Friday, December 16, 2011

An Unusual Vargas Drawing

John has, over the years, conserved a number of originals and prints by the mid-20th century artist Alberto Vargas, but we received an unusual example of the artists work the other day. I can't resist giving a brief art history lesson here. Vargas is most well known for his glamorous and sensual pin-up drawings. The Peruvian native was born in 1896, but moved to Europe in 1911. He was greatly influenced by the French artists Ingres and Raphael Kirchner whose works depict their innate understanding of the female form. As WWI overtook Europe, Vargas ended up in America where he spent the majority of his career. Over the course of his life he worked as a portrait artist and illustrator for Ziegfield's Follies, Esquire and finally Playboy. It is his Playboy work that is most well known, combining form and sensuality, but never crossing the line into vulgarity with his images of the female form.

Pictured: An original illustration by Vargas that exemplifies his typical style.
Pictured: Vargas did the illustration for the  "Moon Over Miami" poster and it is still one of his most famous images. 

The most recent piece that we worked on is an early example of the well known pin-up artist's work. It is a crayon and ink sketch of a leaping boy from 1909. Vargas was only 13 years old and still living in Peru.  This drawing and a few others from an early sketchbook were featured in a 1943 New York Post article. While it is a beautiful and rare piece, it also had a couple of issues.

Pictured: This was the condition of the drawing when we received it.
The first thing was that it was mounted to a mat board with two pieces of dry adhesive that had a gap between the two pieces. This adhesive caused a discoloration of the paper, but the gap of paper was not discolored making it look like there was a strip of something down the back of the drawing. Additionally it was missing a big part of the top left corner. De-hinging, or adhesive removal, is something that John and our crew are experts at. It is a common sight to see John with a long, thin spatula in his hand, testing the strength of adhesive and tape before he finally settles on the solution to remove it.  The Vargas drawing was adhered to the board with two adhesive panels.

Pictured: John removing the drawing from the mat board.

Pictured: You can see the two panels of adhesive still on the mat board as well as the discoloration that they caused to the majority of the paper.


Once the paper was completely removed from the mat board, John could then wash and conserve the piece. This piece was mounted to a piece of acid free paper to help slow the deterioration process.

Pictured: The drawing before John began to wash it.

Pictured: John holding the drawing and the paper is was going to mounted on.

Washing it was fairly simple. John had tested the crayon pigments to make sure that they were not water soluble. We use a diluted organic soap with most of the pieces that go through the traditional conservation process.

Pictured: John rinsing the front of the drawing.

Pictured: The back of the drawing has already been rinsed and the discoloration from the adhesive is very visible.

Pictured: The discoloration is even visible on the front.

During this process John uses two pieces of Mylar to help maneuver and manipulate the piece. Using the Mylar gives an added layer of protection and since this drawing is more than 100 years old, John was very gentle with it while still making sure to rinse as much of the build up of grime out as possible.

Pictured: John spraying diluted soap onto the front of the piece.

Pictured: John is placing the Mylar sheet back on top of the drawing.

Pictured: John massaging the pollutants out of the paper.

Pictured: John squeegeeing the soap away.

After it had been washed and rinsed, John squeegeed the excess water out. The amount of moisture left in the paper is important. Water causes the paper to expand and then it contracts again while it is drying. You don't want it to dry to fast or too slow because it can cause the paper to warp. Once it had been squeegeed, John applied glue to the back of the paper.

Pictured: John applying glue to the back of the drawing.

Pictured: John wiping away the excess glue.

Using the Mylar, John then mounted it onto a paper substrate. The substrate gives us a foundation on which we can repair the damaged corner with a paper patch.

Pictured: John holding the edges of the Mylar sheet with the drawing.

Pictured: Carefully positioning the drawing on top of the paper substratum.

Pictured: John using the squeegee to remove any air bubbles and to bond the drawing to the paper substratum.

Pictured: John removing the Mylar sheet from the drawing, leaving it attached to the paper mount.
Once the drawing had dried, Antonia took over to repair the paper loss in the corner. Antonia is a master of her craft. She quickly and efficiently replaced this corner by sanding down the edges, tracing out the puzzle piece to fit and then gluing it in. After burnishing the seam, the join between old and new paper was perfect. 


Pictured: Antonia taping off the boundaries of the paper.

Pictured: Antonia sanding down the edges of the corner that's missing so much paper.

Pictured: Creating a new corner using a right angle triangle.

Pictured: After tracing out the shape she needs for the patch, Antonia cuts it out from the rest of the paper.

Pictured: Antonia applying glue to the back of the patch.

Pictured: Antonia carefully fitting the patch into its new home.

Pictured: Antonia added a smaller patch in the right corner as well. Shown here burnishing the join between the two pieces of paper.
After the paper has been repaired, the drawing then moves to Gabe who masks the image so that Aaron could airbrush the background. Unfortunately Gabe finished before I was able to get a shot of him working. I do have pictures of Aaron at work. The airbrushing on this piece is very subtle because it is the background color. However, it still takes very careful matching and multiple layers of very thin paint to beautifully restore the background on something like this drawing. 

Pictured: A shot before Aaron had begun airbrushing. The masking is almost completely invisible, but there is acetate over the sketch of the boy. The signature is too small to be covered by acetate, so Gabe used a liquid plastic that can be removed to mask the signature.

Pictured: Aaron beginning to airbrush the background, paying particular attention to the area where the adhesive stains meet the unstained paper as well as the corners of added paper.
Pictured: This photo was taken about half way through airbrushing and you can really clearly see Gabe's beautiful masking in the shiny silhouette of the boy.

After Aaron had finished airbrushing the drawing, Melissa did a few minor touch ups so that the stain from the adhesive was less noticeable in the areas that Aaron was not able to airbrush. Once that was done it was ready to be removed from the melamine board. 


And the finished product is now, not only an historical artifact, but also aesthetically pleasing and ready for the client to frame and enjoy!

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