Reversibility Rocks. I thought that title would show everyone what a cool, "today" person I am. Any day now I'll start including Steely Dan clips on this website to really bring it up-to-date. (I've heard that there has been some pretty good music since Steely Dan, but I wouldn't know).
Seriously though, when it comes to restoring paintings, reversibility is important, and it does rock. Reversibility means that whatever a restorer does can be undone. Here's why that is a necessary ingredient in responsible restoration,
Right now I am restoring a lovely eighteenth century portrait. Although the paint is stable around the face and clothing, the background has shown a good deal of flaking. The canvas should really be relined, backed onto a new piece of linen with an adhesive (wax resin being my usual method). Through gentle pressure, the flaked paint can be flattened and re-adhered to the canvas.
Alas, relining is impossible for this painting. At some point, probably in the last thirty years, the canvas was backed onto a piece of masonite with an adhesive that cannot be removed with either heat or solvents . I am following Plan B instead, working on the painting from the front. I am achieving results, but unfortunately, the masonite panel's horizontal patterning is evident on the painting itself. The texture is distracting. Hopefully, when I clean the painting, this pattern will be minimized, but I won't be able to eliminate it entirely.Had the adhesive been a reversible one, I could have removed it from this board and relined it on something suitable.
I remember watching an episode of the old Superman TV show. In order to undo various and sundry evil deeds, Superman lifted the Earth and spun it backwards. It was awesome ! (I did start to wonder why he didn't just do that every week to fight crime. So much more efficient to undo a bank robbery than to fight all the bad guys one by one). I guess that's what a restorer needs to do. He or she needs to be able to undo what's been done, to unwind time, if you will. Even if we don't see the benefit of reversibility in our lifetime, another restorer, at some point in the future, will really appreciate it.