The History of Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is now a popular material widely used in the art world due to its many positive qualities, as it is affordable, non-toxic, water based and quick-drying. However it is a relatively new painting medium, in comparison to oil or watercolour paints. It is widely recognised that the compounds for acrylic paint were first discovered by German chemist Otto Rohm, the acrylic resin was then transformed into acrylic paint. Another pivotal person in the development of acrylic paint is Sam Golden who in 1947 first developed Magna paint, the world’s first artist acrylic paint. This paint was initially used for painting houses as well as military vehicles due to the very fast drying time and was initially dismissed by the arts community due to its high levels of viscosity. Indeed it wouldn’t be until later on during the pop era movement in the 1960’s acrylic paint became particular popular amongst renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein.

Shot Marilyns, Andy Warhol, 44 cm × 289.56 cm (80.88 in × 114.00 in), Acrylic Paint on Canvas, 1962

Andy Warhol used acrylic paints as well as other artist materials during his productions of screen prints and paintings. Due to the quick drying time of the paint it meant that bright bold colours and crisp lines were easily achievable. This can be seen in Warhol’s works portraying Marilyn Monroe, as well as his other collection paintings of household objects such as the Campbell Soup Cans.

A Bigger Splash 1967 David Hockney born 1937 Purchased 1981

Another artist, well known for their use of acrylic paint is David Hockney, one of his most iconic works, ‘A Bigger Splash’, similarly to the work of Warhol demonstrates the paint’s ability to provide bright vivd colour, coupled with quite flat surface levels. Due to the fast drying time of the acrylic paint, Hockney could paint large areas with swathes of colour without the need to wait for the layers to dry.

Roy Lichtenstein’s”Whaam!,” 1963. Magna and oil on canvas.
(Art Institute of Chicago)

Finally a third example of an artist often using acrylic paint in their art is Roy Lichtentstein, another staple artist in the pop art movement, Lichtenstien used a combination of both Magna Acrylic along with oils to create his visually striking paintings.

Manet, By Genieve Figgis
23″ x 31″
Acrylic on canvas

As time has moved on and acrylic paint has become more normalised in the art world, it has been used and applied in different ways. For example Genieve Figgis uses thick bright acrylic colour to reimagine classical paintings by famous artists who would ordinarily use oil paint as their painting medium, as we can see in the above example ‘Manet’.

Neurotin, By Henny Acloque, 2015, Acrylic on board,40x50cm

Next, I have chosen another contemporary artist, Henny Acloque who likes to balance their paintings between the historical/classical style of painting and the modern. In ‘Neurotin’ we can see quite a traditional use of colour that could be mistaken for an oil painted landscape of sorts, with quite fluid motions of paint, which is juxtaposed with these quite striking symbols and shapes of colour.

Open Wide, By Mindy Lee, acrylic on cotton handkerchief (2019)

Lastly for my final example I wanted to illustrate the artists who are pushing the boundaries even more with acrylic paint and exploring different objects to paint upon. Due to the nature of acrylic being water soluble, non toxic and quick drying, it can easily be applied to a variety of surfaces. Furthermore by watering down the paint it can also take on a more watercolour-like consistency. As we can see here in ‘Open Wide’ by Mindy Lee, she has watered down the paint to create a more translucent paint and used a handkerchief to paint upon, depicting a scene which shows what appears to be a child having their teeth checked and brushed. The handkerchief itself could even be used afterwards to clean any spills on the child’s face. This ability to paint on a variety of surfaces allows artists to become even more experimental in their approach and subject matter.

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