Paint­ing or print, dec­o­ra­tor’s piece or an au­then­tic art­work? Kya de­longchamps gives you some tips on how to spot the real thing

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - Interiors -

REAL Pol­locks and Pi­cas­sos are un­likely to dress up the grass at Mun­ster boot-sales, but heaps of jum­bled paint­ings turn up at auc­tions and sales ev­ery­where. It’s worth re­search­ing the ba­sics of spot­ting that gen­uine work of art from a cheer­ful re­pro­duc­tion or de­lib­er­ate red her­ring.

Treat any paint­ing or draw­ing as a whole. The back of a paint­ing can some­times tell you more about it than the front, but be wary. Fak­ers are fan­tas­ti­cally in­ven­tive in small and large num­bers. Resin frames, with a good dust­ing can read as wood on an over­cast day. An even layer of murky wash and a cou­ple of phoney gallery la­bels are not enough. The tim­bers of a frame and the stretcher for a can­vas will have ox­i­dised over time, the joints may have moved or loos­ened.

If it seems too good to be true and it’s more af­ford­able than you would ex­pect, it’s prob­a­bly a rogue piece or an hon­est re­pro­duc­tion mis­rep­re­sented as real (the lat­est print tech­niques can fool even many gen­eral an­tiques deal­ers). Look for gen­uine signs of age in the can­vas and stretcher, flak­ing and mi­nor dam­age, sig­na­tures and dat­ing.

Get to know your oils from your pas­tels, your wa­ter­colours from your acrylics and gouache. It’s not com­pli­cated. Oil paint car­ries lots of sticky mois­ture and dries slowly. As it does, the peaks of even thick im­pasto paint tend to soften off. These slow dry­ing times al­lowed artists to clear off whole ar­eas of the can­vas, whereas the more modern acrylic favoured to­day by am­a­teur artists can be rel­a­tively dry af­ter just a quar­ter of an hour. Where there are ar­eas of raised paint in an acrylic (they are gen­er­ally flat­ter un­less the artist uses an ad­di­tive), these peaks of paint will be sharper. Oil paint is rich in pig­ment, re­tain­ing glossy, deep reaches of colour. Lay­ered paint­ings with a shiny fin­ish and lots of raised random tex­ture are gen­er­ally oil paint­ings and you may be able to find a wash of ground colour un­der the paint where there’s a chip or over the edges on the can­vas stretcher.

Acrylic is a more modern medium and it can de­liver a lovely flat, jewel-like sur­face re­tain­ing some marks and brush strokes. Wa­ter­colour, though flat and more trans­par­ent than oil--based paint, does have some sub­tle tex­ture to it when it dries. There may be ar­eas where the paper was made a lit­tle too wet and has swollen or dim­pled down just very slightly.

Al­ready rough paper may be raised where some­thing was over worked into the paper pulp, and you can find sketch marks un­der the paint, and brush strokes with a very close eye-ball or loupe ex­am­i­na­tion. En­sure these strokes in any paint­ing fol­low the line of fea­tures in the im­age, just as in oil or acrylic works. Be­hind glass, it is very hard to see these sub­tle traces of au­then­tic­ity, but you’ll prob­a­bly find signs of a print in the mean­time. Looks like a wa­ter­colour, but seems too opaque? It may be gouache, which is made up with wa­ter but car­ries denser pig­ments.

Just to take a step back — a print can be di­vided into mass pro­duced prints and fine art prints cre­ated by hand by the artist in lim­ited runs and pressed onto high qual­ity paper. There are a vast range of pho­tome­chan­i­cal and en­grav­ing or other tech­niques in art prints.

What we need to iden­tify are both the old style ‘Ben-day’ dot sur­face of a bog stan­dard re­pro­duc­tion and the newer ‘gi­clee’ prints. If you see a printed © sign, you are ob­vi­ously look­ing at a print, how­ever lim­ited the run. This may be lost un­der the edge of the frame, so look care­fully.

Un­less large runs of fac­tory made prints have some vin­tage in­ter­est or rar­ity (posters, signed ad­ver­tis­ing sheets, vi­tal po­lit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal pro­pa­ganda), they will be worth a scant frac­tion of an orig­i­nal in an artist’s medium, in­clud­ing signed, fine art prints.

If you can­not get the art­work out of the frame (im­pos­si­ble if you don’t own it or the frame’s not fall­ing to piece), hold it up to the light and let the light rake the sur­face of the paint­ing. Tex­tured print­ing on real can­vas has been around since the 1950s, so even a vin­tage paint­ing can be a dud.

If the tex­ture of an oil, acrylic or pas­tel seems too un­vary­ing, even where there ap­pears to be brush or knife marks, or its dead flat (you may be able to peek un­der the edge be­tween the glass and the sur­face, chances are it’s a fac­tory-made piece of a scanned art­work. Gi­clee print­ing (to spat­ter out), is very finely done, elim­i­nat­ing any dots. It uses a high res­o­lu­tion ink jet prin­ter. With an even tone and lack of dots, these pieces look highly con­vinc­ing. Crackle glazes are not a sign of au­then­tic­ity by them­selves, and in Asia glicee prints are care­fully en­hanced with real paint strokes by highly tal­ented ar­ti­sans on a fac­tory line.

Gi­clee, though not prop­erly a ‘paint­ing’, is be­com­ing re­garded as a craft in it­self and made in the in­di­vid­ual artist’s stu­dio, but it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise that what you are buy­ing is a lovely dec­o­ra­tor’s piece or a one­off. Sig­na­tures can be added to no ac­count vin­tage paint­ings and draw­ings to con­fuse us about their cre­ator.

If you’re not sure of the prove­nance of some­thing, walk away and go to a rep­utable gallery. They will stand over the art­work with a writ­ten cer­tifi­cate, au­then­ti­cat­ing what they know of the pic­ture with their years of ex­pe­ri­ence hav­ing ex­am­ined thou­sands of paint­ings, draw­ings, ce­ramic and sculp­ture with a wry eye.

Howard Terp­n­ing’s, ‘Apache Fire Mak­ers’, a li­censed lim­ited edi­tion gi­clee print of a 1985 orig­i­nal. Green­wich­work­ Learn­ing to iden­tify older ‘Ben-day’ prints from the newer ‘gi­clee’ type is a ba­sic skill for auc­tion-go­ers.

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