Preserving Keith Haring’s Legacy of “Art for All” through the Study of the Chemical Degradation of Daylight Fluorescent Paints and their Constituent Rhodamine Dyes

Georgia Hopps-Weber

Student Name: Georgia Hopps-Weber
Major: Chemistry, Art History
Advisors: Dr. Sobeck and Dr. Siewert
Daylight fluorescent paints were introduced in the 1940s by the Day-Glo Corporation of Cleveland. By the early 1980s, Keith Haring began using these paints for outdoor murals and artwork inspired by NYC club culture. These paints are unique in that the colorants’ hues are altered based upon the region of light that they are displayed under, meaning that the same painting can look drastically different under blacklights, white lights, and sunlight. The shockingly bright colors of Day-Glo paint helped amplify Haring’s desire to be vocal about social issues as well as bring joy to those around him. Haring was known for his vision of “art for all.” But what comes of the legacy of art for all if the art no longer exists in its original condition? Unfortunately, daylight fluorescent paints tend to degrade differently than traditional pigments, which has caused a problem in the conservation of Day-Glo art. The aim of this project was to study how UV-A blacklight and LED white light exposure impacts red colors from two major manufacturers of daylight fluorescent pigments, Day-Glo and Radiant brands. The degradation of the pigments, their constituent rhodamine dyes, and optical brighteners were analyzed using UV-Vis and fluorescence spectroscopies. It was found that these red paints showed noticeable changes in hue and fluorescence after UV-A exposure, but little to no change after LED white light exposure. The results of this study provide a reference point for curators and conservators when deciding how to preserve works that use these materials.

Georgia will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST 6am-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

Posted in I.S. Symposium 2021, Independent Study on April 2, 2021.

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