19 January 1964, pp. 24-25
A doctor wields his scalpel to restore life to an art that has been dead for many years from age and neglect. For the past two years, Dr. Gregorio G. Lim—a physician by profession and painter by avocation—has been collecting old Philippine santos (religious wood statuettes) of the 17th, 18th, and 19th-century vintage. Not very long ago, he started adding to his collection some religious paintings on wood panels which he salvaged from the heaps of statuettes in the shop of an art dealer.
At that time, very few collectors would have bothered about the paintings because the pictures were hardly recognizable and would have taken so much time and expense to clean and restore them. The avid an curious arrtist that he was (and still is), Dr. Lim did not allow himself to be fool or daunted by the deteriorated appearance of the paintings. With a good amount of patience and ingenuity, he believed that he could retouch the pictures back to their original looks.
Dr. Lim’s interest, resourcefulness and imagination have paid off. Today, he has about a hundred of the wood-panel paintings in his collection—“veritable art treasures”, in the words of the doctor who considers them more colourful than the sculptured ones and certainly more fascinating because of the challenging task of restoration.
The problem of restoration is manifold. First, the old paints have become powdery so that they often peel off at the slightest touch. Second, the many years’accumulation of dirt and mud has almost become an integral part of the original paint. There, too, is the discovery of two or more pictures over the original painting; thus, the removal of these ‘’over paintings’’ taxesone’s knowledge of how paints behave after application.
Dr. Lim cautions those who would attempt to do the job of restoration to exercise utmost care. ‘’Many good paintings have been lost,’’ laments the doctor, ‘’because of careless or impatient hands’’.
For an idea of how painstaking and time-consuming the work of restoration is, Dr. Lim describes in detail his first experience with a centuries-old painting. ‘’I came upon a badly painted-but clear picture on an old panel which nobody paid attention to, because it had no artistic quality. What attracted my attention were several small cracks in the paints. Peeling off a very small area, I discovered old paints underneath. I bought the panel and and did the scarping of the overlaid paints with a surgical knife. After carefully exposing the middle areas of the panel, I was surprised to see the outline of a face and neck partly hidden by a smaller second painting of the Madonna. The third and topmost painting was superficial so that it was easily scraped off. The second overlay, however, proved tough because it was very adherent to the original. The removal of this second picture taxed my patience. I did it meticulously, pinpoint by pinpoint, especially on the facial area. Then, with little retouchings, the masterpiece in its original form was uncovered.’’
Despite a busy daily schedule of preserving or restoring health to ailing bodies at the Blessed Heart Hospital where he is the director, Dr. Lim manages to find time for his restorative art in painting. His usual hours for his hobby are from four to six in the early morning and late at night when “I can no longer sleep after a medical call.’’
Dr. Lim’s hobby is in itself a distinct contribution to the historical and cultural wealth of the country. His restored paintings have brought to light the fact that during the Spanish regime, many unknown—and most probably untutored—Filipino artisans displayed remarkable skill in their production of religious works which, in some cases, bore amazing resemblance to the style of classical masters.
As for his own paintings, Dr. Lim’s works rank among the best in the country. He has won various awards in art competitions both here and abroad. These include first prize, APAA exhibit in Atlantic City; award of merit, 1955 in New York; second prize, 1958 exhibit, AAP, in Manila; and honourable mention, 1960 exhibit, AAP , Manila. Specializing in still-life, Dr. Lim, has had several one-exhibits sponsored by the AAP of which he was once president; from 1956 to 1958.
The 56-year old physician-painter is a 1935 graduate of the UP college of medicine with anatomy and surgery as his field of concentration. In 1955, he took advanced courses in general medicine at the University of Vienna, after which he practiced at the famous John Hopkins for two months. At present, he is president-elect for 1964 of the Philippine Academy of General Practice, secretary of the Philippine Medical center and member of the Juan Luna Centennial Commission.
The skill and dedication that Dr. Lim has shown in his profession he has brought to bear on his avocation render in symbolic form the saying that life and art are one and indivisible.