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The Nudity of the Patina


From the lat. patĭna `plate’, by the varnish that the old plates are covered with.

In the fourth meaning of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, the word “patina” is defined as the indefinable character that things acquire over time. Architecture and art, more vividly the latter, are closely linked to this term, in relation to the aging of the materials used in the production of the work, which alters textures and colours in function of factors such as its exposure to light, environmental humidity… The result is, undeniably, a living work, mutable in the face of an environment.

But the “indefinable” patina of which the RAE speaks is not, or at least not exclusively, a physical or material issue. The whole, subjected to the passage of time, is exposed to the inclemencies of the weather that surrounds it, to its most direct environment; but it is also exposed to direct transformation, conscious or unconscious, forming a patina that is now understood to be much more uneven.

The meditated accident

Still, the concept doesn’t seem to outgrow us, does it? The indefinable nature with which Japanese ceramics are endowed with the art of “kintsugi“, or the deliberate choice to keep the shrapnel holes in the Neues Museum (Berlin), are decisions about the patina of the object, which adds to and continues to show its history as scars to the naked eye. However, the subtle veil superimposed on the original work may, depending on who is wearing that careful eye, hide the truth, mask the “official” nature of the object, building, etc. In such a situation, the decision to remove the patina and undress the element can be considered valid: Recovering the initial state will contribute the value lost in its deterioration.

The question is obviously not an easy one to resolve. Is there any added value in the patina? Undeniably, but does that make it valuable by definition?

There are countless examples and similarities, both to effective and direct restoration and to allowing the deterioration to be consolidated and in accordance with the inherent history; and of course this is an explicit manifesto to justify the moral dilemma that the month I have spent without cleaning the room and the layers of sketch paper that occupy my desk represent for me.

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