A Ketonic Quandary

This Ricard Anuszkiewicz acrylic painting from 1969 came to our conservation team slathered with a very discolored ketone varnish.  Now, I don’t know how much you know about pairing acrylic paint with a ketone varnish, but bottom line is, if you ever want to remove the varnish, it will be very tricky to not also remove the original acrylic paint layer as well.

Of course, our client wanted the varnish removed.

So, we did some testing on the painting, and immediately realized that it’s not just the varnish that makes cleaning this difficult, it’s also the impasto of the painting.  Each line is painted differently, and the painting is kind of sculptural; almost like a bas-relief in that the impasto is raised and lowered with each line.  It’s hard to show in a photo, but here’s a mega close up so you can see how small the lines are:

So! With all these obstacles ahead of us, we forged on ahead slowly and carefully and managed to remove most of the varnish.  To do so, we soaked small q-tips in solvents for several hours.

Then we took one q-tip at a time and worked lined by line between the impasto layers, carefully removing the varnish from the painting.  It took hours, but the results were remarkable.

1 section cleaned
half cleaned
Fully Clean

…and now onto the structural work…