Lecture 015.005

MATCHING THE COLOURS IN THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MODERN ARTWORKS
BY LYDIA BEERKENS
SRAL Maastricht, The NetherlandsColourmatching in modern art conservation is, in case of full scale recoating, a real challenge as industrial coating systems develop and companies, due to environmental restrictions, use different resources for paintmaking over the years. Measuring a colour with photo-spectrometry is no guarantee for finding a matching colour in a currently available commercial colour chart. This paper presents the reconstruction of 20 colours to recoat ‘Planetarium’ made by early ‘computer-artist’ Peter Struycken, through colourmatching and wants to propose new implications for modern art, also in comparison with earlier reconstructive treatments.

Dutch artist Peter Struycken (1939) is a pioneer in modern art ever since he in 1969 started using computers for his artworks. He has made light-installations, designed the digital dot-portrait of Queen Beatrix for national poststamps, made born-digital art and site specific installations for public space and buildings, based on computer design. He applies algorithms to define the shape and positions of sculptural elements in the three dimensional space, while a mathematical formula picks colours from the light colour system ‘red, green and blue’ (RGB coloursystem). Rather than by artistic and aesthetic choice Struycken uses the computer for his design process, he states in several interviews. Struycken co-operates with Sikkens(Akzo Nobel) to translate his ‘pallet’ of RGB colours from the computer screen into a regular paint numbers, for example RAL.

Several works from Struycken’s oeuvre need restoration. How does the conservator go about reconstructing the colours in a sculpture and what approach do we follow in reconstructing a born digital screen-play presentation. Struycken has an open mind: he encourages the conservator to re-do the original formula he followed, stressing that not the actual material artwork is to be restored, but his concept and the mathematical/digital system; so to re-enact rather than following a traditional conservation approach.

‘Planetarium’ from 1980, an installation in a cupola at the Radboud University of Nijmegen is recently restored. The artworks exists of 20 polypropylene balls (40 cm diameter) with 20 different colours enamel spray paint by Sikkens, hanging like planets on strings from the roof. Broken strings caused damage and severe loss of the paintcoating. The original drawing with ‘normilized sine curves’ for red, green and blue for the colour mixing and for the positioning of the balls in the cupola was still available, as well as original paint swatches and the artist’  archive. Struycken was consulted to explain the systematic process and for advice.
The restoration (complete new recoating of the balls) was performed in cooperation with a professional spray paint company. Colourmatching finally was done through historical Sikkens colourcharts.  It proved hard-to-reach to do colour reconstruction of the  existing (aged) colours with spectrophotometry. This problem of translating colour measurements into actual paintcolours is a larger project under the attention of SRAL, as it also occurs in the restoration of outdoor painted sculptures and in the restoration of historic interiors.

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