Treatment of Darren Almond’s Timescape 00.30, 2017. A successful large-scale agarose gel treatment of a water-sensitive painted surface.

Olympia Diamond, Anna Cooper, Donatella Banti, Julia Nagle. Julia Nagle Conservation Ltd. London, Great Britain

Timescape 00:30 is one of a series of abstract paintings by British artist Darren Almond. Inspired by representations of the cosmos, the paintings explore Almond’s preoccupation with time and space. Each one represents the night sky in a specific location and at a precise moment and together they describe a horizon where various time scales resonate. The misty, subtly graduated surface is intrinsic to the work, creating a dreamlike atmosphere.

Timescape 00:30 (2016) is composed of water resoluble acrylic paint and gouache on an aluminium panel measuring 210 x 154 cm. It was significantly altered by rain from an open window which disrupted the water resoluble medium, creating multiple matte spots with glossy borders. Although only visible from certain angles, the damage destroyed the desired affect rendering the work unexhibitable. This paper describes the rationale and processes for the treatment of Timescape 00:30 using large plates of agarose gel to remove drip marks and regain the overall uniformity of the matte paint surface. Research, testing, and analyses were undertaken by conservators at Julia Nagle Conservation Ltd in collaboration with the artist, Tate Conservation Science, conservators at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and scientists at the University of Pisa.

Treatment of this very subtly graduated sprayed finish had to address the whole surface as one. Individual cleaning of tide lines and re saturation of matte spots would only emphasise the marks, and further interrupt the reading of the work. Building on information gleaned at the CAPS course, early testing showed promising results using 4% agarose gel, which removed the marks without apparent damage to the fragile sprayed paint. But how could agarose gel be applied evenly on such a large scale?

The artist (who owned the works) had generously supplied details of the materials used, a panel with similar paint build up for testing, and permission to carry out the treatment. Thorough and detailed testing ensued on the test panel, then the painting itself. Analysis included optical microscopy, GC-MS, a gloss meter and a spectrophotometer.

After 32 days of testing and analysis and three days preparing materials, the treatment was undertaken by a team of 7 conservators in just one day. Agarose gel plates, precisely measured and cut, were applied and removed systematically across the whole surface.

In resonance with the painting’s subject matter, successful treatment demanded spatial and temporal precision both in preparing the agarose plates and their placement. While the image itself was amorphous, retaining this effect required the sectioning of the painting into identically sized rectangles, and exact timekeeping.