This will be about my views on what it takes to put a three dimensional world onto a two dimensional surface. With a lot of digressing.
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May 14, 2009


I hung around my high school art room so persistently that my art teacher eventually gave me an old tin box full of oil paint. I think it had been his, and I hope it was an extra. His name, if I remember, was Sydney Gross. I was 13 or 14. As a result oils became my medium of choice until 1953 or so when I was introduced to the new acrylic paint at a class I signed up for.
It was developed by Leonard Bocour and his nephew and partner, Sam Golden, and called Bocours "Aquatec".
A few of the New York School of painters were using what was then called "latex" house paint because it was cheap and pourable. Jackson Pollock was said to have bought cans of unlabeled house paint on Canal St, and paint doesn't come much cheaper than that. (I'm pretty sure, however, that he used a thinned oil based enamel.)
(There has never been latex in latex paint.)
One of the first painters to pour acrylic paint onto unprimed canvas, then proceed to manipulate the flow and saturation, was Helen Frankenthaler. She had been a water colorist, so staining the canvas suited her.
This modus operandi became the trademark style of Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland who made no secret of being influenced by her.

Helen Frankenthaler 1958

Morris Louis 1960 This canvas measures 8 ft x 14 ft!
Courtesy of MOMA
The fast drying and brilliant colors of acrylics changed the way some artists worked, such as the ability to do hard-edge and color field painting as well as pouring and dripping. Which was a spinoff of the early surrealist movement.
A plus was the fact that acrylic resin serves as its own sealer/primer, and won't eventually rot the unprimed canvas as oil base paint does.

It took some getting used to, and still does if you've always worked in another medium. Bocours' acrylic paint was thick, and came in jars.
I was initially frustrated by the gloss and viscosity, but happy that it was much harder to end up with a mud color, which was the tendency to mix a lot of very expensive colors on the canvas, and end up with blech.
I learned to thin the paint with water and leave the top off for several days, with an occasional stir.
I'm not sure why that should cut the gloss, but it did.
Happily for me, Sam Golden retired from Bocour Paints, then opened his own line of fluid acylics, then added matte fluids and a host of other goodies.


  1. Thanks for the great art history lessons. This Morris Louis piece has always been one of my favorites. Seems I heard that some of the 'paints' he used were extremely toxic, and may have led to his early demise? Sounds more like some of the toxic silk screen inks we used in a billboard plant (early job out of art school); full of keytone, acetone, toulol, poly vinyl chlorides. Yummy stuff.

  2. As far as I know his death had nothing to do with his paint. Don't forget that those guys smoked like chimneys, and if anyone should have died of fumes it should have been Jackson Pollock. But he hit a tree.So there ya go.
    Acrylics are pretty safe if you don't drink them.Some silk screen inks are lacquer based however, and the solvents are deadly stuff.
    Sculptors that use rhoplex have to be very careful as well.