative Director in just a few years, and garnered the 1958 Advertising Award of Distinctive Merit from the Art Director's Club of the Philippines. During 1965, he went to work overseas for a few months in an Advertising Agency in Hongkong and his spare time was devoted to numerous on-the-spot drawing sketches and watercolours of scenic landscapes. Upon his return, Bert studied Graphic Arts and Printmaking at the Philippine Women's University and eventually became a Professor at the Fine Arts department where he received the Honor Certificate in Teaching, and was offered a Research Grant for Sculpture.
The year 1966 was very memorable to Bert as he won multiple awards in various national art competitions in the Philippines, particularly in the Professional division in Painting category. His award winning entry in the 7th Annual Religious Art Competition, entitled "The Last Supper" received First Prize and an overwhelming reaction not only to the judging panel, priests, journalists and art critics but also to the participating artists as Bert's approach was unique and unconventional - an art assemblage masterpiece that was made out of found objects like tin cans, nails, etc..."The highest merit in art form is when the artist transform something out of nothing." as Bert explained. It was this experimental style of painting mixed with sculpture that catapulted him to fame and opened a series of his sold out one-man art exhibitions which dazzled the art circle in the Philippines during his time. It was also this year when he continued to emerged consistently as perennial winners in both Painting and Sculpture from the flourishing Philippine art scene.
Quoted from a newspaper article in 1966, Bert set his goal to see the art world someday: "The world is the artist's school. It is also his material- the beauty, the spirit and the meaning it conveys. The artist's feelings are enhanced by the influence of his surroundings. The accumulation of these influences molds his experience- and reflects in his works. Thus, I feel I must detach myself to the narrowness of my present surroundings. I must go to see the world- with an open eye to observe, and an open heart to absorb and learn. Then I hope I can become a true artist- not only in temperament but also in experience."
Having won the 1968 Grand prize and Purchase Award in the First National Sculpture Competition, Bert received a Travel Grant in 1969 where he was chosen to represent the Philippines in Sculpture during the 6th Paris Biennale Art Expo in France. He showcased his talent with three massive sculpture pieces entitled Transfiguration 1, 2 and 3 series, where he combined the elements of wood, metal and glass materials. His exposure in several European art museums and the USA definitely widened his artistic boundaries and absorbed every learning experience in global art's influx of creative energy that came his way.
While in Baltimore in 1971, he emerged victorious once again as he capped 5 prestigious awards in the same year, most notably the Award of Excellence in Painting entitled 'Aberglaube', sponsored by the Baltimore Museum of Art. His talent continued to shine in 1972 when he was rewarded with one of his most memorable moment - a Governor's Award in Painting entitled 'Solaris Excello', from Baltimore Museum of Art Annual Art Exhibition and Competition.
From the envelope sent by Baltimore Museum of Art, dated December 7, 1972, Bert wrote a personal note in the envelope itself to relay his feelings at that very moment upon receiving the letter:
" AWARD WINNER NOTICE: I've never been so thrilled and thankful because the top award, Governor's Prize, was unreal, it was unbelievable but true. I got the top award which every artist in Maryland crave and aspire for. Quite a record in Maryland Annual Art & Science especially for an artist like me. It is not the money really, but the satisfaction and fulfillment of one's aspiration, a materialization of triumph, a great honour for my friends, my people and my country, and to all the artists."
NEW YORK, NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
“You’ll never make it in New York... you won’t find a job there!!!” A harsh critic from his Ad Agency boss in Baltimore when Bert decided to break the news that he wanted to move on and fulfill his dream to practice his art career in New York. His boss made some sense too as Bert had already established himself in Baltimore by winning 2 prestigious Art awards in 2 consecutive years. But it was Bert’s personal belief that Paris and New York is the center of creative arts in the world and it is his preference to embrace the vibrant energy of visual arts in the ‘city that never sleeps’. As if driven and motivated by his favorite Frank Sinatra’s song, Bert surely wanted to be a part of it... and so he did!
In 1978, he started his humble beginnings again as he rented a small retrofit loft studio in Tribeca. A year after, he relocated to Green Point loft in Brooklyn for 3 years before he finally settled home in Hollis Queens in 1982.
During his years in New York, he won several awards most notably the First Prize at ARTISTS USA, a National Art Competition at World Trade Center in 1981. He was also a recipient of the 1993 NY State Governor’s Award for ‘The Most Outstanding Asian American in Art’ , given by the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo. He was cited as ”a prolific and innovative artist who made lasting contributions in which he remembers homelessness, domestic violence and AIDS sufferers. He deconstructs experiences and expresses the life that is lived on the border between the Asian and American culture”.
OVERCOMING THE 1989 TRAGIC ACCIDENT
Bert in his neighborhood and friends was also known as a handyman, as he single-handedly restructured his own home at Queens, New York from every aspect of rebuilding.
In his effort to lend a helping hand to a friend where he was invited to fix a skylight roof, he accidentally fell from the roof hole and suffered a spinal injury that paralyzed his lower body. After years of rehab treatment, the Doctors and Specialists adviced that he couldn’t paint anymore while many of his artist friends thought his career was over.
Despite the disability and pain, Bert persisted to work around his physical condition and painted again. His gifted creativity and tenacity was unfazed that he produced many artworks on paper, life-size canvas paintings and sculptures while on a wheelchair.
In Bert's sketch study entitled 'No. 8", he scribbled a small note:
"Oct 26, 1989 - I had an accident that almost ended my career as an Artist... survived the significant turn of a fateful event in my artistic, personal and physical challenge through years of rehab and trying to live a normal but disabled life. I personally got back to my art and pursue it creatively but painfully by being productive. No pain- no gain."
Challenges in Bert's art career continued in 2001, as he was placed to live in a nursing home to receive the best immediate care during those critical times. Despite the setback of 10 years of living away from his art studio at home, he continued to find ways to work productively on his art . His small room easily gets filled with paper sketches, artworks and miniature sculptures, regardless of whether he has little or no art materials to work with. Bert's creative instinct managed to find ways not only to create art but he produced a series of award winning artworks using only multi-colored Bic pens on paper that was available to him at that time. In the nursing home, Bert joined art competitions and exhibitions, and has won several times that he was given a recognition as an 'Honored Senior Artist' by the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. In 2012, it was his personal desire to go back to his own home and art studio after a series of long recovery from the hospital. On August 31st 2014, it was God's will to take Bert on His side and finally ended his agonizing pain and sufferings brought by the injury for 25 long years.
The tragic accident was definitely Bert’s toughest challenge in life, but ART served as his THERAPY, his life-long commitment, and his devotion. To overcome one's disability and still won several art competitions while on a wheelchair truly exemplify Bert as a true artist by heart and mind. His life story, his works, and his art legacy remain with us, hopefully to serve as an inspiration to all aspiring artists, and a simple reminder that mind is over matter.