Art and The Diplomat

Ambassador Jose Mari ‘Jomari’ Cariño

All his life, Ambassador Jose Mari “Jomari” Cariño, the director general of the Foreign Service Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has been passionate about art, a lifelong love affair that started with drawing lessons during his primary school years.

“I was an eight-year-old boy with short legs being dragged to visit museums and monuments in Europe. That was my father’s crash course on Western civilization for his kids,” he recalls in a conversation as he guided the Daily Tribune through his ongoing painting exhibition, “Alive and Kicking in 2020,” at the DFA lobby until 15 January.

Ambassador Jomari Cariño, painter. (Photograph courtesy of Al Padilla for the Daily Tribune)

“In my teens, I used to draw, paint and sculpt, only stopping when I realized that aside from talent, dedication and practice are required to become an artist. Becoming a poor and hungry artist was not that appetizing. And so I studied Foreign Service following my father’s footsteps.”


‘Rhapsody in Blue.’

His entry into the professional world at age 17 did not wean him away from the arts. Already working at the Citibank Makati, he looked forward to the art exhibitions at the bank’s lobby. “I envied the artists for following their hearts’ dictates,” he says.

As he neared 30, he took up the Foreign Service Exams and, while waiting for the results, again took up the brush.

Again, he realized it remained a dream because with two kids, he needed the job security.

True collector

Being posted in Madrid was a dream come true.

“I wanted to trace works of our old masters who studied there. After a year of hard searching and active networking, there came a steady stream of Philippine paintings, sculptures, prints, postcards, books, piña and other Filipiniana artifacts like weapons, salakot and baston. I became a true collector and, in time, I would upgrade by keeping what I like and selling those that did not appeal to me,” he relates.


Madrid also served as his gateway to the cultural centers of Europe.

“I visited as many museums as I could and imbibed the genius of the likes of Goya, Murillo, Velasquez among the old Spanish masters and the works of Picasso, Dali, Zobel and Miro,” he recounts.

“Visiting Paris meant looking at the works of Rodin and Degas, the impressionists like Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, expressionists like Modigliani, Munch, Klee and Matisse and the modernist and avant-garde painters like Kandinsky, Mondrian, Hopper and Klimt. Seeing their original works is a blessing and a privilege.”

Jomari’s eureka moment as a collector came when he discovered and bought an album of mid-1800s watercolors by Jose Honorato Lozano, the Philippines’ foremost visual chronicler of the 19th century.

‘Kazimir on my Mind.’

“I was impressed by the vast amount of life, costumes, customs, architecture, art, music, traditions, meanings and roots of Filipino words that he described and made vivid through his watercolors,” he says.

Book author

His mentor-student relationship with Sonia Ner, director of the Ayala Museum, rounded off his education.

“Although we lived in two different continents, Asia and Europe, Sonia gave me by Internet a constant supply of books, materials and articles about Filipino artists. These materials, along with the meager books that I myself could buy, became my education on Philippine art. She pushed me into writing books about our art, traditions, culture, heritage and our history. Jointly we wrote award-winning books.”

Jomari’s noteworthy books include Joe Honorato Lozano, Filipinas 1848 Album, Islas Filipinas, Philippine Cartography, the Spanish Period, Pearl of the Orient — the Philippines in a Shell and The Philippines and the US — Portrait of a Tangled Relationship.

‘B*y the Balls.’

Of course, his diplomatic work also became a platform for his artistic and cultural pursuits.

He refers to his efforts as “soft power diplomacy, which included organizing concerts and exhibits of Filipino artists, singers and musicians,” he says.

Art patron

A turning point came when he realized, “I had to pass my fortune forward which I tried to do by sponsoring artists in their exhibits abroad and in the Philippines and purchasing their works. In due time, writing, publishing and editing books on Philippine art and culture became another venue for passing on the knowledge and experience I gained over the years.”

Twice, upon the invitation of his friend Chito Sobrepeña, he served as a juror in the Metrobank Art Competition, MADE. The latter gave him exposure to the trends in Philippine contemporary painting and sculpture.

In time, he founded museums in Paete and Cebu.

“The multiplier effect is that these museums will hopefully create employment, attract tourists and help our economy,” he says.

While the Covid lockdown brought him much sorrow when he could not attend the interment of his father who passed on at age 92, the year 2020 has been “one of the most productive years of my life — the completion of two books, restoration of three vintage cars, completion of a museum in Cebu, development of a farm, sponsoring a sculpture competition in Paete and painting enough works for this DFA December-January exhibition.

“I look back with wonder and respect on what man is capable of during difficult times.”

Inspired by avant-garde

With the pandemic, he needed to fill his night hours and weekends, and that was how he returned to painting.


“Being rusty after so many years, I began with 16 or so small canvasses until I got the hang of using art materials again. Many idle hours resulted in a sea of ideas and compositions. As an artist, I tapped inspiration from my life and my experiences in literature, music, politics, economics, society and my personal relationships with family, friends, workmates, business partners and others. Life gives us many sources of inspiration for creativity,” he says.

Jomari admits to “drawing inspiration from other artists. I admire the avant-garde painters, especially the Russians Malevich, Popova and Kandinsky, and I love the works of Miro, Dali and Picasso.

“I do not give a rat’s ass whether people like my paintings or not. They are not for sale, They give me pleasure and because of them I do not suffer from lockdown fatigue nor have any emotional hang ups due to the pandemic.

“I have tried to depict a combination of aesthetic beauty and intellectual content in my work. If I failed, it doesn’t matter. My works please me, and to quote Rhett Butler in ‘Gone with the Wind,’ ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’”


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