Alan Phenix, a scientist at the GCI and leader of the Science department’s Treatment Studies research area, retired in early March after more than a decade at the Institute.
Alan—a paintings conservator and conservation educator, as well as a scientist—earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and color chemistry from the University of Leeds, and a postgraduate diploma in the conservation of easel paintings from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. He went on to teach at several institutions, including the Courtauld itself. Alan joined the GCI staff in 2006, after a period as a GCI Conservation Guest Scholar in residence from 2005 to 2006.
As the leader of the Treatment Studies research area, Alan’s work focused on the evaluation and development of conservation methods and materials for the field. Some of his most important research concentrated on enlarging our understanding of the mechanisms involved in cleaning painted surfaces, including the effects of solvents on oil paints, as well as materials used in cleaning acrylic emulsion paints. But his research interests extended well beyond the cleaning of painted surfaces to include many other areas of cultural heritage research, among them dirt deposition mechanisms, structural treatments of paintings (on both canvas and panel), material and treatments studies on polymer dispersion consolidants, coatings for metal sculpture, and the aqueous bleaching of canvas.
Alan’s work also involved scientific and technical studies on painted works of art in collaboration with the Getty Museum and other institutions. With more than seventy publications to his name, he produced a wide range of in-depth technical studies on artists, including Boltraffio, Daubigny, Hammersley, Heemskerck, Lichtenstein, Oudry, and Pollock. The research he conducted as part of the two-year GCI-Getty Museum project on Pollock’s painting Mural (1943) expanded our understanding of the materials and methods used by the artist to create this seminal work.
Within the Getty, Alan has been a popular and generous colleague, always willing to advise or mentor junior and midcareer conservators.
Beyond the Getty, his engagement with professional colleagues included being a fellow of both AIC and IIC, as well as serving as the coordinator of one of the Paintings working groups of ICOM-CC. Esteem for his teaching skills was reflected in his 2014 appointment as the Judith Praska Distinguished Visiting Professor in Conservation and Technical Studies at New York University.
At the end of May, Alan will receive the Robert L. Feller Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Institute for Conservation’s annual conference.
Alan’s Getty colleagues wish him the best in his retirement—which, it is suspected, will include some continuing contributions to the conservation field.