Georgia Hopps-Weber

Preserving Keith Haring’s Legacy of “Art for All” through the Study of the Chemical Degradation of Daylight Fluorescent Paints and their Constituent Rhodamine Dyes

April 2, 2021   /  

Student Name: Georgia Hopps-Weber
Major: Chemistry, Art History
Advisors: Dr. Sobeck and Dr. Siewert

Daylight fluorescent paints were introduced in the 1940s by the Day-Glo Corporation of Cleveland. By the early 1980s, Keith Haring began using these paints for outdoor murals and artwork inspired by NYC club culture. These paints are unique in that the colorants’ hues are altered based upon the region of light that they are displayed under, meaning that the same painting can look drastically different under blacklights, white lights, and sunlight. The shockingly bright colors of Day-Glo paint helped amplify Haring’s desire to be vocal about social issues as well as bring joy to those around him. Haring was known for his vision of “art for all.” But what comes of the legacy of art for all if the art no longer exists in its original condition? Unfortunately, daylight fluorescent paints tend to degrade differently than traditional pigments, which has caused a problem in the conservation of Day-Glo art. The aim of this project was to study how UV-A blacklight and LED white light exposure impacts red colors from two major manufacturers of daylight fluorescent pigments, Day-Glo and Radiant brands. The degradation of the pigments, their constituent rhodamine dyes, and optical brighteners were analyzed using UV-Vis and fluorescence spectroscopies. It was found that these red paints showed noticeable changes in hue and fluorescence after UV-A exposure, but little to no change after LED white light exposure. The results of this study provide a reference point for curators and conservators when deciding how to preserve works that use these materials.


Georgia will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST 6am-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

120 thoughts on “Preserving Keith Haring’s Legacy of “Art for All” through the Study of the Chemical Degradation of Daylight Fluorescent Paints and their Constituent Rhodamine Dyes”

    1. Thank you so much, Dr. Morrow! Also, thank you for helping me pursue the art history major which led me to this topic!

  1. Interesting and very liberal-arts-y project! Do you know the extent to which the emission profile of various lamps overlaps with the absorption of the dyes? It seems like certain pairings would be better suited than others for the lifetime of the art.

    1. Hi Dr. Bonvallet, that is a great question. The bulbs used in my trials were UV-A blacklight bulbs that have a peak wavelength of 350nm and white LED bulbs that have a peak wavelength of 607nm. Since Rhodamine 6G absorbs at 528 and Rhodamine 3B absorbs at 555, there is a good overlap with the white LED lights. Each of the rhodamine dyes has a small absorbance peak at 350 and optical brighteners absorb at 375, which really makes them fluoresce under the UV-A light!

  2. An excellent examination of the space where art and science intersects! Congratulations, Georgia, on this fabulous work! It’s so exciting to see your hard work!

    1. Thank you Dr. Cosgriff! And thank you for putting such an emphasis on how interdisciplinary the field of Art History can be during your classes. I can’t thank you enough for encouraging me to pursue my double major which led me to such an exciting IS topic!

  3. So cool, Georgia! I’m curious if the author himself ever expressed any opinions about the preservation of his work. Given his amount of outdoor work, did he expect it that it might fade and degrade over time or did he intend his works to have a lasting impact?

    1. Hi Dr. Feierabend, thank you for the great question! When painting the construction fence at Marquette University, Haring was interviewed by a local news station. During this interview he shared that he “like[d] the idea of things lasting longer than you last and being somewhere where lots of people can see them for a long time.” In other cases like the Houston Street Mural, which is depicted on the first slide of my presentation, Haring himself painted over the mural with gray paint shortly after he completed the project because he was disappointed by the damage and vandalism it was subjected to. I think ultimately, Haring wanted his pieces to last for a long time but was keenly aware that street art had a smaller likelihood of survival in comparison to the thousands of paintings, sculptures, and drawing that he created.

  4. Hey Georgia. Congratulations! Is there a reason you picked red paint? Does the paint color matter?

    1. Thank you Dr. Johnson! My chemistry advisor, Dr. Sobeck, does a lot of research on red paints like cochineal, so it seemed fitting to explore the red series from DayGlo and Radiant. The paint color does matter in terms of the degradation process, because each daylight fluorescent paint uses a different combination of fluorescent dyes to achieve the desired color. Since no two fluorescent dyes are the same in terms of structure and chemical properties, there is a high likelihood that one dye may degrade at a faster rate than another and could potentially respond differently to the various lighting conditions.

  5. Keith Haring’s best friend from Pennsylvania, Kermit had a youngster who was deaf and came to the clinic where I worked. We made a trip in to NYC to Keith’s studio — what an inspiring genius he was. Glad you have investigated his work through quite an interesting sense.

    1. Hi Mr. Goldberg, I bet it was such a cool experience to visit Keith’s studio! I read a lot about Kermit Oswald in Haring’s journals and biography, and he played a part in helping Keith make some of the DayGlo on wood pieces that I was able to study in my project. Thank you so much for checking out my presentation!

  6. Congratulations Georgia! It has truly been a pleasure working with you this year and I learned so much through your research on Haring’s work.

    1. Thank you Dr. Sobeck, I couldn’t have asked for a more knowledgable and helpful advisor during this process!

  7. Georgia – Way to go! I love this wonderful interdisciplinary effort. This project will be one we talk with incoming families about for years to come! Congratulations!

  8. Great work! Sending the link to your project to Keith Haring’s sister.
    Julia Klein ‘83
    Trustee

  9. Wow Georgia, this is a fantastic I.S. project! You are a great example of bringing two very different disciplines together in new ways.

  10. Great work! It really emphasizes that these important works need to be somehow preserved/ recorded since every day light exposure photo-degrades the pigments. It will take creativity to capture the unique fluorescence emission of these innovative pieces are art, especially in digital form. Maybe another IS project for the future…

    1. Thank you Dr. E! There has been a little research on the photography of DayGlo works done by Elizabeth Hinde and Petronella Nel done in 2008, but expanding on those processes could make for a very cool IS in my opinion!

  11. This is such a great project, and it is clear that you really enjoyed the work. I too am interested in knowing if the artist expected his art to be long-lasting.

    1. Thank you Dr. Griffin! From what I gathered in my research, Haring really liked the idea of his works being available for large audiences to enjoy for years to come. When painting the construction fence at Marquette University, Haring was interviewed by a local news station and he shared that he “like[d] the idea of things lasting longer than you last and being somewhere where lots of people can see them for a long time.” But Haring also recognized that some of his works, especially street art like his murals and subway drawings, had a smaller likelihood of this longterm survival, which I think is one of the reasons he created so many paintings, sculptures, and drawings that could be saved by museums and collectors to keep is legacy alive for years to come.

  12. This is remarkable! The way you intertwine two distant fields into your work truly enlightened me! I wonder how this experience of IS made you move further to your future career or your interest. What are you going to explore next?

    1. Thank you so much Yubin! This project has helped me fully grasp that the overlap between science and art is strong, and I hope to continue exploring these connections in the future. Being able to do research in the fields of chemistry and art history through the lens of conservation has really piqued my interest in art conservation and conservation science. I’m not sure what I will be exploring next, but it is exciting to know that there is a whole world of creative science out there to dive into!

  13. Very thoughtfully developed presentation. Adds an important element to understanding the legacy of Keith Haring’s work. Is there any research on stabilizing optical whiteners?

    1. Thank you, Dad! And that is a great question. I did not explore the literature on optical brightener stability prior to my experiments, but that could make for some interesting next steps. Since optical brighteners are used in everyday products like paper and laundry detergent, there is ongoing research on the compounds that I could look into!

  14. Congrats, Georgia! This is very interesting research and it incorporates chemistry and art history so well!

  15. Wonderful as always Georgia:-) I was wondering if as a double major doing IS you ever felt like you didn’t get the space to really delve into one part of the subject matter as much as you might’ve liked? Also, how’d you get your hands on the conservation file? That’s so cool!

    1. Thank you Marloes! At times it was hard to balance the art history literature research while needing to spend a significant time in the lab. However, the excitement I got each time I came across another DayGlo Haring work helpfed motivate me to work harder in the lab, and the conclusions I was able to come to with my chemistry work made me even more excited to learn more about how Haring used the paints. I contacted the Haggerty Museum of Art directly, and they were able to send me along all of the files associated with the Construction Fence, including conservation documents, memos about it from the Museum director, and pictures that were taken during Haring’s time on campus!

    1. Thank you Krista! I am so thankful that I got to work on an interdisciplinary project, it made the whole process so much more fun for me!

  16. This was very cool, Georgia! I have always enjoyed seeing Keith Haring’s works. You came up with a great way to study this influential artist and combine it with the field of chemistry. Excellent job!

  17. This is such an amazing project Georgia! An excellent job showing the connection and intersection of science and art. I was wondering with what you learned in this experiment, what you would do in a follow up experiment/study?

    1. Thank you Rachel! I think it would be really interesting to compare the degradation of the yellow, green, and blue DayGlo paints to that of the red paints that I studied. Since artists like Keith Haring often used multiple DayGlo colors in their works, it would be interesting to see if there is a difference in stability between the colors, which might impact the recommended display conditions! Additionally, looking into how effective aging the powdered pigments under UV light could prove to be for retouching damaged paintings that have already experienced a loss in fluorescence could be another interesting route to pursue.

  18. Congratulation! I believe this is a very unique IS project that involves chemistry and art that I could never thought of. The ideas of colors with chemistry behind UV-lights art relates to each other very well. The chemistry that are involved in art are well explained.

  19. Congratulations Georgia!! Such an interesting project, we’ll be training kids in admissions to talk about it for years 😉

    1. LITERALLY- I often wish I had more time as a tour guide just to talk about this… Congrats on this wonderful work and all your success so far, Georgia! Excited to see what’s next for you!

  20. Hi Georgia! It is so cool to see your project really come together in your presentation! Like others have said, it is very evident that you put a lot of effort into this and truly enjoyed your research. My question is this: because the paint samples were only irradiated for 10 days under LED light in your project, whereas works in museums are exposed to LED light for hours on end, how did you conclude that LED lights are completely safe? Was there other research you consulted that helped support this idea? Thank you!

    1. What a wonderful question Megan! During my trials I used a light meter to measure the exposure my samples were subjected to. The measurements taken during these trials were typically between 2,100-2,450 lux for the LED light chamber. The Commission International de L’Eclairage (CIE) has recommend an exposure range of 50 to 300 lux in museums spaces, and many museums report keeping their lux levels below 200. The exposure from the light chamber was nearly tenfold that of a typical museum. Thank you so much for coming to my presentation!

  21. This is so so cool!!!! Such a lovely project done by a lovely human!! Definitely will use this as an I.S. example during tours.

  22. Nicely done Georgia! It has been really fun to listen to you talk about the work all semester and to now see it in a final cumulation for this presentation. I hope you had a lot of fun doing it! I can’t wait to see how you choose to build off it and expand it in years to come as you pursue your post-college life.

    1. Thank you for coming to my presentation, Morgan! I really did have a lot of fun working on this project!

  23. Georgia, is there any research going into making paints that have the same properties as the paint described in your IS, but are more durable?

    1. This is what I was wondering as well. If another artist wanted to use similar color experiences now is there a better choice to make their work more lasting? Thank you for sharing your research, I hope your next steps after Wooster are remarkable.

      1. Thank you Karen! I hope my explanation for Ben’s question was helpful in answering your question as well. Since artists are limited by the number of brands that create daylight fluorescent paints, the best option for longevity is for the artist to be careful in terms of display (lighting, environmental factors, etc.) and storage of their works.

    2. Thank you for your question, Ben! Research on daylight fluorescent paints and their constituent fluorescent dyes is still in its early years because the material was only introduced in the 1940s. Not many manufacturers create daylight fluorescent paints, so artists mostly are dependent on research done by those brands to create more durable products. I do know that DayGlo corporation has altered some of its paint formulas since they were introduced to increase product durability. In terms of the red paints, this has taken the form of varying which rhodamine derivatives are used.

  24. Congrats, Georgia! I love Keith Haring, and so I’m so exited that you chose to work on this project. Are you planning to continue working on this after graduation?

    1. Thank you so much, Stephanie! I was also very excited to choose Keith Haring for the art history side of my IS, it has been so great to surround myself with such joyous artworks during this year! I don’t know if I will continue working with Haring or DayGlo paints in the future, but I hope to continue engaging in the overlap between chemistry and art for sure!

  25. Great job, Georgia! You seemed very excited about your topic in your presentation which made it that much more enjoyable to watch. 🙂
    Congrats on completing your IS!

  26. Such and awesome and interesting project Georgia!! It has been so cool to see you blend these two passions, chemistry and art, and apply them in such a fascinating way! I never appreciated the importance of art conservation and restoration before this, so thank you for this window into such an interesting field! Great job, I am so proud of you!!

    1. Thank you so much, Sophie! I am so glad you were able to come to my presentation!

  27. Georgia,
    I love your presentation. Your enthusiasm both for the art of Keith Haring and for how better understanding the chemical breakdown of fluorescent paints can help preserve his art for future generations shines through! Such an interesting project with important implications!
    Congratulations.

  28. What an interesting way to bring together your two majors! Congrats, Georgia! This is a very cool project!

  29. Brilliantly done Georgia! I found your video really interesting and easy to understand. Fascinating stuff! So proud of you! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Mel! I am so glad you were able to enjoy the presentation!!

  30. Georgia,
    I loved this opportunity to view your work and see you present! It is evident how proud and passionate you are about your project. What an awesome way to combine your two majors! Endlessly proud of you! Congratulations!!

    1. Thank you so much, Hannah! I am so happy that this virtual option made my presentation available to friends like you!! Thank you for coming!

  31. Hi Georgia, your I.S is a great example of how people can bring together different interests and passions. Conservation science needs people like you! Thanks for sharing your work.

  32. Congratulations! Amazing work! So fabulous to have watched this develop from elevator pitches on virtual tours!

  33. This was so great! It was fun to finally see more of the art history side of things. If you were to hypothetically create a show for these works, how would you go about presenting them? Would you try to create that sort of club atmosphere that he used (without all the harmful UV), or would you go in a different direction?

    1. This is a wonderful question, Lilly! I think the blacklight rooms bring such a good energy to the overall show so I would lean towards using blacklight, but only on a small selection of pieces with limited exposure time. To achieve this, I might create a blacklight room that is only open during certain times during the show or rotating which pieces are displayed in the blacklight room over the duration of the show. In terms of permanent display in a museum, if the piece was originally created for a Schafrazzi blacklight room, I would opt for a display case in which the piece is under LED white light unless a viewer activated a switch to turn on blacklight. In this way, the viewer gets to observe the awesome fluorescence effects created by the blacklight, but the piece is not exposed to as much UV radiation.

  34. Fantastic work Georgia! I can’t believe how different the paintings must have been when they were first made. What what the most surprising finding of your IS?

    1. Thank you Holly! It is crazy to think that we will never get to fully experience the works in their original form, but I am thankful that there are still so many of Keith Haring’s DayGlo works that survive to us today! I think the most surprising finding was that the rhodamine dyes used in the red paints were actually very stable under UV and LED lighting while in a solution of methanol. I anticipated that since the paints lose fluorescence intensity over time, that the dyes would exhibit the same behavior in solution.

  35. Hello, Georgia! I really loved your presentation. It was full of something that I have expected. Moreover, I was introduced a relationship between Chemistry and Arts field that I was not that aware of before! Thank you so much for this presentation!. I just have a question to your presentation. I wonder what should be used to repair those paintings when they are fully faded away by the LED lights. Will they be re-painted, or is there another way to get it like it was before? Moreover, I wonder how the paints work. Is there anything you recommend me to learn about your presentation more?

    1. Thank you Minjin! I am so glad you enjoyed learning about the overlap between chemistry and art, if you want to learn more about research at Wooster that involves the two disciplines, I would recommend reaching out to my chemistry advisor, Dr. Sobeck. At this point, the research on daylight fluorescent paints is limited because the material was only introduced in the 1940s. There is no way to reverse the fading effects, but a lot of art doesn’t exist in its original condition which is ok! If there are damages to the paintings, one might consider artificially aging daylight fluorescent pigments before retouching the painting in order to match the faded painting. It is most important to responsibly display these works moving forward to ensure that they are not damaged further. The paints work by having fluorescent dyes in their formulas. These fluorophores emit light through the process of fluorescence which causes them to appear brighter than paints that rely only on chromophores for their color. If you want to learn more about daylight fluorescent paints and their history I would recommend visiting the DayGlo corporations website at https://www.dayglo.com. I would also be happy to answer any other questions you have about my project, you can email me at ghopps-weber21@wooster.edu.

    2. Thank you, Minjin! I am glad you enjoyed learning about the overlap between chemistry and art history. If you would like to learn more about the research being done at Wooster that combines these two fields, I would recommend contacting my chemistry advisor, Dr. Sobeck. If you want to learn more about the mechanics and history of daylight fluorescent paints I would recommend visiting DayGlo corporation’s website at http://www.dayglo.com. In brief, these paints work by emitting light through the process of fluorescence. The fluorophores contained in the formulas are what sets daylight fluorescent paints apart from traditional paints that solely rely on chromophores for their color. Additionally if you would like to learn more about my research, I would be happy to answer any questions via email at ghopps-weber21@wooster.edu. To answer your question, unfortunately there is no way to restore the fluorescence once it has been lost, but lots of art does not exist in its original condition which is ok! One might consider artificially aging daylight fluorescent pigments before using them to retouch a damaged painting that contains daylight fluorescent paint. It is of most important to responsibly display these works to prevent any further degradation in the years to come.

  36. How much I love, and have loved your topic, since the very beginning. Yet another brilliant execution of art into STEM. Glad I can finally see the results. Amazing and congrats!

    1. Thank you! I am so happy you enjoyed my presentation, Alayt! It is so wonderful to make these connections between STEM and art!

  37. This is such a cool double-major project! Really interesting Georgia. Best of luck with your post-grad plans!

  38. Hi Georgia,
    Can’t believe we’re graduating from college after going to the same school since literally kindergarten. Hopefully we can break the pattern of having even school we attend getting torn down immediately after we leave… lol

    Also can’t believe you were able to do combined IS with both of these majors–congratulations!

    1. Thank you, Justin! Fingers crossed that Wooster doesn’t follow in the footsteps of every other school we attended! I’m glad to have had you as my classmate for all of these years!

  39. Could we expect similar colors (like orange) to degrade in a way that resembles the degradation of the red paint, as opposed to other colors (such as green)? Very interesting and well done I.S.

    1. Thank you for the question, Riley! DayGlo Blaze Orange and Fire Orange as well as Radiant Orange and Orange Yellow all contain a similar mixture of fluorescent dyes so it could be expected for them to respond to light exposure in a similar way to the red paints. The same probably cannot be said for the blues and greens that don’t depend strongly on the rhodamine dyes for their fluorescence and overall color.

  40. I found your IS very interesting and well done but I was wondering how UV-B and UV-C lights would effect the red pigment?

    1. Thank you, Ethan! Further research would need to be done to see how UV-B and UV-C lights effect the red pigments. Since most of these wavelengths are filtered out by the atmosphere, it is not as large of a concern for the outdoor murals as the UV-A wavelengths are. However, since some UV-B light does make it through the atmosphere and I believe Dr. Sobeck’s lab has access to UV-B lights, this could be an interesting next step for this project!

  41. BRAVA, Georgia! What a cool project. The Crack is Whack Mural took me back to my younger years immediately. Congratulations!

  42. Oh how innovative, Georgia! This is such an interesting interweave of science and art. It has parallels to art created out of cell cultures in microbiology! It was a pleasure reading your summary. I will now think about it every time I wear my Keith Haring tee….Congratulations!

    1. Thank you so much Mr. Balasundaram! I absolutely love all of the overlaps between science and art!

  43. AMAZING JOB GEORGIA! You should be so proud of yourself. if you’re not, then I am DOUBLE proud of you!

  44. Hi Georgia! This is a great presentation I really loved to see more of your work and conclusions as they have progressed since November.

  45. Congratulations Georgia! This is so cool and interesting. I love how you connected it to recommendations for displaying his work today and the importance of preserving it accordingly!

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