How Innovations in Paint Fueled the Washington Color School Movement
At the height of his career in 1951, Abstract Expressionist
Many came to see that exhibition, but few artists were as inspired by what they saw as the young
A few months later, in the spring of 1953, Greenberg invited figure-ground relationship associated with painting by blurring the boundary between form and surface altogether. Frankenthaler took Pollock’s gestural drips of black paint and transformed them into large, tranquil fields of brilliant color, hence the term “
Determined to explore Frankenthaler’s innovations, Louis and Noland returned to Washington and, along with other members of their circle, began experimenting with this stain-painting technique. But there was one problem: the medium. Oil paint, when thinned down, loses some of its color saturation, resulting in paintings that appear to be slightly washed out. Rather serendipitously, a new paint medium that offered superior color properties to oil had just recently been developed.
Magna—released in 1947 by the artist Leonard Bocour and his nephew, the notable paint chemist Sam Golden—was the first-ever brand of acrylic paints formulated specifically for artists. Forgoing linseed oil for the same synthetic polymer used in Plexiglas, Bocour and Golden created a new class of paint that had many benefits over oil paint: acrylic paint dries faster than oil, it does not yellow because the acrylic resin is as clear as glass when dry, and most importantly, it can be applied thickly with the same consistency as oil paint or thinly with the same consistency as watercolor, all while retaining full color saturation.
Louis and Noland were among the earliest adopters of this new paint, enabling them to create stain-paintings that were all the more saturated than those of Frankenthaler (until 1962, when she switched over to acrylic paints). In 1965, Louis and Noland, as well as Washington Color School.
As for the afterlife of Magna, the brand was ultimately short-lived, as it was replaced by a type of acrylic paint that could be used with water rather than with the organic solvents that Magna required. It is these water-based acrylics that now dominate the fine art paint market today.
—Riad Kherdeen, Genome Team Research Intern