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Painting the Lockdown Blues Away



Worry is a total waste of time. It doesn’t change anything. All it does it steal your joy and keeps you very busy doing nothing.

“Cabin fever” after weeks of a quarantine has changed us. It has either brought us down on our knees in gratitude we are Covid-19-free, or we are still whining, complaining, and twiddling our thumbs pleading for deliverance.

I also hope we are not wasting the opportunity—yes, in many ways the precious time we spent indoors with our family members or even our kasambahay is an opportunity—to be useful to our families, to others in need, to ourselves. Are we emerging from our isolation free from the material things we used to chase madly and becoming more discerning about what we really need?

Let us bear in mind that we cannot return to our “normal lives” after this pandemic. Scary but true. There are “new normals” we will have to accept.

Artist Fernando “Nanding” Sena and his painting Offering, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the lowly pandesal.

Artist Fernando “Nanding” Sena and his painting Offering, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the lowly pandesal.

Listening to daily mass at the House of de Paul site on Facebook, the priest’s homily for Divine Mercy Sunday hit home. He enumerated the simple steps to fighting Covid-19, such as staying home, washing your hands for 20 seconds, and social distancing, even at home.

All these are fine, the priest said, except think of the poor masses. Where will they get enough water to keep washing their hands? How can they practice social distancing in their tiny hovels? And no going out to buy anything, not even for milk for babies? And oh, yes, this priest wanted to start a fund drive for baby milk to give to poor mothers, but there’s a law against promoting artificial powdered milk for infants! 

Now let’s think “positive.” Meet a dear friend of mine, Fernando “Nanding” Sena, devoted father, and husband, gifted artist, silent mover in the local art world, and master art teacher to many prominent personalities, such as Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio Morales and PEZA’s Lilia de Lima, but also thousands of poor children. He is in lockdown too, but he turns out world-class paintings daily instead of complaining.

Nanding is Tondo-born of a market vendor and a washerwoman. He has six siblings. A newsboy growing up, he was fascinated by the colorful illustrations and tried copying them after delivering newspapers. In his elementary years, his teachers at Gregorio del Pilar school noticed his art and made him draw historical figures. He went to Arellano University for high school but with so many obstacles on his path he barely finished there. Nevertheless, Nanding graduated with honors. It helped that he was of strong faith and a practicing Catholic. He was, and still is, a devotee of the Mother of Perpetual Help at Sta. Cruz church.

In those years, lawyer-social activist Fernanda Balboa founded the Children’s Museum and Library, Inc (CMLI). They ran a workshop for poor but talented kids and Nanding joined.

He impressed the judges and so a CMLI director offered him a scholarship at the University of the East School of Music and Art. 

The poor boy from Tondo absorbed everything he was taught, and his admiration for Filipino masters’ works became his fuel. He favored cubism at this point and he got the critics attention. Then he went on to other styles of painting, like pointillism. He used charcoals, oils, acrylic, water colors. He could paint realistic themes and then switch to whatever style suited him at the moment.

Nanding is 72 years old now, with three children, all gifted with artistic genes. He was such a prolific, soft-spoken teacher who was always in demand for summer workshops by schools, galleries, and private groups. I remember my three children, SandeeJunie, and David, took classes under him at CMLI and UP. Later, my granddaughter Amanda joined his summer classes at UP, too.

My youngest son AJ and I were also his students at PEZA director Lilia de Lima’s office, with Justice Chita Morales who had not yet been appointed to the Supreme Court. Sandee swoons over his pastels. I drool over his acrylics.

He has put together groups of artists for workshops and helped them put up exhibits. He keeps no secrets of the trade from his mentees and his harvest of grateful students and patrons of his paintings are too awesome to enumerate.

In his lockdown state, the multi-awarded “maestro” confesses that he keeps physically and spiritually “healed” by painting away. He does religious images, landscapes, continues with his popular series of pandesal, which he hopes he can exhibit after this lockdown.

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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