Friday, 30 August 2013

Hello from the Getty Conservation Institute – Paint layers

A tiny sample of paint embedded in resin can be made into a cross-section. They allow us to see the layering structure of the painting down to a microscopic level and we can analyse the individual layers as a consequence.

A cross-section from the painting Cross 1959 by Colin McCahon
 I have been making cross-sections for many years but wanted to improve my technique and Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) Scientist, Alan Phenix, agreed to show me the finer details of his method. Alan’s work at the GCI focuses on paint analysis, primarily to assist Getty Museum painting conservators with the paintings in their care.

Sampling from paintings is only done if absolutely necessary and great care is taken in finding a suitable location. The cross-section sample will be smaller than a pin-head and from an existing damage. Alan looks through the microscope to place the edge of the cross-section on a glass slide where it is secured. A plastic mould is placed around it, resin poured in and label inserted to the side.

GCI Scientist, Alan Phenix, pouring resin into the mould to prepare a cross-section.
The resin is placed in a chamber and cured by exposure from ultra-violet (UV) radiation for 25 minutes. UV setting resins are also commonly used by dentists today. Now the cross-section is ready for sanding and polishing followed by microscopic examination and digital photography.

Alan looking at the McCahon cross-section 
In the past the process of making a cross-section would have taken several days, where today we can get much better results in a couple of hours. Alan helped me to improve the surface of a cross-section from the McCahon painting Cross 1959 and he took a photo. Pity about the air bubble in the resin next to the sample, but I won’t make that mistake again!

The Getty will be publishing their cross-section technique online in the near future and more information about Alan can be found here:

- Sarah Hillary, Principal Conservator

Monday, 26 August 2013

Hello from the Getty Conservation Institute – What paint is this?

When we talk about modern paints, we are referring to those based on synthetic media that were developed during the 20th century. For example, the binder in oil paints is made from natural vegetable oils, often linseed oil derived from flaxseed, whereas an acrylic paint is made from synthetic polymers manufactured from petrochemicals.

We generally rely on the artist’s description and close examination to get some idea of what paint it is. But the artist may not remember what paint they used, visual appearance can be inconclusive, and even if we did know what product they had used, the manufacturer is unlikely to reveal everything about it because of commercial sensitivities. So for an accurate assessment, it is necessary to do chemical or spectral analysis.

GCI Assistant Scientist, Herant Khanjian, with the FTIR microscope. The results from the analysis are on the computer screens behind 

While I have been at the Getty, we have been completing the analysis of some samples taken from paintings in the Modern Paints Aotearoa exhibition. The first we looked at were some tiny black scrapings that were taken from Stalagmites – Stalactites, 1964 by Theo Schoon. They are so small that you cannot see where they came from on the painting with the naked eye.

Image credit: Theo Schoon, Stalagmites - Stalactites 1964, oil on board, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1989 

GCI Assistant Scientist, Herant Khanjian placed a piece of the sample on a tiny ‘diamond window’ (a hard transparent platform) where it was flattened with a very small metal roller. The sample was then placed under the objective of the FTIR (Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy) microscope.

 The image of the sample on the diamond platform is projected on the front of the microscope 

FTIR uses the infrared radiation to analyse and produce information in the form of a spectrum (or chart) that is characteristic of the sample components. In the spectrum are bands which represent chemical bonding between two particular atoms or group of atoms in a molecule. The information is compared with spectra of other known material for identification. The results were a little confusing so we also did a solvent extraction. This means that a solvent was dropped on the sample to draw out the organic components which were analysed. The results were a lot clearer this time, and it appears that the paint is oil and alkyd.

You can find out more about Herant Khanjian here:

- Sarah Hillary, Principal Conservator

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Hello from the Getty Conservation Institute – Lacquer Projects

On Monday I had lunch with two of the visiting scientists who have been contributing to the Getty Conservation Institute study into ancient lacquer finishes, Julie Chang and Ulrike Kerber. I managed to show my ignorance about this topic very quickly by asking about the use of shellac! I soon learnt that lacquer is nothing to do with shellac. Shellac is a resin secreted by an insect, but lacquer is based on sap collected from trees of the Anacardiaceae family.

The sap is very difficult to collect, and all of the processes of manufacture, which require great skill, are incredibly time-consuming. Julie had found a Chinese document from the 1st century BC which complained about the waste of resources in this process, because a lacquer cup would take 100 men to make and a lacquer screen, 10,000. The sap dries to a layer which is so tough that it can outlast the wooden structure that it is applied to. Many different processes were used to produce the traditional lacquers, but even with the subtle variation in end-product, it is still possible to spot a modern forgery.

Julie Chang with a lacquer cross-section on the screen
More information can be found on their website and the Getty is running workshops on the characterization of Asian lacquers.

- Sarah Hillary, Principal Conservator

Monday, 19 August 2013

Hello from the Getty Conservation Institute – Our Project

Kia ora from the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, where I am working for the next three weeks. Conservation Scientist Tom Learner, and I will be preparing material for the exhibition Modern Paints Aotearoa, which is scheduled to open at Auckland Art Gallery in April next year.

Auckland Art Gallery Principal Conservator Sarah Hillary and Conservation Scientist Tom Learner in the Getty Conservation Institute analytical lab.
The exhibition will examine the relationship between artistic innovation and painting materials in New Zealand art history, from the late 1950s until the early 1970s.

An understanding of materials is not necessary for appreciation of a painting, but it can provide a valuable insight into the artistic process because the choice of materials has a huge effect on what artists can produce. Big changes occurred in the New Zealand art in the 1960s at the same time as a range of new painting materials became available.

Acrylic paint samples in the GCI lab. 
The Getty Conservation Institute have been carrying out a study of modern paints for many years so that conservators will be better informed about how to preserve them. They have collaborated with conservators from many different countries during this time and the New Zealand project has involved staff from Auckland Art Gallery and Te Papa.

My next few blogs will look at the processes that we have to go through when identifying (or characterising) the paint medium and some of the other work going on here at the GCI.

- Sarah Hillary, Principal Conservator

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Robin White’s Beginner's Guide to Gilbertese

Gallery Guide Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh introduces work by Robin White on show in the Toi Aotearoa exhibition.

The second Gibbs gallery includes 1980s artworks. Robin White’s woodblock prints, made during her time in Kiribati, are included. They are titled: I am doing the washing in the bathroom (1983), The Canoe is in the bareaka (1983), Michael is sleeping on the bed (1983) and The Maneaba (1983). These prints, made soon after White's arrival in Kiribati, comprise a series titled Beginner's Guide to Gilbertese. They relate to her adjustment to living in a new environment and culture and learning a new language.

Robin White studied at Elam School of Fine Art in the 1960s under the guidance of teachers like Colin McCahon. White is well known for her refined painting style and screen prints of rural New Zealand landscapes, towns and the people. She has produced many images associated with New Zealand identity.

White’s hard-edged paintings are an important contribution to the development of the New Zealand 'regionalist' style. Her work from 1968 to 1979 often depicted a single, isolated figure set against the landscape. The layers of sharp lines give her images a clarity that celebrates the vitality of New Zealand’s culture and community. An example of this is her painting Maketu fish and chips (1975) – previously on display in the third room of the Gibbs galleries. This painting captures the feeling of pride in rural towns. The strong elements that had defined her trademark style in the 70s were carried into her woodblock print compositions in the 80s and 90s.

White moved to the Republic of Kiribati in the central Pacific along with her family in 1982. She lived there for 17 years before returning to New Zealand in 1999. White is a Baha’i and her reason for moving to Kiribati with her family was to provide voluntary support for the growing Baha’i community within the region. White’s daily interactions with the local community directly influenced her work.

White had to adapt to her new environment as an artist. Her perspective shifted from being surrounded by the mountainous New Zealand landscape to living on a remote atoll. White soon realised that continuing to paint in oil on canvas was unsuited to the circumstances in her new Pacific island environment. She moved to woodblock printmaking as the process was more manageable and wood was readily available.

The comic book-like compositions tell a story of daily life adapting to the islands. The images of the people she met, where she lived and ate is important in her works. The flat perspective depicts images of domestic life and landscape similar to her New Zealand regionalist painting style. The works represent scenes overlaid with memory and experience. Robin White’s recent projects are a continuation of her interest in working collaboratively with Pacific Island artists, using traditional tapa-making practices as a way of addressing contemporary themes. White has gained experience working with tapa (bark-cloth) during her collaborative projects with local artists in Fiji and Tonga. Her previous installations using this medium, shown in the Sixth Asia Pacific Triennial (Brisbane, 2009), Kermadec group exhibition (Tauranga, Auckland, and Wellington 2012) and Ko e Hala Hangatonu: The Straight Path at Two Rooms Gallery in March this year.

Image credits (clockwise from top left):
Robin White
I am doing the washing in the bathroom 1983
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1983

Robin White
The Canoe is in the bareaka 1983
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1983

Robin White
Michael is sleeping on the bed 1983
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1983

Robin White
The Maneaba 1983 
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1983

Monday, 5 August 2013

Final day of the Youth Media Internship

The Youth Media Interns celebrate the end of the internship at Auckland Art Gallery. Photo: Waimarie Dashper, AUT Media Mentor
The interns were surprised with an extra hour of editing this morning, this came as a major relief as they now had the opportunity to perfect and polish any areas needing work. Once this was finished, we were able to leave the AUT building, and head back over to the Gallery for a final staff viewing session after lunch.

After a couple of humorous skits by the teens acting out their experiences throughout the past week, the staff viewing session took place in the auditorium. Once each group presented their short clip, the staff had a few questions and feedback for them;

Group one: The Groovster’s – ‘What is the value of perceiving art?’ 
By researching this particular question, it really helped them ‘realise the amount of work that goes into conserving art, and the many hours of effort involved’. A staff member asked whether or not anything was surprising, their response being: ‘The amount of attention given, and the different technologies and techniques used.’ The Groovster’s really emphasized how much fun they had, and that they really enjoyed this entire experience.

Group two: Hinoliee – ‘What do children think and feel about art?’
The three girls had their ‘preconceptions and opinions changed around how children perceive and view artwork.’ Two main questions that the staff asked once having viewed their short clip, was whether or not anything surprised them, and what it was like interviewing children: ‘Their answers were interesting as they didn’t have time to think about or really prepare before the interview, in ways they tried to make it into more of a conversation - Some of the children’s answers were really in depth, and they saw many things in the art work which we didn’t even pick up ourselves.’

Group three: The Pickles – ‘What is the importance of viewing original artwork in the flesh?Although The Pickles did not get many questions, they got some really excellent feedback;
‘Sleek editing’
‘The animation helped bring what could have been a dry narrative to life’
‘Great illustrations’

Group four: Gender Group – ‘How does the gender of an artist effect how we view an artwork?’
A discussion took place after their short clip was shown – many of the staff were interested in the raised question. The Gender Group stated that it ‘definitely should be, because it gives you a sense of where the artist is coming from and helps engage with the artwork more.’ They also suggested for the Gallery to experiment and see if this changes how people view art.

Once the questions and feedback session had finished, each of the Interns were presented with a certificate presented by Principal Curator Zara Stanhope, stating that they had successfully completed the seven days at the Auckland Art Gallery.

Overall the feedback from the teens was that they had a wonderful time working with and meeting new people, and that each of them have and will take heaps away from this experience. On behalf of the AUT Mentors I would like to thank Selina Anderson, Vivien Masters and Meg Nicoll for all of their hard work and contribution towards this internship, Nicholas Maw for helping with the social media side of things, the Gallery staff for their help and support with the interviews, the interns for their incredible participation, Clinton Watkins and AUT University for supplying the technical gear, and Trade Aid for their generous donation of chocolate. Without all of the above, the past seven days would have been nowhere near as much of a success!!

- Waimarie Dashper, AUT Media Mentor

Friday, 2 August 2013

From Godwit/Kuaka to Framing Place

Ralph Hotere’s painting Godwit/Kuaka, which has been on display since we reopened in September 2011, has been taken down to make way for a new exhibition. The 18-metre long Godwit/Kuaka is remarkable, as was its presence in the long Gibbs gallery on our ground floor. Contained in the title of the painting is a symbolic association to the annual migration of the kuaka from the earthly portal of Te Reinga or Te Rerenga Wairua to Siberia and the shores of Asia. Such things remind us that change is constant and inevitable.

Replacing Godwit/Kuaka is the exhibition Framing Place, which looks at the scope and range of sky and landscape images that reflect our place in the world. The artworks in the exhibition by Laurence Aberhart, Andrew McLeod and Jae Hoon Lee indicate how the literal and metaphoric framing of land also shows the imprint of people, and in so doing, conveys a relationship to place. These depictions of the natural environment evoke emotional connections to a birthplace and homeland.

Aberhart’s Taranaki photographs include scenes that dramatically demonstrate the effects of different kinds of light and the way this and the area’s weather influences our feelings about the omnipresent mountain and its surrounding landscape.

Jae Hoon Lee’s work Sunday comprises two back-illuminated images showing an arrangement of puffy cumulus clouds which have the appearance of an explosion.

The painting Large Green Landscape, by Andrew McLeod, is an imaginary, peopled landscape; a tableau that might act as a frieze. This sampling of contemporary art offers an open-ended inquiry into framing place in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Image credits:
Ralph Hotere
Godwit/Kuaka (detail) 1977
lacquer on hardboard
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd 1997

Laurence Aberhart 
Taranaki (and cloud), Wanganui, 15 April 1986 1986
gelatin silver print 
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki 
gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 1998 

Jae Hoon Lee
Sunday 2005
duratran print, aluminium, Perspex (lightbox)
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2006

Andrew McLeod
Large Green Landscape 2012
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
purchased with funds from the Elise Mourant Bequest, 2012