VENIS STUDIOS is a company that specializes in the conservation and restoration of historic artworks and antiquities, combining the scientific and artistic aspects of conservation and restoration. It undertakes conservation and restoration projects of all fixed and portable works of art such as paintings, icon panels, artworks, antiques, historical monuments, etc., in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Jordan, United States, and many other nations. Its purpose is to save artifacts and artworks by combining science with art. Recently, The World Art News had the pleasure to interview its President, Venizelos G. Gavrilakis, who shared with us fascinating images, stories, and facts about his unique art career. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation.
If someone is looking for a good art restorer, how do they go about finding one? What questions should they ask, and what should they look for to make sure the art restorer is competent?
Speaking as a senior art conservator and restorer, it is important to initially clarify the terms of what an art restorer and an art conservator are. These two terms are very similar, and most people do not know the difference, which can complicate the meaning of the terms. They differ in the final aesthetic process of restoration and conservation to an artwork, as well as the training of the person and the techniques and methods they use. Usually, people use only one of the terms, which is incorrect. To achieve the best results for an artwork, a combination and balance of both terms is necessary. This is an expert work that requires long experience. That’s why I always refer to both terms.
The first important principle for any conservator and restorer is to respect the authenticity of the artworks and not forge them. For instance, if we restore and conserve a painting, whether it is old, modern, or antique, and we are doing the retouching process, we should never cover the authentic painting parts or repaint on the authentic painting/color layer. Instead, we should retouch discreetly and very accurately the missing parts of the paint/colors, always with reversible materials. This is the principle of reversibility. If someone covers and repaints the authentic painting layer without respecting the authenticity by preserving it, that is not restoration or conservation. For example, a very popular bad example of forgery was in Spain, the “conservation” of a painting “Ecce Homo,” a 1930 fresco by Elías García. They totally badly repainted this artwork, making it worse than a cartoon and done by an improper person.
There are many treatments and decisions a conservator and restorer must make to get the correct final decision on how to proceed with restoring an artwork. However, we always keep and follow the main principle that I wrote initially. To find a good art conservator and restorer, we need to consider the following:
- A professional conservator and restorer with expertise and long experience in the specific artwork we want to conserve and restore.
- Asking for a CV/resume and, of course, a portfolio with before and after photos of the artwork’s restoration and conservation process.
- The experience of the restorer-conservator is also very important.
- References are also something that can help your verification.
- When people are impressed with a “shiny” or “new” look after the conservation-restoration process of an artwork, this does not necessarily mean that it is a good example of work. Many times, people bring artworks that initially look shiny, and we can see obviously that the artwork was full of repaints over the authentic painting and other improper interventions that can damage the artwork. But the owner cannot understand it as a non-expert, and they like the final result, even though they have paid a small fortune to a non-professional conservator and restorer for that result. So, be careful!
- Another important issue is whether the conservator and restorer can give any warranty after the conservation and restoration treatments of the work they did for the quality of their work and materials they use through time. Using improper materials could cause problems with the artwork in the future. If we know what we are doing, we are sure of the future result.
In conclusion, to make it simpler for people to understand, finding a good art restorer and conservator is similar to finding a good doctor, but in the field of art.
How do you handle difficult clients or situations where there are disagreements about the restoration process?
In a very simple way! What does our doctor say if we disagree with him or her about the cure?
As an “Art Doctor” I do the same.
I am an expert and I know exactly what an artwork needs or does not need, and what should be done to it. Simply put, I am responsible for my clients’ artwork while they are in my hands. They entrust me with their valuable artworks, and I know the “secret” language to communicate with any kind of artwork or antiquity to determine its needs – the client does not.
What skills and knowledge must a good art restorer have and how long does it take to master them?
According to their specialties, a good restorer should possess the skills and knowledge required, and study until professionalism is achieved. As for me, to become a master restorer, I recall my master’s advice to have a basic understanding of at least fifty peripheral skills and knowledge related to the specific field of artwork conservation and restoration. In addition to this, “comprehension” is a critical skill. The mind and eyes should work like an x-ray machine, with a deep understanding of the problems that need to be solved in artworks. As an artwork restorer and conservator, I consider myself a doctor who “heals” artworks. Therefore, I refer to art conservators and restorers as “Art Doctors.”
Regarding time, achieving a comprehensive understanding of artworks takes a lot of it, as I mentioned earlier. It also depends on one’s academic and experiential background. However, this is not solely determined by the number of masters or diplomas, or the university attended. It is a long-term process and an individual achievement.
Do art restorers have a recognizable style?
Art restorers and conservators do not have a recognizable style because they are not artists. Even if they possess the knowledge of painting or sculpture, their job is to restore and conserve artworks – in other words, to repair the artwork and bring it back to life using a combination of science and art. Therefore, restorers and conservators do not have a personal style, as their main goal is to conserve and preserve the authentic artwork. If they had a personal style, they would be referred to as painters or sculptors, not restorers or conservators.
Although conservators and restorers may have different approaches or methods in the conservation and restoration process of an artwork, this does not constitute a recognizable style or any style for that matter.
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