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Monday, May 16 • 8:30am - 9:00am
(Paintings) The Autopoiesis of Acrylic Paint and Monochrome Painting in Montreal

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The object of art, according to anthropologist Tim Ingold, is an emergent autopoietic phenomena of an unfolding. Autopoietic form does not issue from idea, “rather [it] comes into being through the gradual unfolding of that field of forces set up through the active and sensuous engagement of practitioner and material” (Ingold, 1990:84). In short, things are not the product of artistic intentions, but instead a contingent collaboration between artistic intention and material forces. What comes first? Neither; they evolve together. Acrylic paint has a material will, a specificity and an elaborative potential that has enabled generations of artists to create in ways that no other medium would allow. This paper will focus on one iteration of acrylic paint; that produced by the Montreal acrylic paint manufacturing company, Chromatech, owned and operated by Michael Towe between approximately 1979 and 2000, and used by Quebecois monochrome painters, to name a few: Claude Tousignant, Guy Pellerin, Yves Gaucher, Guido Molinari, and Christian Kiopini. With evidence from personal and archived interviews with the artists and paint manufacturers, Chromatech (Montreal) and Tri-Art (Kingston), this paper documents the mutual evolution between acrylic paint and monochrome painting. One would not exist without the other. Importantly, this study begins to document the influence of the small acrylic paint company, Chromatech, and the paintings that contain these paints. Currently the primary conservation issues with acrylic monochromes are handling-related (their smooth, uniform surfaces are nearly completely incapable of recovering from abrasion or cracks from bumping). But the medium is a relatively young one and as highlighted by the CAPS (Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces) workshop series through the Getty, many acrylic conservation issues are only beginning to surface. It is important that we document, when we can, which paintings contain which acrylic polymers, and additionally how artists worked so we know which additives were added. Preemptive archiving, what I have identified as this stage of documentation, is critical to emergency preparedness with regard to the conservation of modern and contemporary art. Furthermore, this study highlights the importance of integrative art historical and art conservation research. The acrylic paint medium allowed certain practices to exist; meanwhile certain cultural and art-making theories compelled a desire for the new medium and thus monochrome and colour-field painting. These painting practices were equally dominant in United States and Canada, but they were expressed and developed somewhat differently. Was it only the art-making cultures that led to the different expressions, or were there particular material-cultural interactions that led to similar, but visually and materially unique national styles?

avatar for Jessica Veevers

Jessica Veevers

Doctoral Student - Art History, Concordia University
Jessica Veevers is a PhD student in the Interuniversity Doctoral Program in Art History at Concordia University. She is a recipient of the Bourse de Doctorat en Recherche du Fonds de Recherche Société et Culture du Quebec, the Concordia University Faculty of Fine Arts Fellowship... Read More →

Monday May 16, 2016 8:30am - 9:00am EDT
Room 710 A