JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 3, Article 6 (pp. 316 to 333)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 3, Article 6 (pp. 316 to 333)




As Albano (1996) notes there is an almost implicit assumption in responses to 20th-century art that because artists are experimenting or are concerned with issues other than permanence they are not interested in materials. But Parr's use of randomness and chance as contributing components does not limit or overshadow his very real concerns with his choice of materials. Parr explained this issue when describing Word Situations, (Variation 2), a work undertaken in 1977–78 that used a yellow typewriter ribbon as the medium. “So yellow completes the primary triad and makes possible the admixture of colours that allows the full search. I need materials parameters, to precipitate the search through the dictionary as it were. It's always got to be correlated back to some material or literal base” (quoted in Bromfield 1991, 159).

Parr's printing paper—Hahn Muhla, chosen because of its tactile qualities, greenish cast, and position as a traditional German etching paper, with a pedigree to Albrecht Dürer—indicates these concerns with materials. As Parr says: “You know this pedigree, it stimulated me, it's like doing drawings on the back of a well-bred poodle. It presents with its own kind of tradition. It's a certification, for an image that's as provisional as my images are” (Parr and Sloggett 1991).

The choice of materials therefore is a critical factor in Parr's working methodology.

My first drawings were done on photographic backdrop paper and I was able to really expand. Then I got some paper through a guy in Sydney, got it in from the West Coast actually, acid free, archival paper. Well I thought I was made, but actually I was totally inhibited by this stuff. Every time I set up a wall of paper to begin drawing all I could think of was this was $150 worth of paper if I made a mistake, so I went back to backdrop paper. So that I think there is something to do with materials. An effect like “Oh isn't this looking nice” and suddenly that kind of gels with “Oh I'm a really serious artist now … look at the good paper.” This question of materials, and substances that have the same kind of incoherence and fundamental quality as the situation you're trying to represent, actually help to precipitate the possibilities and sensibilities of the situation. (Parr and Sloggett 1991)

A study of Parr's choice of materials also assists in understanding the historical background to his artistic development. Parr commenced drawing because he was unable to continue on an emotional and physical level with his performances of the 1970s. “I was doing these incredibly intensely cathartic things before an audience and I got to the point where I couldn't physically do this anymore … and in a kind of state of desperation I began to draw … and before I knew it I began to become involved in something that was as dynamic and as intense as the process of the performances” (Parr and Sloggett 1991).

In Self-Portrait as a Pear (1983), charcoal is smudged with margarine, the fruit directly drawn with his fingers. “By touching it directly he was immediately involved with ‘totem and taboo’ and his own ‘touching’ performances. His drawing replayed the ‘attenuation’ of touch produced in the performances. It also referred to the play on the sense of touch, language and skin in Word Situations (Variations 2) 1977” (Bromfield 1995, 234).

This relationship between individual pieces (including performance) is a key element in most artists' oevre, and for the conservator supporting and enabling the proper attenuation of this relationship can be a key issue.

Copyright © 1998 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works