TECH TALK - Sun's Roots II Restoration

Published on Aug 22nd, 2016

Sculpture Technician Graham Treadwell discusses Phillip King's work 'Sun's Roots II' and its restoration.

Phillip King, Sun's Roots II, 2007

Philip King (b. 1937) is a leading figure of the New Generation, a group of British sculptors that gained critical distinction in the 1960’s. Born in Tunisia, and arriving in the UK in 1945, King read modern languages at Christ’s College, Cambridge, before studying sculpture at Central Saint Martins under Anthony Caro. After graduation he worked for a year as an assistant to Henry Moore, before joining the teaching staff at Central Saint Martins alongside Caro and Eduardo Paolozzi. He was a Trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1967 – 1969 and Professor of Sculpture at Hochschule der Kunste, Berlin from 1979 – 1980, before becoming Professor of Sculpture at the Royal
College of Art from 1980 – 1990. He was elected Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools in 1990, until 1999 when he was elected President of the Royal Academy, a post he held for five years.

Cass Sculpture Foundation and Philip King have had a relationship spanning two decades; the artist’s prolific career and paradigm shifting attitude towards sculpture marrying with the mission of CASS to champion exciting contemporary British sculpture. Sun’s Roots II is a relatively recent work, having been commissioned in 2007. This work, made from painted steel, measures nearly five meters square, and weighs 1500kg. The title refers to the inseparable, life-giving connection between the sun and the earth, a recurring idea in the artist’s work stemming from his interest in Japanese Shinto mythology.

'Sun's Roots II' in the process of restoration, 2016

The underlying current of formalism in King’s work is apparent in the bold use of colour used as a means to define space. The use of steel also recalls the developments of Modernism, and the artist’s expanding material vocabulary. From a conservation point of view, this poses certain technical complications, especially considering the outdoor location, where changes in temperature and exposure to moisture heightens the risk of its rigid painted surfaces cracking. In order to reinvigorate the work, the old, lacklustre paint was removed to the base metal, and a flexible filler employed in order to bring the surface back to a smooth, uniform finish. Each section
was then masked-off, so that the colour could be re-sprayed using paint commonly found in the automotive industry. In order to maintain the longevity of the finish, a clear lacquer was then added to the entire work. This topcoat limits the penetration of UV light, as sunlight will gradually dull the colour as it separates and diffuses the pigment.

The preservation of cultural artefacts essentially involves slowing the inevitable degradation of materials by gradual natural entropy. The irony here is that King’s gesture of linking the sun with the earth relies in part to that same connection being partially severed.

Many thanks to Littlehampton Welders who helped us restore Sun's Roots II.

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