Expert arrives in Park City to try to save vandalized Banksy
January 22, 2014
Deborah Uhl more often is called when a vandal armed with spray paint or another graffiti weapon strikes ancient rock art.
Or, she might be summoned to assist in a conservation effort involving a mural dating to the 1930s-era Works Progress Administration
But Uhl was in Park City this week to begin studying a Banksy graffiti piece just off Main Street in the hopes that it can be salvaged after it was badly vandalized just before New Year’s.
Uhl is a painting conservator from just outside Telluride, Colo., whose specialty is removing graffiti. She planned to be in Park City for four days to research the damage to the Banksy piece of a kneeling angel boy that is located on a garage at the Cunningham Building. A vandal smashed the glass that protected the piece and then vandalized it with spray paint. The person was unable to smash the glass protecting another Banksy, located on the Java Cow building, but the glass was badly damaged in the attempt.
Uhl said she must learn about both the vandal’s spray paint and the medium that Banksy used in the original piece as well as how Banksy applied the medium to the garage.
"Conservation is a combination of art and chemistry," Uhl said.
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The longer graffiti is there, the more it will bond with that surface, she said. Uhl said the Banksy was exposed to the elements for approximately one month after it was created in 2010. The owner of the building then protected it with the glass and frame. That means there will be a tiny layer of dirt between the Banksy and the vandal’s graffiti, something that could be helpful in the effort to remove the vandal’s work while protecting the Banksy itself.
She said the conservation work will be tough, rating the difficulty level at a nine on a scale of one to ten.
"In this case we’re talking about . . . two graffiti acts, or two pieces, that are separated by four years in time," Uhl said.
Uhl on Monday afternoon continued her work at the site, located toward the end of a short driveway linking the Cunningham Building garage and Main Street. Out of view of the Sundance Film Festival crowds passing by on the Main Street sidewalk, Uhl was kneeled at arm’s length from the damaged Banksy.
With an image of the Banksy before it was damaged displayed on a tablet computer in one hand, Uhl held a pastel pencil in her other hand. She traced the original stencil Banksy used to create the image, moving her eyes back and forth between the tablet computer and the vandalized piece.
She will remove as much of the vandal’s paint as is safely possible without damaging the Banksy image. Uhl this week will continue removing the paint from sections of the piece that Banksy originally left blank.
Once more is learned about the vandal’s graffiti and the Banksy itself, a plan will be developed to conserve the piece. But if it appears that the Banksy would be badly damaged during the effort, a decision would be needed whether the process should be continued.
Banksy was in Park City in January of 2010. The visit coincided with a Sundance documentary about him. He created several graffiti pieces, primarily on or close to Main Street. The Cunningham Building owner and the owner of Java Cow preserved the Banksy pieces with the protective glass, spending thousands of dollars to do so. The Banksy pieces have been popular attractions along Main Street, but they also had been attacked by vandals prior to the most recent damage.
The owner of the Cunningham Building, Jim Tozer, said in an interview on Monday the Banksy pieces are an "interesting part of Park City’s history." He was not offended that Banksy created the image on his property. It cost $3,000 to install the frame and the glass that had protected the piece.
He is outraged with the vandalism. He called the vandalism a "wanton desecration" meant to discredit Banksy and promote the person responsible. Tozer hopes the vandal is captured and then imprisoned if the person is found guilty.
Tozer said he contacted Uhl after consulting the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. He acknowledged that the piece could remain "compromised" even after the conservator’s work. He said the work could cost between $2,000 and $3,000. He is funding the work.
"He gave Park City and our building a work or art of value," Tozer said of Banksy.
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