Since the introduction of synthetic dispersion paints in the mid-1950s, many artists have applied commercial synthetic dispersion varnishes, which were often marketed alongside paints, to ‘protect’ their works. Despite the relative photochemical stability of these coatings; many have deteriorated over time, becoming sticky, cloudy, streaky, grey and/or in many cases increasingly yellowed. The key challenge lies in the fact that the underlying paints are often made with the same polymer type, which currently renders their removal both ethically and practically difficult, if not impossible. While removal may not necessarily be the most appropriate option; a new method based on thin gel films bonded to a flexible plastic backing, known as surface-attached gels, which inherently minimises solvent use, penetration and mechanical action - can be adjusted to facilitate the careful thinning of these coatings, thus avoiding/minimising any detrimental interactions with underlying paint layers. A comparative evaluation of surface-attached gels with state-of-the-art coating removal methods and materials will facilitate the optimisation of these gels for this conservation challenge, which will directly contribute to the development of low-risk, optimal art conservation practices.
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