Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of medium-weight cotton duck canvas, with a slightly open weave. This is secured to a rather flimsy stretcher with wire staples at the rear, which are hidden by softwood battens screwed to back of the stretcher bars. Once stretched, the canvas was then primed with a white pigmented acrylic gesso, which has penetrated in many areas through to the back of the canvas.

The paint used was made by the artist, mixing dry pigments into a PVA (or polyvinyl acetate) dispersion. This was recorded on a label on the back of the stretcher and the presence of PVA has been confirmed by chemical analysis. Although the actual PVA product used is not known, this class of material is commonly encountered in waterborne white wood glues. The paints used would have been heavily loaded with pigment because they have produced opaque films with a very matt and dry surface quality. In addition, the red paint, which makes up much of the background colour, is particularly granular in consistency and appears to contain some additional granular material, possibly sand. The paint has been applied exclusively by brush (in a range of widths) in a very loose manner. The emulsion paint would have been very fast drying, permitting a rapid build up of layers if desired. Although the paint layers are predominantly thin and flat, there are some isolated areas of increased thickness corresponding to the edges of brushstrokes and the use of very lean paint (such as the central maroon colour and the darker blue in the lower right corner). Another technique used in this painting was the scraping back with a clean stiff brush of a paint layer before it had dried to reveal the underlying colour. An interesting drying defect can be seen in the brown paint which lies over an orange layer just above the centre of the painting, where the top layer has been thinned with too much water to form a coherent film, and this has resulted in the appearance of so-called drying cracks. Cracks of a very different nature have also formed where the canvas has flapped against the stretcher bars. These are predominantly seen running vertically down the left edge of the centre bar in the red and black paint, but also around the edges, and are a result of the rather brittle nature of such highly pigmented paint films.

The painting is currently undergoing conservation treatment. Despite the presence of this cracking, the painting is now in a stable condition. The original stretcher will be strengthened or possibly replaced so that the support can be stretched more tightly and subsequently be prevented from further destructive contact with the stretcher bars. The batten frame will probably also be replaced with a stronger L-section design of similar appearance, which will offer the painting far greater protection. With careful handling the painting should then not undergo any further deterioration.

Tom Learner
October 1997