Science and Heritage Programme
A A A

Interpreting the surface: the application of surface science to artists' acrylic emulsion paint films

University of Manchester

Award holder - Dr Elizabeth Willneff

PROJECT SUMMARY

Interpreting the surface: the application of surface science to artists' acrylic emulsion paint films

University of Manchester

Dr Elizabeth Willneff
Amount Awarded: £274,584.00


Artists' acrylic emulsion paints gained popularity in the early 1960s, after production began in the mid 1950s. Today, acrylic paints sell equally to oil paints and acrylic emulsion-based works of art continue to form significant proportions of modern and contemporary art collections. Well-known users include David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Bridget Riley, Patrick Caulfield and John Hoyland. Some of the oldest acrylic emulsion paintings are beginning to require conservation treatment as distracting marks, deposited soiling, loss of surface gloss and decreased colour saturation become increasingly apparent.

It is therefore proposed to carry out systematic investigations of the surfaces of acrylic emulsion paint films, as this is where the cumulative effects of exposure to light, soiling, pollutants, accidents, environment, conservation treatments and migrated materials become concentrated. As yet the variety of materials present on the surfaces of these paints have not been fully characterised and the nature of the interactions between migrated surfactant and deposited soiling have not been explored. The mechanisms and consequences of the degradation of surfactants with light exposure (display) have also to be determined, including whether degradation is dependent on pigment type, and whether there are any consequences of the removal of surfactant (through conservation treatment and/or display) on the underlying paint surfaces. It is essential to establish for example, whether the removal of surfactant enhances the vulnerability of paint surfaces to subsequent light/soiling exposure. Equally, it is important to document the consequences of leaving surfactant and soiling on the surface of these relatively soft paint films, as there is a risk that soiling can become permanently embedded into the paint surface.

The proposal combines the expertise and knowledge available at the scientific departments at both Tate and the Getty Conservation Institute with the instrumentation and surface analysis expertise available at the Department of Chemical Engineering and understanding of the vulnerability of these paint surfaces will be enhanced through the scientific technologies and methodologies that will be applied to these paints for the first time. Research results will significantly contribute to determining best practice for the reliable care and conservation of these unique and increasingly valuable modern and contemporary works of art; thereby helping to ensure their survival into the future.

CONTACT


Funding_Footer