Like a vocation to some sacred priesthood, the arts have lured their willing acolytes into committing themselves to the Muses—they whom the late celebrated writer Truman Capote described as relentless and merciless. He likened the practice of art to accepting from God a whiplash with which to scourge one’s self for life.
Indeed, the choice between a more lucrative, more comfortable profession and the demanding, often ego-shattering, practice of the arts can lead an individual to an unexpected epiphany.
One such person is a successful pediatrician who, having emerged from a dark night of the artistic soul, is now poised for flight into the creative realm. Never wanting in parental encouragement, as a child, his father used to buy his drawings for P5 each.
His name is Dr. Ronnie Lim who recently launched his first solo exhibition at Artasia Gallery.
The show, titled aptly enough, “Coming Out of the Dark,” articulates a range of subjects: “Bugbog-Sarado,” “Panthera Tigris,” “Babies, God’s Blessings,” “My Muse” and “Goldfish.” Each series emanates from Lim’s personal attraction to the subject.
Instigating the series “Bugbog-Sarado” was Lim’s attendance at the Las Vegas fights of Manny Pacquiao. What he witnessed was a compelling reason for the series: puffed faces, battered and bruised, black and blue.
In his art, pummeled flesh registers its own kind of harrowing beauty. Against the proud peacock stance of a victorious Pacquiao, preening in his triumph, the broken visages of his defeated opponents—Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Antonio Margarito, Miguel Cotto—are their own visual virtues. Like a once-glorious landscape ruined by violent winds and incessant rains, their faces are now a torn tissue of their former likeness.
Lim’s portraits certainly owe their uniqueness to a sensibility that would recognize a raw, brutalized species of beauty or handsomeness in the wreckage of flesh. These works elicit from the viewer the same endured pain at the moment of impact when tremendous force meets the direct hit of bone and sinew.
As in a gladiatorial combat—to the victor, the spoils!—Lim’s pictorial records of boxers are at once portraits of humiliation and stoicism. (A few days after Lim’s opening night, by sheer, shocking coincidence Pacquiao himself would be trounced by Juan Manuel Marquez.)
‘Babies, God’s Blessings’
The other set of portraits, “Babies, God’s Blessings,” may disorient the gallery visitor, wondering whether he has strayed into another artist’s show. These are the images of infants, Caucasian as well as Asian, cooing at the viewer. In these works we are delivered into a state of helpless cuddliness, what one acerbic critic once described as “a terminal state of cute.”
In their wide-eyed innocence and wonder, with their thin filament of clean, clear skin, these infants practically gurgle their way into the viewer’s heart.
As a pediatrician, Lim’s interest in and attachment to the subject is understandable. He trains his eyes on the magnified illusion of these frail, gentle creatures, recalling what certain flowers painters did with their enlarged petals and blooms. Saturated with pleasure over his subject, Lim imbued his works with as much feeling as technique.
The title piece “Coming Out of the Dark” is, however, neither pugilist nor pediatrician’s patient, but savage beast. The series is “Panthera Tigris,” impelled simply by a biographical fact: Lim and his wife Priscilla were born in the Year of the Tiger.
Identifying, therefore, with that most majestic of feline creatures, Lim was, well, animated to respond to the rightness of another subject, which in itself can be read as an allusion to the boxer, who is all contained, seething fury.
These beasts evince a compact mass and volume, flourished by the tactile sheen of their sleek fur. Realistic in detailing, articulated in the dark and light of the tiger’s alternating stripes, these works recall the famous lines of the English poet William Blake: “Tiger, tiger burning bright/In the forest of the night/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
In this artist’s darkest of nights, Lim prefigures himself as one emerging from a state of apprehension and hesitation: Was he to seriously answer to the vocation of a painter?
When he took painting lessons under mentor-artist Rey Aurelio, Lim responded with a surprising voracious appetite. Thus, the amplitude of his varied subjects, when what is traditionally expected in a solo show is a single focused theme.
From faces of savagery and innocence, Lim endorses a touch of pulchritude in the portraits of his wife, “My Muse,” who is also the artist’s severest critic and champion of his art, of course.
As with most artists whose wives have served as models for their art—National Artist J. Elizalde Navarro being the exemplar—Lim allows himself a greater latitude of feeling and intimacy.
As for the “Goldfish,” Lim confides: “I have always wanted to paint koi, as it is a common subject of artists. But then again, it is common. I raised goldfish as a kid. It is my favorite, with its flowing tail fins, shiny scales and graceful movement.”
Now a member of the painting group Arte Pintura, headed by artist Addie Cukingnan, Lim has resolutely cast his lot on the burgeoning art scene, realizing that to scourge one’s self through painting brings its own exquisite pain as well as pleasure.