The gorgeous monumental murals by Thomas Suriya at the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market are the pride of the community and a landmark. The two sides of the realistically painted murals measure 10 m x 36 m each (6,500 sq. ft or 722 sq. meters) and are done in acrylic on cement wall. They were painted in 1986.
The unprotected (fully exposed) murals were thought to have been badly faded and streaked from water damage over the last 25 years. Flaking was not an issue. About 2003, the property manager hired someone to revarnish the murals to make them look better. The revarnishing did not improve the clarity of the colors and the application dripped, then discolored badly in many areas.
Pretreatment testing revealed that extensive blanching/blooming of the varnish layers had taken place. The surface grime and the whitening of the varnish layers was extensive enough to obscure the actual condition of the paint layers and not allow an accurate assessment of the extent of fading. Therefore, Phase 1 of the conservation treatments was to surface clean, penetrate a consolidation resin into the crystalline structure of the varnish and to regenerate the varnish layers.
After the clarity of the varnish layers was restored, it was evident that many colors were still in acceptable to excellent condition. However, on the other extreme, some colors had, in fact, faded into oblivion. Some limited streaking from water damage was still visible though at least 90% had been eliminated/removed during the cleaning and regeneration treatments. While there had been an amazing transformation in the overall appearance of the murals, the property owners decided they wanted the artwork to “pop.” This seemed like a viable option, given that the original artist is still living, working and vital.
Therefore, Phase 2 restoration work was done under the direction and in collaboration with the original artist, Thomas Suriya. An understanding with the artist to not change the mural’s composition was agreed upon prior to the beginning of Phase 2. Airbrushes, rags and brushes were used to “revivify” the composition and make the fruit and vegetables “pop.” Study and comparisons were made to choose the most light stable colors and some choices were made for this reason, varying slightly from the original choice of color.
In the end, the pictorial restoration was faithful to the original technique and colors of the artist. The final varnish was spray applied, customizing the applications according to the needs of the artwork. The final appearance seemed “new” to the owners yet, vast areas were un-retouched/restored. The mural’s original quality remained very high and did not look “repainted/reworked.”
Our collaboration, as a conservation lab, proved to be enjoyable and an essential part of the successful result, according to the artist’s testimonial. The property management and the board of directors were very pleased with all phases, processes, logistics and the final result met their expectations.
The project has a webpage with 4 videos plus testimonials at http://www.fineartconservationlab.com/la-produce-market-murals