Cover Vibrant colour pigments used for restoring artworks

The art of restoration is mastered only by a handful of skilled artisans, who have dedicated their lives to honing their knowledge and expertise. Meet the craftsmen who are breathing new life into treasured art, from paintings to films to furniture. In the second of a three part series, Sharon Tang gives us a glimpse into her art restoration and conservation practice

When it comes to appreciating art in galleries and museums, etiquette dictates that visitors look from a respectable distance, and touching is a definite no-no.

Sharon Tang, on the other hand, is given carte blanche to touch and manipulate these artworks. After all, the artist has more than two decades of oil painting restoration experience under her belt. She has worked on countless notable works, including those by some of history’s greatest artists such as Picasso and Zao Wou-Ki. “The process of restoration is like having a conversation with the original artist,” Tang shares. “Not only do you have to physically treat it, but you have to spend time understanding the underlying problems of the painting as well.”

Related: 10 Moschino Spring/Summer 2020 Picasso Masterpieces That Will Add An Artful Twist To Your Wardrobe

Through that process, Tang explains, she gets to know the artist a little better: “their personalities, cultures and emotions” on an intimate level over time. Most of the works she has restored would either end up in museums or become the subject of intense bidding wars among discerning collectors.

The 50-year-old restorer has amassed quite an impressive portfolio having worked with major auction houses and art institutions such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and the National Gallery Singapore, to name a few. She has a regular clientele of private collectors based in Singapore and Jakarta, who often approach her for her expertise in delicate restoration work, which also includes non-canvas-based paintings.

Tang shares, “You can’t treat the art of restoration as a business. In fact, it is the passion and love for the craft that’s imperative to survive in this line of work.” She operates on a singular belief that each piece requires immense respect and time dedicated to them for proper restorations to be carried out.

You can’t treat the art of restoration as a business. In fact, it is the passion and love for the craft that’s imperative to survive in this line of work.
Sharon Tang

Take her projects on works by Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki for example. Both artists hold their own as Chinese-French titans in Asian art history. “I am usually overwhelmed with respect for these artists whenever I get the chance to restore their works. This is because I get to experience first-hand how well they meld both Chinese and French cultures so seamlessly through the colours and brushstrokes on canvas and paper.”

The untrained eye will only be able to tell what’s going on in the painting’s surface. But experienced restorers such as Tang are able to analyse deeper and identify its structural issues. She expounds that common problems from the past include canvases not being stretched enough thus causing inconsistencies such as cracks and tears that will inevitably affect the paint layer. Separately, colonies of mould are also particularly frequently seen in paintings kept in Southeast Asia due to the region’s humidity.

Related: Rolex World Service Maintains And Keeps Your Watch In Top-Notch Condition

“Art restoration is important because you are essentially extending the life of the painting,” she enthuses. “Works are then placed in the utmost care of the restorer, who will be able to point out areas that require treatment and aid collectors in better understanding the condition of their pieces.”

When restoring works by old masters and contemporary artists, it is also imperative to identify the materials used in its construction to choose the right chemicals to react to the paint layer itself. Since artworks are also susceptible to changes in the environment, delicate pieces should also be kept away from crowded spaces so as to keep their surroundings as stable as possible. She likens the process of restoration to a visit to the doctor. “Certain works require different forms of treatment, some more complicated than others. The painting then becomes your patient and you have to treat it well. Sometimes it takes a whole year, while others take no more than half a day.”

Also featured in the Singapore Restoration Series: Meet The Family of Furniture Restorers Who Are Breathing New Life Into Heirloom Treasures | Where Do Old Films Go? Karen Chan From The Asian Film Archive Tells All