The beloved American artist Jackson Pollack’s seminal piece known as “Mural” was commissioned by famed New York art dealer Peggy Guggenheim, and known as a twentieth century art icon (Jackson Pollack’s Mural; n.d). This piece has long been recognized for having been created during a transitional period for the artist, and one in which he experimented extensively with paint application (Id). In time, the painting needed to be preserved and/or conserved, prior to being bequeathed to an institution as part of a modern collection.
In 2012, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute took on this difficult task, finding challenges with the conservation of this work done in a unique painting style, and composed of innovative elements, which had to be dealt with accordingly. This restorative period enable the museum to engage in rare contact with the artist’s work and to examine and better understand the structure of Mural’s unique materials, and to analyze how the artist chose to apply his paints. This exercise uncovered a proprietary style where unconventional materials and methods of application were combined alongside if not on to of more traditional materials and methods.
The conservation challenge was not only compounded by the materials in use, but also by the fact that this painting was one of the largest created by Pollack and represented the first, and seminal opportunity for him to develop and demonstrate the creative paint application style that would later become a personal hallmark, style-wise. At almost 8 feet high and 20 feet long the piece was massive and in need of much work some seventy years after its creation.
While the outward appearance makes Mural appear to have been created in a single creative frenzy, conservators subsequently learned that the piece started with a base composition that was painted in a wet over wet method with a series of diluted colors including red, yellow, umber, and teal (Knight; 2014). The restoration process was further complicated by the fact that much of the paint on “Mural” was applied after this initial treatment and appeared to have been given individual drying time, day after day (Id). Moreover, the artist elected to use more than 25 different paints on this single large canvas, including the plain old white house paint that provides the viewer with somewhat needed relief from the otherwise jam packed imagery on the canvas. During this complicated process, conservators also recognized the relation to Pollack’s later famous “drip paintings” created by pouring house paint onto canvases spread on the studio floor (CBS News; 2014).
It is not known whether this seminal work was actually created on the floor or not, though there is the presence of both oil paints and the standard house paints referenced herein (Id). What is remarkable is the detail in the subject images which needs to be conserved—a painting ripe with twisting, multi-colored shapes resembling horses or other animals in some form of stampede or another. Preserving those shapes and imagery added to the work in progress. A later applied varnish also challenged the conservators, as it had been applied some 30 years prior to conservation in 2012, and had since yellowed and required stripping (Knight; 2014). Interestingly, this change brought about almost a new(ish) appearance for “Mural,” with the former dullness removed and the overall result more bright and perhaps less uniform in appearance. To those engaged in the process, the iconic painting took on a more dynamic appearance once again (Id).