The Blue Moon Trilogy mural — painted in 1988 to honor those who battle and have battled AIDS — is clean, bright and more durable than ever. Credit in large goes to Scott Haskins, president of Fine Art Conservation Laboratories in Santa Barbara, California, and a varnish called VandlGuard IsoFree.
Haskins, a professional art conservator who specializes in murals, worked with LA’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Caltrans, the Hollywood Bowl, a councilman’s office, the artist’s family and neighborhood organizations. Together, they devised the best route to restore, preserve and maintain the 186-by-20-foot mural.
“That area gets tagged a lot,” Haskins says of the Highway 101 underpass. So, with inevitable graffiti on the horizon, they needed an extremely durable varnish that can take repeated scrubbing. That product turned out to be VandlGuard IsoFree from Rainguard.
Tackling the restoration
Haskins says the Blue Moon project was tricky for several reasons. For beginners, the mural resides in a well-traveled freeway underpass near Hollywood Bowl, so workers had limited access. Plus, in addition to the location, Caltrans’ regulations and California’s cumbersome laws slowed progress further.
In addition, the artist originally used an inferior house paint to create the mural. Consequently, the layers were soft and permanently damaged by graffiti and past attempts at cleaning. So, the conservation team redrew the design and color-matched the vivid hues with today’s high-quality outdoor enamel paint.
All the while, they retained the original mural’s composition. The DCA and the family, who still holds the legal artist’s rights of the artwork, coordinated the work.
“Basically, we replaced the mural with one that would look its best much longer and better withstand maintenance,” he says.
Finding a replacement varnish
Haskins explained they restored the top two-thirds of the mural before tackling the bottom third, which was in the worst shape. To complicate matters, California outlawed the varnish used on the mural’s upper two-thirds because of environmental impact. Haskins had to find a replacement.
“The city of Los Angeles went through lots of bad choices for varnishing outdoor murals along the freeways over the last 20 years,” he says. Then, a few years ago it found one that “did a pretty good job” but it yellowed.
About that time, the owner of Rainguard, Claude Florent, caught wind of the project and contacted Haskins. He told him his company made a purer-quality varnish than the one used prior. He added his company backs the product’s performance with stringent tests for stability and no failures.
“I tested it and liked it a lot,” Haskins says. In addition, he kept tabs on some murals done a couple of years prior near freeways. The results impressed him, he says, even with natural aging and abuse. “It was as good or better as the other varnish without all the negative attributes.”
One tough guard
For starters, VandlGuard IsoFree is water-based. It emits no VOCs and has a better pot life than what Haskins used before. It dries to form an extremely hard covering that doesn’t yellow. And you can clean in with various techniques with excellent results.
Besides the Blue Moon Trilogy, Haskins recently used VandlGuard IsoFree on murals in Texas to protect them during a move. The city of Austin hired FACL to remove murals from walls of buildings scheduled for demolition. Famed Mexican artist Rafael Navarro painted the murals.
“The murals are on canvas and were attached to the wall,” Haskins says. To help keep them intact, “We applied VandlGuard IsoFree on the murals before removing them. This provided a cushion layer that helped absorb stress when going through the removal process.”
Those preserved and restored murals are scheduled to reside in Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin by fall 2022.
Here’s a short video of the mural restoration process