Friday, August 5, 2011

Abrasions, Flaking Paint, and Pinpoint Losses

An oil painting of a harvest scene by Art Price.
This is one of my favorite paintings by my father:

Unfortunately, it’s in poor condition.  Susan Blakney, painting conservator and owner of West Lake Conservators, didn’t mince words during her examination.  “The abrasion goes into the ground, exposing it,” she said.

And it’s not just the large areas where no paint is left that present concerns.  The paint is flaking in many other places, too.  “It will continue to flake unless treated,” Susan warned.  “These areas need to be consolidated with an appropriate adhesive to stop the flaking.  I’d want to use a consolident on the areas that appear erupted to stabilize the deterioration.  Once the consolident is applied, a heated spatula could be used on any lifted paint to return it to plane.”  She added that in areas of pinpoint losses, she could in-paint to match the surrounding colors using watercolor brushes with very fine tips.

Painting conservator Susan Blakney
with the painting.
I’d love to see this painting returned to a semblance of its original appearance.  But I also realize this would require a considerable amount of in-painting.  Susan explained how a conservator approaches this type of challenging situation.  “For appropriate inpainting of a sizable loss,” she said, “it helps to become familiar with the artist’s work and techniques.  If absolutely necessary, you might base it on a single painting, but it’s far better to see a range of work.  Inpainting is done to replace missing portions of a puzzle by simulating the artist’s style.”  As for this painting:  “It would take some imagination to inpaint this because of the significant losses.”

Conservators are careful to make their inpainting work reversible, by using stable synthetic materials.   They may use a varnish as a base layer and/or special paints that can be removed with mild solvents such as mineral spirits.  This approach restores a painting to its original appearance while leaving the door open for future treatments.  As the field of art conservation continues to advance, new techniques will likely develop that could prompt a new treatment approach for the painting.  Or I could come across a photograph of the painting that clearly depicts the original details on areas that have been lost through abrasion.  There’s nothing unusual about revisiting a conservation treatment.  Frequently, paintings in museums have been through many.

It’s my hope that this severely abraded painting has reached its lowest point, preservation-wise.  It deserves an investment in care, quality storage, and professional attention.

Special thanks to Susan Blakney for generously sharing her painting conservation expertise during the past two weeks!

© 2011 Lee Price

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