Exploring new materials. Using Polythene as paint.

Coloured polythene tubing.

Canvas created using commercial polythene and heat sealing gun.

I purchased 30 metres of commercial roll polythene from a trade supplier in Birmingham in a variety of colours. I wasn't quiet sure what at this time I might be using the materials for but I was initially attracted by the density of the colours and their shine. These features reminded me in some ways of the saturated Ellsworth Kelly paintings I had been looking at and also the bright inventive industrial material sculptures being made by Gary Webb an artist whom I will post a piece about later in my blog.

I had wanted to explore the use of industrial materials like polythene and Perspex in this final project but I had no direct experience of how these materials could be worked with or to what extent they could be manipulated. I visited the Polythene distributor and whilst there I also purchased a heat sealing gun which was used traditionally to shrink wrap products. I saw some potential in perhaps using this as a way to heat and manipulate the polythene but I assumed that perhaps it would simply melt rather than adhere to perhaps a sculpture or canvas. I also purchased some denser polythene at 1000gsm the coloured polythene was only 250gsm. This denser white polythene was used in building projects as a membrane and it was fire retardant. I felt perhaps I might be able to heat the lighter polythene onto the heavier and see if it would form a bond.

The above melted polythene painting is the result. This was my first attempt at seeing if I could almost paint with these vibrant polythene colours utilising a heat sealant gun to melt the surface just enough so that it became pliable and it could then be pulled and stretched to form coloured streaks of plastic. I kept in mind the idea of 'Ways of Seeing' and I was using the principle of taking materials and as perceiving a different use for them. This fitted with a lot of the artists I was looking at who were repurposing things and making something else from them. In this case I was doing something other than that but indirectly there was a link with the previous artists I had already discussed in my blog.

The motivation for the piece was to try and craft an eye shape in the upper centre and to then build around it this theme of colours running to reflect a sense of visual distortion. It took many days and several canvases to find a way of shaping the plastic and attaching the bits one had melted to the previous ones without ruining what had been laid down before. The polythene had to be worked with quickly as it cooled rapidly and could not be reheated without destroying the original shapes one had formed.

This was not a successful piece of art but for me it was about exploring the potentiality of materials by using them in ways other than those they were deisigned for. The idea worked overall but would need a lot of refinement in order to be able to shape the polythene as easily as one might use a brush. Of course the unique element of this is that it isn't a brush and thus any images this method would create will have their own specific signature. It may suit both formal abstraction in conjunction with paint and other materials as well as abstract expressionism if the intrinsic balance of the piece works on the canvas. I found the idea of attaching a lighter weight polythene to a denser polythene which covered the canvas frame and was then stapled to it was a really good method of working.

I didn't feel this was how I wanted to present my final project but I again enjoyed playing with painting as a form and seeing what else I might come up with. I discovered that if one burns polythene as opposed to just melting it so it is flexible the gases produced are toxic. The skill came in being patient with the material and in using the heat sealing gun on the lowest temperature. After the 3rd day of working with the polythene I purchased a robust breathing mask that acted as an appropriate barrier to any fumes.

 

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