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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Acrylic Painting

Copyright, Jim Lane
Trickle Treat, 1977, Jim Lane, my first acrylic painting.
Artists, like myself, who use acrylic paints either swear by them or at them. I must confess, I've often done a little of both. I've been painting almost exclusively with acrylics since the fall of 1977. I still have my first acrylic painting. It's a waterfall in deep blues and greens. It hangs in our kitchen. I call it Trickle Treat (top). At the time, I had been painting for roughly ten years in oils. I still usually do portrait flesh tones in oils. Otherwise, I find the slow drying time of oils quite frustrating. Occasionally, I find the fast drying time of acrylics frustrating too, but I've learned to live with it. In teaching painting, I find that the student who likes to work slowly, even laboriously, over a painting had best use oils. Those who are impatient, prone to hyperactivity, and especially if they're reasonably adept at handling color, are well suited for acrylics. In general, acrylics are less forgiving than oils. Painters choosing to paint expressionistically are also likely candidates for acrylics.

Dalet Chet,1958, Morris Lewis. Not the first, but one of the first.

Magna's new-fangled plastic paint ca. 1947.
Acrylic paints first came into use among artists involved in Abstract Expressionism. Magna paints, manufactured by Bocour Artist Colors, Inc., were the first artist grade acrylics. They came on the market in 1947. At the time, they were not water soluble. They were thinned by mineral spirits or turpentine, just like oils, though that was pretty much where any similarities ended. The highly versatile acrylic paints we know and love today, which clean up and thin down with water didn't come until the company came out with their Aquatec line in 1960. Although many important artists of the New York School such as Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, and Jack Levine all expressed interest in the new "plastic paints" during the 1950s, and even experimented with them to some extent, they were not, however, quick to embrace the new medium.
Achilles, 1952, Oil and Acrylic, Barnett Newman
David Siqueiros Self-portrait,
Acrylic on Canvas, 1961
That fact set me to wondering which artist was the first to actually use acrylics in their work, and when. I've just spent an entire evening trying to find out, and believe me, it hasn't been easy. As best I can tell, that honor goes to Barnett Newman for his painting, Achilles (above), dating from 1952. Even at that, it was a mixed-media painting--he also used oils (presumably overtop) his acrylics. Although the Mexican muralist David Siqueiros used some pretty nasty fore-runners to acrylics as early as 1937, his first acrylic painting, probably a self-portrait (right), dates from 1961. Morris Louis was using them regularly after 1958. And Andy Warhol was silk-screening Green Marilyn using polymer acrylics starting around 1962. The others, Frankenthaler, and Rothko came around to the new media well after that. De Kooning, Pollock, and Levine seem not to have indulged at all.

Green Marilyn, 1962, Acrylic Polymer, Andy Warhol.
Acrylics, with their water-cleanup, were a real blessing to silk-screen artists.


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