While public artworks grace our local communities, parks, and public spaces not all give them the respect they deserves. They can sometimes become a casualty of vandalism: spray-painted, broken, burned, or even completely destroyed. Marcin Pikus, Conservator of Stone Sculpture and Architectural Features, and Stefan Dedecek, Conservator of Paintings, Murals, and Polychrome Surfaces, performed graffiti removal from a marble artwork in Oakland, California.

Oliver Lee Jackson, Untitled, 1994, before treatment, a side without graffiti though surface soiling is still apparent

The marble artwork, Untitled, 1994 is by artist Oliver Lee Jackson. Untitled is a marble pillar with carved relief designs, gilt accents and a granite base. Each side is different, the carvings include human lips, the head of a bird, baby in utero, and cloaked human face in profile holding what appears a bouquet of peace lilies. Gilt accents highlight areas like the birds eye and center of the flower creating a sharp contract of the white marble.

A detail of the grafitti before treatment

The sculpture was spray-painted with black paint which embedded itself into the porous substrate; this is partly the reason that graffiti removal on marble artwork is so challenging. Gilt elements were also abraded, and there were some pre-existing conditions such as surface soiling from outdoor exposure which required conservation treatment too.

A detail of the abraded gilding and surface soiling before treatment

Conservators Pikus and Dedecek first conducted cleaning test using a number of products to perform the graffiti removal on the marble artwork. Testing is necessary to find the most effective cleaning method since every surface is different.

Conservator Dedecek prepares the sculpture for treatment

The spray paint was successfully removed using an array of paint removers and pressurized hot water. Almost fifteen cleaning cycles were necessary to fully reduce the spray-paint.

The same side with spray paint after graffiti removal, but before regilding and application of an anti-graffiti coating

Once the graffiti removal on the marble artwork was complete, all damaged gilded areas of Untitled were re-gilded using a two component outdoor gilding system.

Conservator Dedecek applies gilding to the surface of the marble

A final application of an anti-graffiti coating was applied to the surface. It can be readily removed with a hot water pressure washer, and should last five years under normal conditions.

A bird’s eye view of the regilding after treatment.

Oliver Lee Jackson was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1935, and became an active member of the community and local arts. Jackson earned his bachelors of fine arts at Illinois Wesleyan University and his masters of fine arts from the University of Iowa. Jackson served as a lecturer, professor, and instructor of art from 1964 to 2002.

He became an accomplished artist with numerous solo and group exhibitions , commissions, and artist’s residencies around the country and world. Jackson’s work is also in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Metropolitan Museum, and San Francisco Art Museum to name a few. Jackson has maintained a studio in Oakland, California since 1982.