The signature on the painting says Tyeb Mehta. The fungus and chipping on it indicate it could be decades old. Despite the decay, thanks to art restorers such as Priya Khanna, Mehta's labour of love still fetches an exorbitant Rs 3 crore.
At Art Life Restoration Trust, her Defence Colony studio, Khanna, 38, often plays the masterstroke when it comes to reviving old art. “My job is to get the painting back to the original shape,” she says. The damaged areas are filled with pure pigments and synthetic binders. In case of a fungus attack, they are treated to fumigation.
At times, the restoration could be really challenging, especially when the works get so faded out that no references to draw remain. “You have to know the artist fairly well to be able to follow the lines. At times, even a minuscule tear can take about three days to get rectified," says Khanna. An even greater task lies in restoring a work already restored by a local artist.
Her fee for restoration could be as little as Rs 2,000 or could go higher than Rs 1 lakh, depending on the degree of the damage and the size of the canvas. Considering that she has restored canvases of blue chip artists like M.F. Husain, Amrita Sher-gil, Tyeb Mehta, F.N. Souza, Raja Ravi Varma and Ram Kumar, it is worth the investment.
To learn the nuances of the art form, Khana secured a master's degree in conservation of art from the National Museum Institute, Delhi, and specialised in oil painting restoration at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. No wonder, her CV boasts working with English Heritage and National Maritime Museum in England. Auction houses like Bowrings and Christie's have sought her services.
The secret of her success? After 15 years in the business, the mother of two says she has built a clientele through word of mouth publicity.