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Highline by Lyman Kipp is a large abstract trabeated sculpture installed in the plaza of the James C. Corman Federal Building in Van Nuys, California. The artwork is made of steel and painted in a red and blue color scheme. It reaches almost twenty feet in height.

The sculpture was recently treated under the supervision of Christina L. Simms, Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, of McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory. The conservation of Highline by Lyman Kipp involved recoating (or overcoating) chalking paint and replacing failing mortar along the base.

Highline, 1976 by Lyman Kipp

The sculpture was last treated over a decade ago under the supervision of Robert G. Lodge, Conservator of Modern Art and President/CEO of McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory located just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Harsh temperatures and sun as well as public interaction throughout the last ten years created the need for a conservation treatment of Highline by Lyman Kipp.

Both the red and blue paint were chalked overall from the intense Southern California sun. The lower coated sections had chipping paint, and in some cases, the substrate was actively rusting in areas of loss.

Before treatment: the paint is chalked, rust is observed, mortar around the base is cracked or missing, and damage from public interaction is evident.

In the past, some members of the public would even chain their bicycles to the sculpture; in these particular areas there was a noticeable loss of paint and rust. Fingerprints and shoe-prints on the lower painted areas suggested the public regularly grabs or climbs the sculpture. Most, if not all, of the mortar around the bottom of the sculpture was cracked, loose, and/or missing. There was also an overall layer of grime.

During a recent assessment, it was determined that the current dry film thickness (DFT) of the paint film allowed for overcoating versus a more invasive treatment of complete blasting and recoating. Sometimes when a sculpture or other painted work of art has been repainted too many times, there will not be an adequate bond between the underlying paint layers and a newly applied paint layer. This simply means the paint is too thick to allow any new paint to stick. The result is a coating which fails (flakes or peels off) well before the end of its service life.

Before any largescale painted outdoor sculpture coating project begins, material research as well as proper surface preparation are critical first steps.

Color samples of the artist’s original paints – Rust-oleum® Sunrise Red and Royal Blue were sent to the painting subcontractor for matching in a higher performance coating before treatment. The colors, according to written records, were originally used by the artist for another sculpture, Manly, 1980 located in Hartwood Acres Park in Pittsburgh, PA.

Manly, 1980 by Lyman Kipp was recently treated by McKay Lodge Conservation. The original colors were used to match new colors for Highline.

Manly was recently treated by McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, and it has the same color scheme as Highline. For the Manly treatment, the paint layers were excavated until the primer was reached. Samples of Rust-oleum® Sunrise Red and Royal Blue were compared and found to be a match for the topcoat directly above the primer.

Manly, was just one part, however, of another McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory project for an outdoor sculpture conservation project at Hartwood Acres Park.

Conservator Simms managed the conservation treatment of Highline by Lyman Kipp to completion. With the color matched in a high performance outdoor paint system complete, the onsite treatment in Van Nuys, CA could begin. Surface preparation and painting was performed by a local painting subcontractor according to the Society of Protective Coatings (SSPC/SP) SSPC-SP1 Solvent Cleaning, SSPC-SP2 Hand Tool Cleaning, and SSPC-SP 3 Power Tool Cleaning standards.

The sculpture is prepped for surface coating, once complete a new rich blue tinted primer is applied. The difference is immediately evident.

The upper portions of the sculpture where the paint was well-attached but chalking were hand-sanded with abrasive sandpaper. Lower sections where there was actively flaking paint and rust were reduced with a hand-scraper and an angle grinder fitted with a sanding disc to feather the edges of larger losses. All dust, grime, debris was cleared with solvent.  This process reduced corrosion and created better adhesion for subsequent overcoating.

A tinted primer was applied, and after curing, a topcoat was applied with a roller and edges trimmed with brush. Recesses, especially the gaps between the vertical beams, were painted with a brush as fully as possible, but future disassembly is required to reach these areas deeply. The applied red and blue paints were compared with color samples by Christina L. Simms, Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, onsite and found to be a visual match.

Conservator Simms removes failing mortar with a hammer and chisel

Conservator Simms then addressed the failing base. Loose and cracking mortar was removed with a chisel and hammer as much as possible by the conservator. Sound material was left in place, and dust and debris were cleared and discarded.

After treatment, newly applied mortar creates a more unified appearance.

Large losses and excavated areas were filled with a medium bed mortar in grey and allowed to cure for 24 hours. A final coat of the mortar was applied and smoothed.

After treatment, the sculpture had a revitalized coating and damaged mortar around the base had been repaired.

After treatment, Highline by Lyman Kipp has the rich, bold colors intended by the artist.

The austere shapes and large scale featuring bold primary colors of Highline is typical of the late sculptor Lyman Kipp. Kipp was an American artist born in 1929 in Dobbs Ferry, New York. He was active from the 1950s until 2011, several years before his death in 2014.

According to Wright Auctions, “he studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York before moving to Michigan to study and teach at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1952. In 1965 Kipp was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and the following year he received a Fulbright Grant. Kipp’s work was included in the pivotal exhibition Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum in 1966, alongside sculptures by Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Robert Smithson and many others who helped transformed contemporary aesthetics.”

Lyman Kipp’s monumental sculpture and public works of art can be found all across the United States.

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