Acrylic Paintings

History of Acrylic Paintings

The formation of the commercial acrylic paint we think of today spanned over several decades. In the early 1900s, a German chemist named Otto Rohm experimented with an acrylic compound and patented its use as a paint binder in industrial paints, lacquers, and oils. In the 1920s and throughout the 1930s, painters began to experiment with the new medium to create large-scale acrylic paintings. Works Progress Administration mural artists worked with these synthetic pigments, and Mexican muralist David Siqueiros even held a workshop to teach other artists, Jackson Pollock among them, how to use the paint. By the 1940s, mineral-based acrylic paint was packaged and commercially sold under the brand Magna. As formulas and techniques changed, water-based acrylic paints were also on the market in 1955. Acrylic paints became a favorite among artists in the abstract expressionist, pop, and photorealist movements.

Acrylic Paintings Techniques

Although acrylic painting did not take off until the 1940s, artists have formed a plethora of techniques for the versatile medium. Acrylic artists who created paintings in the abstract expressionist, pop, and photorealist styles often relied on the new medium’s ability to create sharp lines and flat images. By adding different amounts of water to the paint, artists are able to create various consistencies approaching the transparent quality of watercolors on one hand and thick opaque shades on the other. Similarly, sand and other small foreign objects can be mixed to achieve a range of textures and thicknesses. As with oil painting, acrylic canvas paintings can also be layered with thick squeezes of paint in a traditional impasto style. Some Surrealist painters even scraped wet acrylic paint off their canvases in a technique known as grattage. Acrylic’s versatility inspired many artists to mix several media, including oil paint, pencil, and silkscreen ink, on a variety of surfaces ranging from paper to linen.

Artists Known For Acrylic Paintings

Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, famous for holding an acrylic workshop in the paint’s pioneer days, used the medium for large-scale works like the grotesque, surrealist “Echo of a Scream” (1937). Pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol used the paint to create more vivid compositions. Lichtenstein’s oil and acrylic canvas paintings “Little Big Painting” (1965) and “Hopeless” (1963) and Warhol’s acrylic flower paintings series “Flowers” (1964) demonstrate the pigment’s versatility. Both artists combined it with other media, including oil paint, pencil, and silkscreen ink. Warhol is also well known for his acrylic masterpiece “Marilyn Diptych” (1962). Tom Wesselmann similarly combined acrylic with cardboard to create his kitschy still lifes like “Still Life #28” (1963). Famous abstract acrylic painters include Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Nolan, and Morris Louis. Louis was a pioneer in using Magna brand acrylic paint for his colorful paintings such as ““Alpha-Pi” (1960) and “Beta-Lambda” (1961). Other artists who worked with acrylic paint include David Hockney, Robert Motherwell, Larry Poons, Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Helen Frankenthaler, Bridget Riley, James Rosenquist, and John Baldessari.