Attendees of “Flock to the Museum” at the Otter Tail County Historical Society Museum may have noticed an especially colorful exhibit titled “Accidental Art and Haiku.” A number of abstract pieces are on display, eliciting images of oil slicks, sea foam or the surface of gaseous planets, all created with a unique technique Pelican Rapids-based artist Kate Andrews calls fluid acrylics or accidental painting.
“There was a mural artist back in the ‘30s who used acrylic paint and discovered that, because of the weight of the paint, that one color reacted with a different color,” explains Andrews, speaking about the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, who discovered the technique. “For example, black and white: White is much heavier than black is, so if you would pour white on top of black, the white would sink through the black and create patterns in the paint. That’s basically how it started, letting the paint do some of the work itself.”
In the last few years, the technique has reemerged as an art form, with people experimenting with different ways to change the viscosity of the paint, different ways of applying the paint, using paints with different opacities-- “This has been referred to as the joining of art and physics,” says the introduction to Andrews’ exhibit.
Andrews learned of the technique three years ago. “I discovered it when I was looking on YouTube trying to find methods for painting a silk scarf, and I ran across this and was just fascinated by it and it wasn’t long before I got out and started buying supplies for it,” she says. “I applied for a startup grant from the Lake Region Arts Council and received that and was able to really buy more canvases and more paint.” The grant, funded by the McKnight Foundation, allowed her to explore the technique, testing different paints, additives and formats without worrying about the cost of materials. This particular technique can be costly due to the amount of paint required.
Andrews calls it accidental painting because the artist can only control so much of how the end product looks: “It’s putting the paints together and then watching what happens with it, and encouraging it to do things you want it to do,” she says. “You don’t use a paintbrush, you don’t usually put your hand in the paint, although some people will a little bit, mostly it’s tipping, tilting, blowing in order to get the paint to do different things.” The technique, generally, involves layering paint in a cup and then pouring it out onto the canvas, then using different techniques to move the pools of paint around the canvas. Some people blow on the paint themselves, others use blow dryers, some add silicon or alcohol to the paint, there are all kinds of experimentation with techniques to see what can be accomplished.
Although this is the biggest show she’s ever done, Andrews isn’t new to the art world. A retired psychologist and occupational therapist, she frequently used arts and crafts in her work. “Creation has been a part of my life the whole time. I’m also from a family that is very creative,” she says. Her father, Budd Andrews, is a well-known woodworking artist in Pelican Rapids, and her mother has also worked in art.
Alongside the paintings at Kate’s exhibit are haiku she has written in lieu of painting titles. “This art is very difficult to title because everybody sees something different in it. So, to me, doing some haiku on the kind of feeling I got from the painting kind of fit with that,” she says. “I look at the different colors, one of them I did has some orange in it and darks, it was the same time that the Hawaiian volcano was going so that’s what the haiku was about. Some are kind of Viking themed, the purple and gold, from the time when the Vikings were doing really well.” One of her Vikings haiku reads, “Purple and Gold are / Minnesota colors that / Demand ovation.”
Not everything in the exhibit is canvas; there are a couple of objects scattered around as well, wooden stars and pine trees, letters and the shape of Minnesota are all painted in the dripping, flowing style of fluid acrylics. Most of the objects were painted with the extra paint from other projects, but Kate says the shapes of Minnesota were painted intentionally because she is very passionate about her home state.
Kate will be holding an artist talk at the OTCHS Museum on Saturday at 11 a.m. as part of their “Flock to the Museum” event so admission is free. “I’m going to talk about the history of the technique, and I’m going to talk about individual paintings and how they were put together, how they’re poured, I’m going to talk about how to mix it in a cup.” She won’t be doing a demonstration, but will be explaining the process for people who want to try it at home.