The art of chemistry - The chemistry of almost everything (21/31)

Uploaded by OUlearn on 03.09.2009

The studio of artist Peter Blake.
Blake found fame in the 1960s through art inspired by pop culture.
But he was also inspired by artists of a more distant past.
This is a painting I started almost 30 years ago in the early 1960s.
Originally it had a dark background
and it looked rather like a Holbein painting,
it looked like an old master in a way.
I hope it still looks like a Holbein.
But it has a quality that Holbein couldn't have achieved
because he wouldn't have had the paints available.
Blue would have been a very precious colour.
I could go to an art shop and probably buy 20 different blues.
It's changed the way artists can use colour.
From a limited range of natural pigments,
Holbein created astonishing works of art in the 16th century.
But Holbein and his contemporaries had to deal with one notable problem,
the colour blue,
ground from the gemstone lapis lazuli to make ultramarine.
He used it very sparingly. It would have been expensive.
This is a tube I bought. It cost £9 at least 30 years ago
and I was frightened of using it, it was so expensive.
So Holbein must have rather felt that too,
that he would have used it very carefully.
Not only was it very expensive, it's not even a particularly nice colour.
It's strange that it costs so much
and it's made from a very valuable gem
and just produces such a dull colour.
Lapis lazuli was the only stable blue pigment for centuries
until in 1828 chemists created a synthetic ultramarine.
Its effect on art was profound.
Suddenly it's used very freely.
Suddenly it's not a precious colour anymore, it's freely available
and it's used very much in a different way.
Obviously Marley had no thought of the cost of it as he squeezed out
probably a whole tube of paint without even thinking.
Suddenly it was much more available.
And if art had been liberated by synthetic pigments,
a whole new world opened up
when chemistry created a new form of paint altogether.
In the 1960s painters discovered acrylics.
You could use it very thickly like oil paint.
You could use it very thinly like watercolour.
It dried almost instantly. You could glaze within minutes.
So it changed the way everybody worked.
And someone like Hockney,
this is an enormous picture. This is 'A Bigger Splash'.
It's about the colour blue.
It's about using blue. It's about the California sky,
the blue of a swimming pool.
The acrylics have made a kind of painting
that looks completely different,
that only could have been painted in acrylics.