Thursday, January 11, 2007

Alternative Materials


I was recently visiting the blog of the abstract painter, Philip Edson. He mentioned mixing pigment that is used for coloring concrete into his paint. I had left a response that over the years I have used many different non-traditional materials. He had asked if I had any examples. Regretfully, the many moves over the years have relegated my old slides (that date back 30+ years) either to an obscure unopened box somewhere or they just got tossed because I got tired of hanging on to them. I did find an old exhibit brochure, from 1973 that is from a group show that I was part of in San Francisco. The images are in black and white but they may serve to illustrate my thoughts.

My use of alternative materials came from different sources. First, in San Francisco back in the early 1970’s, there was an aire of excitement and experimentation. Artists all over the SF Bay Area were playing with new and experimental materials. Unlike so many east coast artists, Californians were not afraid of technology. During my school years I had also been exposed to instructors who were very experimental and knew and understood different industrial materials. There is also the fact that art materials are expensive and like so many other young and struggling artists I was trying to keep expenses down.


While in art school I would buy enamel oil paints used for house painting and mix them with my oils and paint on large sheets of heavy Kraft paper that I bought on rolls. When I started to use airbrushes and spray guns I switched over to acrylics. I did a number of large amorphous color field paintings this way. I was influenced by the artist, Jules Olitski. Later, I had seen some paintings by the LA artist, John McCracken and was very intrigued with the high gloss lacquered surfaces of his panels. It was then that I started to experiment with automotive lacquers, fiberglass, polyester resins, and metal flake and powdered pigments. I seldom went to an art supply store rather I would go to custom car paint shop and surfboard shops for my materials.

I would stain or paint my surface a somewhat random gradation. I would then begin to layer fiberglass and resins to build up thick glaze like effects. In between layers I would spray the dry powdered metal pigments into the wet resin. I would build up some six or so layers. The light would reflect off the metal powders in the various layers and cause a wonderful color modulation. Later I would pour, drip, and dribble the materials onto my surfaces. I gave this up because of a combination of toxic fumes and getting resin in my hair one time too many. I was also starting to work larger and needed to find less expensive materials.


The paintings that I was doing at the time were about 8’ X 10’. My primary painting tools at the time were all from commercial paint stores. I was using 9” rollers, 3” house brushes, and gallon paint cans. It was then that I discovered that I could make my own acrylics, of sorts by using industrial materials. The basic material for making acrylic emulsion (used in the paint, mediums, and varnishes) was a product called AC-22 made by a SF Bay Area company called Rohm and Haas. At the time I worked for a large national paint company, Dutch Boy Paint, and had access to ordering the material. It had to be ordered in 50 gallon drums, which was fine since I was going through about 10-15 gallons of paint a month. The AC-22 was intermixable with latex house paint, which I just happened to have access to, acrylics such as Liquitex, and with the tinting pigments used in the commercial paint industry (which are also intermixable with oils, lacquers, synthetics, and even stains). So I started to experiment and make my own paint.

Besides just mixing up the paint I would dump in sand, silica, even baking soda and beer to see what it might do to the paint and the different textures that it might create. I would take my metal powders and throw them into the wet surface to see what the affects might be and how it might alter the look of the material. I would apply the paint by rolling it on, splattering it and even pouring it. At times it would get up to an inch thick. I started to use painter’s drop cloths because they were so much cheaper than canvas. When the paint dried I would even carve back into it to expose the different layers and add linear elements. I would cut the paintings apart and reassemble them in different shapes them using grommets.


I used to spread plastic sheeting on the studio floor under my canvas. If I didn’t do this it would be next to impossible to peel the paintings up from the floor. The overflow paint would spill over the edges and dry. It could be pulled up from the plastic in solid, eccentric pieces. I used to adhere these pieces and parts to paper and illustration board and then embellish them or use them for small studies. I had a friend who peeled up a nice chunk and made it into a necktie to wear to a gallery opening. I learned a lot from these different materials and techniques. I don’t use them much anymore but they are still in the back of my mind. One day, when the time is right, I’m sure that I will slowly pull them out and start using them again.

The top image is a photo of my SF studio back in 1973. You may notice a lack of traditional studio equipment and an ample supple of industrial materials. The next image is one of my paintings from the period. It is done on a length of corrugated cardboard using my homemade paints with various materials (beer, baking soda, sand) mixed into it. The colors are vary soft and muted (pinks, creams, yellows) and percolates its way up the surface. It measures 87” x 36” and is untitled. The next image is a mixed media piece by an artist friend, Ursula Schneider. She used metal, wire, plastic and acrylic paint. It measures 44” x 19” and is titled “BATMAN”. The final piece is by another SF artist, Vincent Lynch. The colors are very earthy and organic. Vincent used yogurt and ketchup along with his paint, let mold grow and then sealed the surface later adding dyes, paints, metal powders, red oxides, fiberglass, pebbles, and rocks. The piece has an 84” diameter and is titled “STONEHENGE 3”.

9 Comments:

Blogger leslyf@gmail.com said...

Hi Ed ....

What a very, very interesting post. As one who has never really 'got her hands dirty' it was a real treat to read about all your 'alternative materials' and methods.

You lived in exciting times in the 1970s!! I suppose that if one starts out with art when young there is no holds barred on experimentation! How staid and boring I feel as a mature started having read this!

A very good post, and thank you.

Hmmm,now where's the tomato ketchup!

5:21 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

Yes, that is really interesting Ed - I wish I had been around at the time to share these experiences. Thank you very much for writing this article of explanation - it's given me food for thought and also encouragement to go further. It also sounds great fun. I think I need a bigger and less pristine studio but even so I am sure there is a lot more I could do.

May I ask why you changed direction? Figurative art seems a long way from this.

Lesly - put age to one side and go for it! That's what I say!

1:19 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

By the way, I will soon be posting a picture I have been working on for a long time that incorporates a lot of dried sea weed!

1:22 AM  
Blogger landscapes said...

Materials, yes.
Interesting post!
I'm new here, and untill now I have only posted 2 pics of my inspiration area: The Horizone Line!

I paint it over and over again.

LOL!!!

10:01 AM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Lesly, Philip is right, put age aside. The artist Barnett Newman started his art career in middle age. I think it was after he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of NYC.

Philip, you are so right, I am a long way from those early years. The change in direction, which has been a process, takes long enough to explain that I think I will make it a post in itself.

Landscape, thanks for stopping by and I am so glad to meet you.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Ed, your posts are always so rich! I could sit and think on this one for a while.

Lesly, once upon a time, I knew a painter who used condiments for his painting.

As you can tell from my attention to certain auto paint finishes, I love industrial materials. It's all fair game for the play of ideas and creative energy, isn't it?

And, like Philip, I am interested in your shift from one very particular type of imagery to another. I look forward to you unspooling the thread of that change for us...

8:15 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

Yes, I can't wait for the next instalment!

Do you have any colour photos of this earlier work Ed? It would be intersting to hear the whole story of what happened.

9:32 AM  
Blogger With Hammer And Tong...The LetterShaper said...

Thouroughly engrossing site you have; as a poet, I found it enriching and inspirational...thank you!

7:13 PM  
Blogger akira said...

i've been buying the bargain latex paint gallons at the hardware store(unclaimed mixed colors).. perhaps with your experience you could comment on whether you see any problems mixing those paints with liquitex and various standard acrylic mediums on a canvas.. i've been looking for advice on that on the web and some people are snobby and say only use stuff from an art store, but so far i haven't noticed any problems.. also i'm mixing in "cartoon color" liquid acrylic paint... thanks for any advice!

5:01 PM  

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