How did you get into paint conservation?
It was in 1999 when the National Museum came up with a comprehensive program on restoration of easel paintings. I was very lucky to have friends who are with them. They invited me and it ran for a total of 16 months. It was almost like attending an MA program. This was sponsored by the National Museum, the Agencias Espanola, and National Commission for Culture and the Arts. I was a graphic designer during that time, there were around 20 of us in the program, and our teachers came over from Spain.
We were there five days a week, eight hours a day, and it was composed of several courses from the basic restoration of easel paintings to the more advanced courses like polychrome statues. We were taught to develop a critical mind. In art restoration, it’s not just looking at the colors, it’s also studying the texture and the approach of the artist. You must know the materials and their conditions. All these will help you prepare a conservation program or intervention.
I really value my conservation training. I have been restoring for almost 15 years. I have learned to be very patient, to be very careful with assessment, so the artwork will receive the proper treatment. Every project is a challenge to me, because it tests my knowledge and skill. One must have a very outlook when you study a painting. Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor, but my father could not afford to send me to medical school. Now I am a doctor of paintings.
Tell us about your group ACES.
Seven of us who graduated from the program set up an organization Art Restoration and Conservation Specialists in 2001, and worked together for around 10 years before we went our separate ways. Restoration is a team effort, it’s something you cannot do by yourself. In my team we have chemists, we have several artists, even an accountant. You need to have many eyes looking at the project. A chemist would look at it differently, and an artist would look at it very differently. I can see things that they can’t see, and they can see things that I can never see.
Tell us about some of your projects.
We did a partial restoration of The Spoliarium. It was such an honor and such a wonderful experience. We had to set up scaffolding so we could check every square inch of it. We removed the aged varnish and cleaned the painting.
We also did the Botong Francisco mural at St. Paul University. Manila Hotel has an art collection as well, and they invited me to restore them, among these Amorsolo’s Early Traders painting.
The last restoration project our team made was for CCP. We worked on four murals of Jaime de Guzman, each one about 6 by 5 feet. He was one of my favorite painters, so I was happy to do it for them pro bono.
Right now I am also a trustee and finance officer for Erehwon Center for the Arts, a non-profit organization that promotes art in the Philippines.
What did you do before ACES?
I was a graphic designer. I used to paint and I had several one-man shows. I suppose it’s just natural that I segued into art restoration because I studied art. My very first solo-exhibit was in 1982 for watercolor paintings. I’ve had a show in Italy, and I’ve made some good friends out of my clients, some of my paintings were brought to USA, Australia, and Canada.
Can you run us through the procedure of art conservation?
One conservation principle that a conservator must follow is that anything that you add, you should be able to remove. Everything should be reversible and removable. First, we have to document the front and back to record the physical damage of the painting. Next, we test all the colors to see their condition. Then we clean the painting. Once we had to remove thick varnish from a piece, and it was very difficult, it was very thick and tough, we had to do a lot of run throughs. We flatten the cracks by using organic glue and a heated spatula, similar to ironing a wrinkled blouse. Afterwards we apply putty, let it dry, and retouch areas of paint loss. You have to visualize what was there before, see it in your mind.
How do you see the future of art conservation?
People would tell me I’m a jack-of-all-trades. I do restoration works on canvas, paper, sculptures, photopaper. In other countries, there are specialists for all of these, but here in the Philippines, I have to learn how to do all these because nobody would. There are very few conservators, not more than ten. There is a need to train young people to do conservation work, which is my advocacy right now.
Interview – Jenette Vizcocho and Dane Raymundo
Videography – Lisandro Molina, and M Espeña
Editing – M Espeña
Text – Jenette Vizcocho
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