Technique and condition
The painting was executed on a single piece of medium-weight cotton duck canvas, which is stretched over a 23-membered softwood expandable stretcher and attached with wire staples at the rear. The artist carried out preliminary drawing in charcoal and the stretched canvas was then prepared with an unpigmented acrylic emulsion size, which was sprayed on both front and back faces and has resulted in a very stiff fabric. However, the canvas was then taken off the stretcher for the painting stage and only re-stretched after the painting had been completed. The paint layers extend right to the top and bottom edges, whereas the left and right edges have been slightly lengthened by the addition of thin strips of black 'strip lining' cloth. The end of the original canvas and the start of this black cloth are visible on the painting's left edge. The original dimensions of the work would therefore have been slightly higher and slightly narrower.
The paint was mixed up by the artist using dry pigment powders, which were added to the same acrylic emulsion medium that had been used to prepare the canvas and applied to the (unpigmented) primed canvas laying horizontal on floor. A variety of brushes were used, although sometimes the artist's hand was used to push the paint around. The purple background colour does not extend beneath the head and is the thinnest area of paint used, the canvas being visible through it in many places. The head appears to have a black paint under much of it, possibly used over the charcoal drawing to reinforce the composition. The paint was applied in a very bold and vigorous manner, with each brushstroke still clearly visible. Although the paint was layered over dried existing layers in many areas, much use was also made of wet-in-wet technique, which would have had to occur very rapidly due to the relatively fast drying time of the acrylic medium. The paint used for the head is very varied in terms of its texture and gloss. There are very large clumps of pigment still apparent in many areas, often over 5mm in diameter. Where pigment has collected the surface tends to be more matt, typically at the edge of each brushstroke. According to the artist, the head took 2-3 months to complete.
The painting is in excellent condition. Although the canvas is fairly floppy, the fabric is very stiff due to the acrylic sizing layers, and subsequently far less likely to cause problems to the paint layers from banging against the rear stretcher bars. This slackness is also a feature that the artist wants and so no attempts have been made to tighten it up. However, with the artist's consent, it has been agreed to frame the painting in a simple 'L-section' frame. This will provide a far greater level of rigidity and protection to the painting and is currently being constructed at Tate.