Finish Fetish Chemistry

Gray Column, 1975–76, De Wain Valentine. Polyester resin. © De Wain Valentine

Consider this cultural cocktail: the 1960s and 70s surfing scene in Los Angeles, that era’s emerging aeronautical and chemical industries, plus a splash of flavor from Hollywood and the Beatniks.

The result is a group of artists called the Finish Fetish who produced minimalist sculptures often made from materials newly available in those decades, such as polyester.

Finish Fetish is “extra spit and polish in pop and minimal art plus space age materials.” This description (from Peter Plagens via artdesigncafe) explains the obsession with “finish”…which should not be confused with the Northern European Finnish.

One of the Finish Fetish is an artist called De Wain Valentine. Commercial resin available at the time “wouldn’t allow him to do what he wanted to do–which was to pour really big objects,” says Tom Learner, head of Modern and Contemporary Art Research at the Getty Conservation Institute.

Valentine wanted to create his extremely large sculptures in a single pour of polyester resin because creating the artwork in two steps interfered with the seamless look he was after.

To get over these technical difficulties, Valentine got—well—technical. He started experimenting with ratios of resin ingredients, Learner says, trying to find the perfect balance between catalyst and resin.

“It was all about slowing down the curing time to allow the piece to be a larger volume,” Learner says. Valentine found that “the temperature of the room was really key. The pigment levels were really key. He kept a notebook about proportions and when [a sculpture] failed and cracked he wrote it down. Eventually he came up with a formula that worked.”

Valentine took this formula to a polymer salesman he knew, and thus was born a commercially sold resin called Valentine MasKast, Lerner says. Valentine was then able to produce gigantic pieces such as the Gray Column, which is 12 feet wide and 8 feet high.

The Getty folks recently produced a documentary that “illustrates the extraordinary measures Valentine undertook to develop a material that would enable him to cast colossal pieces, and the efforts needed to achieve their extremely delicate and pristine surfaces,” notes their website.

If you’re near LA on November 2nd, there will be a free screening of the documentary as well as a discussion afterwards with Valentine.

For everyone else: You can check out the book which includes the documentary on DVD.

Incidentally, to get a sense of the awesomeness of Finish Fetish artwork, check out this fantastic slideshow on the NewYorker website.

Author: Sarah Everts

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2 Comments

  1. Very infomative post. I was not familiar with Finish Fetish. Just learned some valuable information, thanks.

  2. That was quite interesting. I’d been absolutely unaware of this until now, but I am not surprised and will definitely check out the embedded links further. Thanks for sharing this.

    I am paying “blog calls” to each @scio12 attendee to say “Hi” and give your blog a shoutout on twitter (I’m @sciencegoddess). I look forward to meeting you in January!