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Crashed and slashed
December 27, 2013
Every Christmas someone's painting falls off the wall. It happened again this year--a small, plaintive voice at the end of the phone: "I'm sorry to bother you Mr. Genn, but our big one of yours fell down and hit the fire-tongs. Two small slices in the canvas near the bottom. Could you recommend where we could take it?"
"Bring it to me," I tell her. I've always rationalized that the artist (if at all alive at the time) is the conservator of choice. Here's why: Professional restorers, with their innate respect for art, are often tentative and make a careful match in a small area. The artist himself can be more confident and convincing in his stroking. Apart from knowing the chemistry of the materials and being familiar with the style, he (or she) might even make it a better painting.
Each damage problem needs to be worked out on its own, of course, depending on the support, media, and the type of damage. When the owners arrived the 20-year-old acrylic was in good shape except for the slices. We had a nice visit and then I set to work. The painting had been done with a fair amount of confidence and bravura. I decided to patch. With full strength acrylic medium I adhered a patch of the same type of canvas to the back over the damaged area. The corners of the patch were cut to be slightly rounded and the edges were frayed out to lessen the abruptness. I tamped out the air bubbles and left overnight with light pressure.
In the morning I cleaned off the front of the wound with ammonia and then water. A light sanding got rid of the hairy parts. The cavity was then filled with acrylic modeling paste applied with a spatula. The next day the actual repainting took place. In this case just a few passes did the trick. Match and go. Overshoot and cut in. It's re-creation. No fiddling allowed.
After drying I varnish the area to match the original sheen. On the patch itself I make back of canvas with patch repair
a note of the materials used, date the repair, and sign my initials. Perhaps this personalization actually adds interest and authenticity to the art.
I never charge for the service--after all, aren't they guaranteed for life?
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Esoterica: Coincidentally, on the Clausal night, a painting fell off our own living room wall. No damage to the painting, but it upset Dorothy who went around and woke everyone. There was a bit of a clatter. Odd night, actually: Eight parsnips had been left on the hearth, but in the morning one was still untouched. Did one reindeer not dine, or was Santa running short-deered?
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