Art conservator Hera Chen knows how to make 14th-century paintings look as good as new.
But most of her work in Singapore involves contemporary art that has become discoloured or mouldy because of the tropical climate here.
Her job is made harder because art owners tend to ignore a spot of mould. "If you don't resolve the problem immediately, it will spread and may discolour or damage the painting," says the Taiwanese conservator.
She will share tips on keeping paintings safe at a workshop on Sept 16 in her studio in Tanjong Pagar Distripark. It is free and open to anyone with an interest in collecting or creating art.
Chen, 38, is one of three art conservators with YH Conservation, an 18-month-old joint venture between art logistics service Helu-Trans and the Conservation Centre of Cheng Shiu University in Taiwan.
YH Conservation specialises in conserving and restoring paintings, old papers and objects from decorative ceramics to outdoor sculptures.
VIEW IT / THE ARTLING POP-UP X YH CONSERVATION WORKSHOP
WHERE: 02-02A Tanjong Pagar Distripark, 39 Keppel Road
WHEN: Sept 16, 3pm
ADMISSION: Free, register via e-mail at email@example.com
Its workshop is part of The Artling Pop-up, a showcase of 80 artworks by artists under 40, curated by online art gallery The Artling. The Artling Pop-up runs at Artspace@Helutrans, below the YH Conservation studio in Tanjong Pagar Distripark.
YH Conservation's clients include private collectors, museums and public institutions. Chen, who has worked in Singapore for a year now, has a diploma in art conservation and a master's in management of cultural and artistic events from the Institute Palazzo Spinelli for Art and Restoration in Florence, Italy.
She originally studied business administration in Taiwan, but became fascinated by the art industry after watching Taking Lives, a 2004 thriller starring Angelina Jolie as an FBI profiler and Ethan Hawke as an art dealer.
Before the interview at the YH Conservation studio, she carefully removes tissue paper protecting the front of a painting while she worked on repairing the back. She has worked as a conservator since 2007 on projects in the great Italian art capitals of Milan and Florence. The oldest paintings she has restored date to the 14th century.
Contemporary art is harder to restore because the artists' techniques nowadays result in a smooth, flat surface. "It's difficult to retouch and match the colour," she says.
Mould can be dissolved with special solvents, but it is also important to use the right paints to touch up the colour. Some paints used by artists contain materials that help mould thrive.
Mould is the main enemy of paintings in tropical countries. Sometimes the art is improperly framed and the glass traps moisture over the surface of the painting.
Interestingly, everything Chen does to save a painting is reversible "in case there are better techniques in future" that could do more for the art than she did. For example, she may retouch the colours over a soluble coating, which can be easily washed away if necessary.
"You have to respect the artist and the piece," she says. "In our work, we do not recreate the painting."