When I began painting I was much intrigued by the effects one could create using seeds. One of my early paintings included several seed types and, for reasons which are now obscure, garlic around the edges. I vaguely recall that I was experimenting with the idea that a work could be experienced by smell as well as by sight.
I gave the ‘painting’ to my first grandson and it hung in his bedroom for years. It now hangs in the spare bedroom – he is a teenager! – and I was gazing idly at it the other day from the vantage point of bed when I noticed that it appeared to be growing mould. My daughter had noticed the same phenomenon, so we took the painting out into the open air and full daylight.
It was clear that it was solely the garlic which was growing mould; the other seeds were fine. Even a soft brush dislodged some of the latter while not being very effective with the mouldy garlic, however, so I set to with a pair of small tweezers and my finger nails to remove each fragment of garlic. Fortunately, while I was able to remove (most of) the mould, the garlic itself seemed to have sort of taken root in the canvas and remained in situ; so the integrity of the art itself was retained pictorially.
The painting has now been re-hung in the guest room where it will be kept under close observation and monitoring will continue for as long as necessary. Further outbreaks of mould will almost certainly require more scientific treatment – or consignment of the work to, at best, a garden shed.
I suppose the moral is not to include active organic material in your work if you wish it to remain stable for a very long time. But personally, I am artistically not in the least concerned by this ‘mould episode’ since I regard my paintings and other works as ‘alive’, each with a life of its own in which change can easily occur.
One of my very best paintings, now lost, was much improved, for example, by falling flat on its face while still wet: the smudges made in lifting it much improved its dynamic quality. Though this is not mentioned in the note with one of the paintings formerly in The Gallery (35/15 ‘If not now when’, see my blog with illustration for 3 February, 2016), any quality it has is down to my accidentally knocking a bottle of green ink over it during its early evolution.
Such events are clearly meant to happen during a painting’s lifetime, so a bit of old mould is an interesting development, not a crisis. Unlike the other examples, however, this one requires a conservation response, not necessarily for artistic reasons but because, after all, you can’t have mould growing in your guest-room.