What’s common between a 20th century Spanish muralist, the principles of fluid dynamics, and a bunch of mixed media artists in Mumbai? They’re all connected by the fascinating and beautiful ways in which fluids move. In the 1930s, a serendipitous sequence of events led artist David Alfaro Sequeiros to invent what he called an ‘accidental painting’. He had been experimenting in his studio, pouring different coloured paints onto a wooden panel, allowing them to spread, coalesce, and infiltrate one another. He was fascinated by the results.
Sequeiros wasn’t happy to let it remain accidental and wanted to understand how such beauty came to be. He wrote about it at length to his art critic girlfriend, Sandra Zetina, who then asked Roberto Zenit, a physicist friend, to help understand the science behind this art form. Measures of viscosity, pigment density, and instability were used to cast into words the ethereality, uncontrollability and inherent beauty of this technique that we today call ‘fluid art’.
Fluidity and form
Simply put, fluid art is the pouring of liquid or viscous materials on to a surface and allowing them to form various patterns. These could be acrylic paint, resin or epoxy, with one or more being used in a work of art. As these fluids mix, their respective densities determine their general movement and the artist only has partial control over the outcome. A piece is finished only after it has been thoroughly dried, cut, buffed and polished. There is no telling how exactly a piece will turn out and there’s definitely no way of making an exact replica again. It is perhaps this unpredictability that draws artists to this technique.
The rise of resin
Resin, in particular, seems to be rising in popularity because of its delicate yet sturdy aesthetic. Resin is found in nature (think tree gum) or can be manufactured synthetically. It is viscous in nature, and has been traditionally used in industries manufacturing paints and varnishes. However, in the recent years, artists have had access to ArtResin – a specially manufactured, less harmful version meant for artistic purposes.
Resin artist, Abhighna Kedia explains, “The resin in art comes originally from Australia. Over the years, artists have tried to source or develop a material that had less of the toxic properties and was safer to use. The material now lends itself to colour and texture but factors like light and temperature play an important role while working with it. Also, dust and other irritants also pose a problem during the setting process so a controlled environment is integral to the process.”
Its glass-like lustre and plastic-like composition is what makes resin both, attractive and versatile. It is as suitable for fluid art as it is for definitive structural pieces. From sculpture to furniture, from jewellery to wall art, resin is being used in inventive ways.
The art of unfitting
Resin is still something of an outsider in the elite art materials’ club with its humble industrial origins. It comes with none of the gravitas of oil paint or the highbrowness of say, marble. But it’s catching up soon. Whether as Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Water Tower’ (1998) on the MoMA terrace, Mitch Gobel’s abstracts, or Riusuke Fukahori’s goldfish bowls, resin has been the choice of material for many memorable pieces of contemporary art.
Closer home, artists like Abhigna Kedia, Kalpesh Solanki, Krishna Tolia and Aarthi Goyal are pushing the boundaries of their art practice with resin. Tolia, 25, started experimenting with the medium after she quit her full-time job in 2017. Since resin art is still new, she had to teach herself to tame this wilful material. Today, she undertakes commissions for resin-based artwork, home decor – coasters, trays, name plates, magnets, and jewellery – like earrings, cuffs, and necklaces.
It is neither an easy nor a popular medium, but perhaps the greatest joy for these artists is in creating, to use Sequeiros’ term, one ‘accidental painting’ after another.
Abhigna Kedia’s solo show, The Dance of the Elements is ongoing at the Jehangir Art Gallery, until September 29, 2019.