Leon Golub's Burnt Man

Burnt Man, Leon Golub, after treatment at The Center.

After seeing his work for the first time in the 1960’s, Ronald, a client of The Center, has had a deep appreciation for the art of Leon Golub. When a fellow artist personally introduced Ronald and his parents to Golub, they were immediately taken with his work. “When we met him we were so impressed with his technique and his subjects, that we immediately bought three examples of his work.” One of the three paintings, titled Burnt Man, arrived at The Center over fifty years later to undergo treatment for an unstable paint layer.

As a native Chicagoan, Leon Golub (1922-2004) studied at the University of Chicago and The School at the Art Institute of Chicago. His local ties were strong within the art community, where he exhibited frequently through local galleries, including the beloved Printworks Gallery.  Local avenues for artists such as Golub are what have given so many the push into national and global recognition; a support system we know so many are grateful for.  

Golub was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, and like much of Golub’s work, Burnt Man is a reflection of the social unrest he was seeing in the world. As Ronald shares, the title of this poignant painting, “Was inspired by the Buddhist monks of Vietnam who suffered self immolation by fire to protest the war in fact, he later named it 'Men are not for burning'”. 

 Burnt Man, Leon Golub, before treatment at The Center.

The Center’s Senior Painting Conservator, Amber Schabdach, noted that when the work arrived at The Center, “The client was concerned about cracks and some small areas of loss in the figure. These were in areas with built up enamel and pigments that were thick, therefore making the paint layer unstable over time.” This thick application of the paint layer was inherent with the artist’s technique, as were the more unusual aspects of paint and canvas choice. As Ronald shared, “[Burnt Man] is painted on canvas with porch paint! His technique was to use layers of paint and then scratch some layers off seeming to create depth and drama.” Also, the painting was executed on an unprimed canvas, and the back of the painting shows how the lack of prime or ground layer allowed the porch paint to seep through the canvas.

Verso of Burnt Man by Leon Golub, showing the unprimed canvas' absorption of the paint. 

Area of paint loss, revealing the canvas underneath. 

Black light testing revealed areas of paint loss more easily. 

When small losses occurred while moving the painting across the U.S, Ronald decided it was time to have the painting conserved. In order to address the areas of loss, the first step was for the paint layer to be stabilized. Due to the depth and texture of the paint layer, the stabilization was carried out selectively using conservation grade adhesives. Once the paint layer was secure, Amber was able to address the losses, though before inpainting, the surface would need to be cleaned of particles that had settled on the surface over time. “The painting was incredibly dirty, which actually added to the message of the image, however, it made subtleties in the paint nearly undetectable.” It was also crucial that the surface was properly cleaned before the application of conservation-grade paints to address the areas of loss. Amber continued, “After consolidation and cleaning, the losses were filled and inpainted to make the image complete again.”

Ronald is thrilled with the results and pleased to have his beloved painting back home. “While it took some time to get it back repaired, it was worth the effort. Now the painting is totally restored and is better than ever!”



“Leon Golub” Artnet. <http://www.artnet.com/artists/leon-golub/biography>