States of Transience in Drawing Practices and the Conservation of Museum Artworks

Brian Fay, Dublin Institute of Technology

Practice led PhD Thesis submitted to Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK. August 2014.


This practice-led study poses the question ‘What can a close analysis of conservation methods, treatments and theories with its temporal implications contribute to drawing practices that primarily employ the use of pre-existing artwork?’ Through the lens and action of art practice this study challenges certain understandings of both drawing and conservation as temporally possessing linear chronological properties.

Employing an emergent, qualitative practice-led methodology each chapter charts a discrete terrain that identifies and discusses key comparative issues and problems that affect both drawing and conservation. These include: the difficulties of definitions and terminology in both contingent fields and the space this opens for interpretative responses, a critique of positivistic claims made by scientific conservation in identifying artist’s intention using an anachronic analysis of the detail. The fluctuating values of the authorial and substitutional presence of the indexical mark and trace in restoration and representational drawing is examined, and an evaluation of formats and strategies in drawing that position themselves relevant to a depiction and representation of anachronic states of transience is investigated.To focus the range of discourses within conservation this work concentrates on the paintings of Johannes Vermeer. Specifically, on the conservation activities and diagnostic imagery that have informed treatments to these works. This study is further supported by documented conversations with key restorers of Vermeer’s work, and artists who also employ representational drawing strategies in his research concludes its findings by arguing for the conditions and ontologies of drawing and conservation to be understood temporally as anachronic activities. Whereby, as each can respond to pre-existing works, their relationship to time is non-chronological, durational and plural. This work is intended to contribute to the fields of drawing practice and research, anachronic art historical studies, contemporary conservation theory, and to practice-led epistemologies.