Technique and condition

The painting was executed in oil paint on a single piece of laminated cardboard. The cardboard support is held by four planks of painted wood, two of which run vertically over the cardboard and which are attached to the other two which run horizontally and lie behind the cardboard. In addition the cardboard is held by a series of wide-headed nails which have been driven through the top and bottom edges of the cardboard support into the two wooden planks beneath.

Despite these attachments the support is extremely warped. Although a certain amount of this may have been caused by poor environmental conditions, it is doubtful that the cardboard was completely flat before the paint was applied. The support also contains a number of significant damages, including large holes in all four corners and a fairly serious tear in the top left quarter. All of these would have been present in the support before the application of paint and should therefore be considered as an integral part of the work. The area above the hole in the top left corner, however, has clearly suffered some further paint loss since its execution.

The paint has been applied directly onto the cardboard support, and in some areas this has led to some slight staining around the paint marks, where the oil binder has bled into the cardboard. The paint appears to have been applied in a variety of consistencies. Some areas, such as the green paint, is very medium rich and exhibits appreciable gloss, whereas others, in particular the black paint, would have been applied as a much thinner consistency and subsequently appear more matt and dry.
The absence of any varnish layer allows these differences in gloss to remain apparent.

The white paint was diluted considerably before its application. This produced a very fluid paint (a number of vertical drips are visible) and has resulted in an extensive network of fine cracking and even some areas of paint loss. There are two areas of severe drying cracks, both in areas of black paint. One is found in the lower left corner and the other in a region towards the bottom of the right edge. Both have probably formed due to the application of the fast-drying top black layer on top of a slower-drying layer beneath. Although these cracks would not have been present when the work was completed, the Tate was informed on the work's acquisition by the artist that he was, essentially against inpainting and in general unless there was a clear break in a line or passage of brushworks, always preferred to let the cracking show.

On acquisition, an adhesive was applied along the bottom edge and in the finely cracked off-white colour to consolidate areas of paint which were loose and in danger of falling off from the support. At least one previous attempt has been made to consolidate other areas of paint, the last one in collaboration with the artist. Despite its inherently fragile state, the painting is now in a stable condition. It is not known if the white L-section frame, which encloses the piece, is original.

Tom Learner
July 1997