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Remembering Julius T. Limpe-liquor magnate and quintessential 'freestyle' artist.

The man loved his fish.

Anyone walking cold into 'Homage to Julius T. Limpe: A Retrospective Painting Exhibition,' which runs until Feb. 12 at the Megamall Art Center, could be forgiven for thinking that.

Although the artist also essays other animals, flowers, women, and the figure of Jesus Christ, it's the paintings of fish that arrest the onlooker's attention.

Goldfish, carp, guppies, even seahorses, bathed in underwater light and shimmering in iridescent colors.

And they're always in a group: swimming, splashing, teeming, brimming with the sheer joy of being alive. There are no loners in Julius Limpe's world of fish.

Perhaps to the artist, fish represented not just abundance (as it does in Chinese folk belief) but a kind of freedom. Why else would he paint a representation of his entire family, down to his great-grandchildren, as goldfish?

'That's the way he was-very spontaneous and free-flowing,' recalls painter Manuel Baldemor, who curated the exhibit.

With fellow artists Malang and Al Perez, Limpe and Baldemor were known as the Cuatro Amigos, an informal group whose members painted and occasionally exhibited together.

Rare bird

Limpe was that rare bird, a businessman with the soul of an artist. In fact, he minored in Fine Arts when he pursued his Business Administration degree at Indiana University. He was a member of several artists' circles, including the fabled Saturday Group, whose ranks included such luminaries as Hernando Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi and Ang Kiukok. In the 1970s, he opened the Cosmopolitan Gallery.

'He would often ask us to tutor him, but in the end he wouldn't follow what we said,' Baldemor adds. 'He had his own mind, and he went his own way.'

By all accounts, that was how Limpe, who died in 2014 at the age of 87, also lived his life.

Having inherited Destileria Limtuaco-the country's oldest maker of alcoholic drinks- from three generations of Limpes before him, Julius brought the family corporation into the modern era with a combination of hard work and creative innovation.

Within the industry, he is probably best remembered for having thought up the iconic White Castle girl, a beautiful girl astride a white horse wearing nothing but a bright red bikini. It was a classic 'one big idea' advertising campaign that ran for decades and sold oceans of the company's flagship product, White Castle whiskey.


Hands-on, detail-oriented, Limpe liked to micro-manage the business, but he was far from your typical tycoon.

'He was a nonconformist,' says daughter Olivia Limpe-Au, whom he handpicked to succeed him. 'He was very proud of being against the grain. And he was creative. He could compose music, and play the harmonica and the piano by ear. He had oido. And he was marketing-oriented. He used to design our labels himself. I got that from him. I can't draw, but I can art-direct.'

'If he had been born in ancient China, he would have been a great scholarly painter,' says Isabel, the only one of Limpe's seven daughters to inherit his talent with a paintbrush.

At one point, she recalls, Julius studied Chinese ink painting. Students are supposed to master the basics, then copy the masters. Only after years of practice can they paint 'freestyle,' that is to say, direct from the heart. In typical fashion, she recalls, her father found his own way.

'It just so happened that in life, and in art, my father was freestyle,' she says.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Feb 13, 2018
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