Mav Rufino, my dear friend, grew up in a beautiful home filled with art works. Right in their living room, a glorious sight was a Fernando Amorsolo portrait of her mom, Julie Abad Rufino, a member of Manila’s high society, a top hostess who welcomed Hollywood stars to her renowned theme parties, and who, in her latter years, would lead the Smiles Club, composed mostly of women who enjoyed ballroom dancing while generously giving of their time and resources to worthy projects intended to benefit their underprivileged countrymen.

Mav, thus, grew up being introduced to international celebrities, Filipino statesmen and, of course, the top businessmen who were associates of the Rufino brothers, one of whom was her father, Rafael. The Rufinos owned movie theaters on Rizal Avenue and Escolta from as early as the Commonwealth era and in the burgeoning suburbs of Makati and San Juan in the postwar era.

On her own, after college at Marymount in Rome, she returned to Manila and pioneered in dinner theater presentations, and later joined the banquet and public relations departments of Hotel Intercontinental Manila. At some point, I saw a lot of her at the InterCon, always attractive in her smart outfits and high-heeled shoes that expectedly enhanced her charm and elegance.

Mav Rufino flanked by Brandon Lim (left) and BR Rufino Lim

While always known for her impeccable social credentials, sophistication and stylish appearance, what not many was aware of was that she possessed an exceptional talent for the visual arts. In time, though, she simply had to come out and mount her first one-woman exhibit.

Many social observers probably thought it was just one of those things that women of her ilk would pursue and discard for the latest fad pursuit or pastime among post-debutantes. But she would prove them wrong and has since surprised them with more solo exhibits. Other than her painting and sketching, she also gave vent to her love for writing and has since kept a column writing and churning out gems of thought that have earned her loyal readers.

with Betsy Westendorp.

Just recently, she welcomed us to her exhibit at the Conrad Hotel Art Gallery, Scintilla-Dreamscapes, a renaissance for her after a pause of seven-and-a-half years since her last solo exhibit in 2016. It runs until 21 October.

The beneficiaries of the exhibit are the Marian Missionaries, which Mav has been helping since 1993, and the Child Protection Network (CPU-PGH) represented by Katrina Legarda and Magsaysay laureate Dr. Bernadette Madrid.

Below is my interview with Mav, ever articulate, precise and graceful in her language.

MAV Rufino with the painting of her mother Julie Abad Rufino in the background.


DAILY TRIBUNE (DT): Who is the Filipino visual artist whom you admire most? 

Mav Rufino (MR): National artist Fernando Amorsolo. He did the portrait of our beautiful mom

Julie Abad Rufino. We donated it to the National Museum. It is now displayed at Gallery IX. We also had his Planting Rice 1939 and other artworks.

DT: What was the first painting that you sold? Can you describe it and who bought it? 

MR: It was my Chinese painting of waterfalls 1976. I took Chinese brush painting lessons (contemporary, Ling Nan) with Professor Hau Chiok at Rustan’s Galerie Bleue. At our exhibit, Nena V. Tantoco bought that painting. It was delicate black and white.

DT: What did you love to draw or doodle as a child?

MV: I drew profiles, animals, rockets (l wanted to be an astronaut), angels and fashion designs.


DT: If you were a character in a play or a novel, who would you be? 

MV: I would be Leonardo Da Vinci, the Renaissance Man — artist, inventor, architect, historian, philosopher.


DT: What is your trait that distinguishes or defines you as a Rufino? 

MV: The traits we share are compassion and a sense of helping others. Noblesse Oblige.


DT: What was the best advice that you received when you decided on becoming a painter?

MV: The venerable Purita Kalaw Ledesma, artist and founder of Art Association of the Philippines, said, “Paint but work too. It will keep your feet on the ground.” She cut the ribbon of my solo exhibit in the ‘80s. I admired her. She was my mom’s good friend. National Artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco told me “to be true” to myself. To paint what I feel and not what others want. She was a close cousin and my first ballet teacher. She was always my guest of honor, along with other national artists.


DT: Who was the one mentor in your youth who influenced your life direction? 

MR: My brother Tony guided me in my important decisions — academically in international schools in Spain and Italy, and later in New York. He encouraged me to excel. He was very supportive of my education and made sacrifices so that my parents would send me to the best schools abroad. In art and culture, he was cool and supportive so that I would paint and produce shows. He helped me get the exposure through his network. My mom did not want me to be a starving artist. So, I worked in the corporate world at hotel Inter-Continental Manila as banquet manager and PR director. I painted late at night, produced shows and mounted exhibits. I was multitasking until I burned out. I set up and managed art exhibits for established artists at the InterCon’s Artist’s Corner.

DT: Who is your favorite woman artist? 

MR: I admire Anita Magsaysay Ho for her beautiful artworks of smiling Filipino women who are working. My favorite painting is her small delicate tempera painting of slippers 1952.

She was a family friend and she came to my exhibits to show support. She advised me to keep painting even if it was hard to balance art and corporate work. She was able to do both with great success.

I love Betsy Westendorp for her exquisite sunsets, clouds, flowers and atmospheric artworks.


DT: Which two or three colors do you love to mix and match or combine in your paintings? 

MR: I love all the colors of nature and I mix many shades of blue, orange, lavender, pink and yellow.


DT: What was the best thing said of a painting of yours? 

MR: “Visual poem — serene and spiritual.”


DT: Who do you always pray to?

MR: I pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I pray to Mama Mary and the St. Therese of the Child Jesus.


DT: What is the one place in the world that provokes creativity in you? 

MV: The beach at sunset or sunrise, places in the world where the light is special. Mountains, lavender and poppy fields. My imagination.


DT: What is your family’s favorite Sunday dish? 

MR: We had a family favorite, Pakam, our Lola’s signature chicken dish with salted cucumber and sauce. I have not had it in years and I miss it. I don’t have the recipe.


DT: You are on the most invited guest list — which party will you never attend? 

MV: The type where people lose their senses.


DT: What do you drink when you are painting? 

MR: Silver tea (hot water). Sometimes, sparkling water.


DT:  What does your heart ache for? 

MR: Peace and love within and around me.


DT: Who is the one world celebrity you would like to gift with your painting and what would that painting be?

MR: Pope Francis. I would give him a painting of our sunset.


DT: Which inspires you more as a subject for a painting — sea or mountain? 

MR: Both the sea and mountain inspire me. It depends on my mood. I paint from memory.


DT: Your biggest folly. 

MR: I think I’ve learned my lessons. I do not like to have fake and insincere people around.


DT: What is your biggest wish as a Filipina? 

MR: That children will be protected from abuse and that there will be quality education for all children. That we will achieve economic stability.


DT: What is the one art work you wish to wake up to each morning?

MR: Monet’s Waterlilies in Giverny or Van Gogh’s Starry Night.


DT: What is the one piece of jewelry that you treasure in your heart? 

MR: My Mom’s floral brooch with emeralds and diamonds.


DT: What was the best advice your parents gave you?

MR: My dad told me to be humble, to treat people with respect and to help others. Life is hard. He taught me the meaning of love. My mom advised me to pray, be independent and to be self-reliant. By example, I learned from her. Although she didn’t want me to be a starving artist, she watched me struggle and later appreciated my exhibits.


DT:  Describe yourself as a grandmother.

MR: Loving, cool, creative, playful, thoughtful and supportive.


DT: What is your greatest accomplishment as a mother?

MR: That my son BR turned out well. He is a fine gentleman, an entrepreneur, a good family man who is prayerful. He is a loving husband and devoted, protective father. He is raising his children to be disciplined, down-to-earth and close to God.