The artist DeWain Valentine defied the art industry — and his mother — by creating works of art out of plastics and polyester. Fellow artists ‘poo-poo’d’ making real art out of plastic and his mother worried about the fumes and the stink caused by the cooking of the plastics. But Valentine persevered and has become one of the most famous contemporary art sculptors in the United States. In an interview with Tom Learner (a head of modern and contemporary art research) for the National Gallery of Art, Valentine explains how the chemicals are mixed, catalysts are added, the resins are baked and the plastics are cooked in order for him to create the perfect sculpture.
He had many failures and broken pieces so he had to keep experimenting with the recipe. (Unfortunately, at that time he didn’t have access to handheld XRF analyzers and FT-IR instruments to do failure analysis on the polymer and plastic pieces.)
You can see Valentine’s collections of plastic and polyester resin work in museums and galleries across the United States. The Getty Center Museum website has a photo of Valentine in front of one of his most famous pieces — Gray Column — in 1975–76, during the polishing stage. The Getty Center also described Valentine as “an early pioneer of using industrial plastics and resin to produce monumental sculptures that reflect and distort the light and space that surround them. His contribution to the plastics industry made him stand out from his contemporaries working in these materials: Valentine developed a modified polyester resin so that he could cast colossal objects in a single pour, the material being sold as Valentine MasKast resin.”
His work adds more meaning to the phrase “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Listen to the National Gallery of Art audio interview of De Wain Valentine.