Meet my friend Adrianna. You might have met her briefly before here.
Besides being an avid and skillful photographer she is (almost) a fully qualified Art Conservator and works for the National Library of Australia in Canberra.
Admittedly before meeting Drannas I knew little about her profession. I naively referred to her work as art restoration, to which I am discovering it is much more than that. It is also vastly different to what I expected.
Conservation I am learning is less about ‘painting over’ and more about understanding the science of materiality, knowing how the artwork acts and reacts. This type of thing is right up my alley. It is less about replicating as a way to return to its original condition but rather focusing on setting the art up for a fuller and more controlled future through studying its material make up.
Its interesting to note, at this point, that all the work Adrianna does has to be reversible. Its not designed to alter the artwork but rather work with it. Judging from the ‘work-in-progress’ image below this takes a lot of careful planning and testing.
“Really a lot of the time its just problem solving using whatever knowledge and experience you have. The idea with conservation these days is that any work carried out needs to be reversible, so that you’re not causing damage to the original object, and so that if your conservation work degrades, or there is something better in the future, someone else can remove what you’ve done without damaging the original object.”
It is these treatments that Adrianna referred to in our chat (and what I have been following on her Photographic diary on Instragram) that really interests me. Understanding the chemistry of paper weights and paint types is fascinating. The knowledge of what solutions can wipe away dirt but leave the original remaining is far more valuable than the skill of reproduction. It is this focus and dedication to preservation and delaying further decay that means we don’t loose pieces of our cultural identity.
I asked Adrianna to briefly discuss a few of the common techniques she uses:
“With paper conservation, to repair tears and holes we use handmade Japanese tissue paper (of varying weights depending on the paper type of the object), and wheat starch paste made from good old laundry starch. To fill in losses in colours of artworks on paper sometimes we use watercolours or conte crayons. There is also a lot of dry surface cleaning. And a lot of cleaning with cotton tips. Using solvents to remove stains or tape adhesives. Bleaching. Washing. It sounds all fancy, but really sometimes its quite simple…”
Below is a print that Adrianna described had been ‘covered in mud due to someone driving through their garage and a worm farm being splattered all over the print that was stored in the garage’ . As she began to carefully clean away the dirt the story in the image began to unfold.
University has given Adrianna experience in working hands on across a whole range of mediums and conservational techniques. Paper however is her passion. Her reasoning is simple yet gives insight into the thrill of the discovery that which art conservation can reveal; ‘So many interesting things are on paper. Old documents, artworks on paper, scrapbooks journals, maps, the list goes on’.
As I am slowly getting back into the practise of painting myself, its interesting to think of the life of the artwork post production. How the decisions I make now based on materials and their chemical make up will influence how they can be preserved in the future. (Although for a few of my latest feeble attempts maybe the decay process is not necessarily a bad thing!)
You can follow Adrianna’s conservation journey on her recently created blog:
Thanks to Drannas for her insight and beautiful imagery!