the conservator-restorer 

Meet David Bugeja, a Maltese conservator-restorer of paintings and sculptures, who created this website to diffuse correct information about his profession. Many individuals still assume that conservation and restoration is carried out by craftsmen or artists. This explains why artworks are sometimes scratched, re-painted and re-gilded in order to make them look like new. Such harsh treatments cause irreversible damage, alter the artefacts' original aesthetic quality and decreases their financial value. One may recall, for example, how the re-painting of an old Hecce Homo depiction (at the Santuario de Misericordia Church in the Spanish town of Borja) captured worldwide attention in 2012. Unfortunately misinformed journalists also tend to diffuse incorrect statements when reporting that a painting, for instance, was "restored back to its former glory" or that it was "given a complete make-over". Conservators are not make-overs and certainly do not possess a time machine that can revert the effects of time. A 400 year old painting should still look old after treatment. Perhaps it is time, however, to end this intense myth-busting session and start stating the facts.

Conservators-restorers continuously strive to establish means of preserving artworks. Their goal consists in protecting artworks from damage and to slow-down deterioration in order to extend their lifetime. A painting manifesting flaking paint, for instance, is treated with an adhesive to limit further paint losses. Likewise, adhesive may be used to reinforce a weakened statue and prevent it from falling apart. But, more importantly, the conservator tries to prevent deterioration in the first place. This can be achieved mainly by keeping works of art within a safe environment - such as inside an internal room which typically features the most stable temperature and relative humidity.

Restoration refers to the aesthetical improvement of an artefact. This could consist in the removal of very dark and yellowed varnish layers to uncover the beautiful colours of a painting. Paint losses may also be filled and locally retouched to reduce the aesthetically-disturbing lacunae. Still, one must stress that the removal of varnish and non-original paint is not always necessary. Retouching is also kept to a minimum, following strict modern conservation ethics. After all, one should be reminded that the prime aim consists in conserving rather than restoring a work of art. Artworks have to be protected from damage and rapid deterioration because prevention is better than cure.      

In order to better understand the artwork, the conservator starts by examining the artwork to determine how it was made by the artist. During this preliminary investigation, the conservator is also capable of establishing whether a particular artwork has been altered during past restoration interventions. When deemed necessary, conservators treat paintings and statues to limit further deterioration and extend the artworks' lifetime. Obscured and yellowed artworks can be also treated to uncover the original paint and restore the artworks' beauty.     

Deterioration of artworks is mainly manifested by cracked, detached or powdering paint. One may also note small round holes that is indicative of insect infestations. Such deterioration often result when artworks are exposed to unfavourable environments. Paint will start to crack and detach, for example, upon hanging paintings close to external windows or just above fireplaces. In such circumstances, the conservator will not only re-adhere the detached paint to limit further deterioration, but is also obliged in providing the necessary recommendations on how to provide a better environment for the painting.  

Artworks can also be damaged during handling and transportation. Accidents and vandalism also cause paint loss, punctures, tears and cracks. The conservator can inspect and treat the damaged areas to stabilise the limit the artefact from eventual deterioration - such as deformation and paint loss.   

Apart from conservation, it is also possible to restore paintings and sculptures. The colours of aged paintings and sculptures may appear dark and yellowed. It is possible to remove the aged varnish in order to uncover the original colours and possibly expose additional details which were obscured by the dark yellow varnish. 

Apart from removing the varnish, the conservator-restorer inspects artworks with scientific equipment to detect the areas of the artwork that were re-painted during past treatment. When necessary, the conservator can remove the re-painting to uncover the original paint. 

Paint losses can also be filled and retouched following modern conservation ethics. The conservator makes sure that all the materials used during his treatment are: compatible with the artwork; durable; and reversible. 

But, it is important to note that conservators should not be called in only upon noting damage and deterioration. Conservators can also be requested to inspect an apparently preserved art collection. The conservator can thoroughly inspect the condition of artworks and determine if there is the need of improving the artworks' environment. [read more].

Everyone is encouraged to take a closer look at artworks. And it is not just to better appreciate the artistic quality of the artefact, but also to check if there are signs of damage and deterioration. Reporting damage and deterioration at an early stage can save an artwork from irreversible losses and alterations. It is equally important to provide a safer environment for our treasures in order to preserve them better. [read more].

When in doubt contact a qualified conservator-restorer. Read more on the anatomy of paintings and further your research by downloading publications 

the artist painter 

Painting is a prehistoric invention. 
The application of paint on a flat surface is a tool that replicates the physical and the spiritual. In other words, painting can imitate what we see, feel or think about. The art of painting is the ability to observe, memorise and manipulate what we see in terms of shapes and colours. There are those who are extremely good at imitating what they see - just like a photographic camera. Such imitators just want to test and improve their painting skills, maybe even to satisfy their need of impressing the general public with their photographic techniques. After all, everyone can appreciate with great ease a photographic painting of a portrait, landscape or seascape. But why should we still be bothered to replicate a view on a paper or canvas when the exact process can be done with the use of a digital photographic camera, possibly combined with the use of an electronic photographic editing software, to achieve the desired result? In fact, history of art demonstrates that the art of painting took a very different direction immediately following the invention of the photographic camera. Painting became more sophisticated and more challenging, whereby the painter competed with the camera and tried to paint what the photographic camera cannot portray. Yes, the painter tried to depict the non-visible, the abstract, the spiritual. And this was only successful if the painter worked while being truly haunted by a concept or overwhelmed by an emotion. It is truly the biggest challenge to produce a painting that can transmit particular thoughts or emotions (perceived by viewers of the painting). However, the continuous effort to depict inner thoughts and feelings led the artist to be more individualistic and not so much compelled to follow one, commonly-defined style or formula. Not convinced about the latter? Just visit the contemporary museums and galleries, or simply browse the internet for images of contemporary paintings. You will see that there is no common style, no common goal, no common definition of contemporary art. Some perceive this negatively, as if we are living in an art crisis, where artists are living in a very doubtful atmosphere. Lots of such uncertainty has stemmed by the views of the general public which has been scorning modern and contemporary art for ages, arguing that art became elitist by being attractive mainly to the selective, art-knowledgeable audience. Contemporary art gave rise to the unfortunate necessity for information panels displayed along paintings in art galleries in order to explain the artwork. Psychologists wrote more books and papers on the meaning of art. The artists themselves became also more prompted to explain their work, often in front of video cameras or interviewees (mainly journalists), to document their intention for future reference, even after their death. But, shouldn't a painting stand on its own for others to evaluate? Is it really necessary to have contemporary paintings explained by their artists in order to understand and appreciate them? Is it also necessary to justify the validity of contemporary paintings with text and words? 

And, yes, let us not forget that painting is a prehistoric invention which somehow managed to survive thousands of years and continues to find its way in contemporary art exhibition spaces. Yet, whilst contemporary artists continue dipping their brush in paint, many sustain that painting is an obsolete practice, often tagging painters as traditional and claiming that contemporary artists should opt for more innovative means of expressing themselves in this digital era. But, ultimately, the art of painting is just another tool which should continue to be considered when other media fail in interpreting and satisfying one's own statements. 

deskrizzjoni bil-malti

L-awtur ta din il-websajt huwwa David Frank Bugeja, restawratur kwalifikat malti. L-ewwel parti ta din is-sajt titratta ir-restawr u konservazzjoni ta' pittura u statwi impittra. F'din il-parti wiehed jista jsib linji gwida semplici u effettivi ta' kif nistghu niehdu hsieb xogholijjiet ta' l-arti. Apparti minn konservazzjoni u restawr, l-awtur ghandu passjoni kbira ghall-arti tal-pittura. It-tieni parti turi il-perspettiva personali ta' l-awtur dwar din l-arti u tesebixxi ftit xogholijjiet li ghamel. 

Creative Commons License by david frank bugeja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Malta License. 
first site version: 2003 
site location: malta - europe