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Friday, June 1 • 5:00pm - 5:30pm
(Problematic Materials) The Day Day-Glo loses its Glo(w): An Interdisciplinary Approach in Conserving Artworks Containing Daylight Fluorescent Paints

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Since the 1960s, American artists like Frank Stella (1936°), Richard Bowman (1918-2001), Herbert Aach (1923-1985), James Rosenquist (1933-2017) and Andy Warhol (1928-1987), started to incorporate Day-Glo (daylight fluorescent) paints in their artworks. These luminescent, synthetic, modern paints, became popular because they revealed a new dimension in color that resulted in unseen visual experiences, like illusory color depth, optical vibration and new contrast effects. Unfortunately, there is a downside to the use of fluorescent paints, in that they age much faster than conventional colors and digitalising their luminescent effect isn’t possible up till now. Most colors in artworks appear through absorption and reflection of inorganic pigments. Fluorescent pigments, on the contrary, consist in a grounded substance based on an organic dye-resin-mixture. This kind of pigment absorbs energy of the short-wavelength range of the light spectrum and reemits this energy over a narrow range of longer-wavelength light. The resin matrix of fluorescent pigments is very fragile and already after a few years, due to exposure to (ultraviolet)light, the fluorescent color gradually starts to lose its intensity and saturation. For this presentation, I’ll start by briefly discussing my art historical research, in which I’ll compare three different uses of fluorescent colors in paintings of Frank Stella, Richard Bowman and Herbert Aach. After interviewing Stella, I found out that he not only used them for their intensity and self-referential quality, but also for their transparency. These material-qualities perfectly fitted his ‘paintings as object’-concept. Bowman was among the very first artists who used them (since 1950) and saw the fact that these paints emit real light from the canvas as an extension of the painted light effects in works of the (post-)impressionists. Aach was an artist and color engineer who made his own fluorescent paints. Beside the fact that his paintings reveal unseen fluorescent colors, he also developed a detailed study of their visual effects in his writings. While discussing this selection of artworks, both the (unique) visual effects and their irreversible loss of intensity due to aging, will be addressed. In the second part, I’ll draw attention to the fact that it is impossible to digitalise or photograph the visual effects of a fluorescent artwork. A photo will only capture a high-key colored version without the fluorescent-effects. As the degradation is inevitable and the problem of reproduction remains, it is necessary to create an additional fine-grained taxonomy of each artwork, which enables and preserves a correct reading of the fluorescent works. To conclude this presentation, I will give an example of such a taxonomy, based on recent interdisciplinary research on four of Stella’s Irregular Polygons paintings, consisting in art historical methods, perceptual psychology and data gained from material-technical research. As a solution, readings resulting from such a taxonomy will serve as ‘visual memory’ for artworks that eventually become milky-coloured ‘ruins’, devoid of their original meaning.

avatar for Stefanie De Winter

Stefanie De Winter

PhD student, University of Leuven
Stefanie De Winter studied conservation of paintings at the Royal Academy of Antwerp, where she focused on conservation problems related to fluorescent paint layers. After a stint as a conservator in NYC, where she worked on contemporary American paintings (mostly Frank Stella... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 5:00pm - 5:30pm

Attendees (46)