De Wain Valentine, who introduced plastic to art, 1936–2022

De Wain Valentine at Almine Rech, Paris, 2014

De Wain Valentine, often credited as being the first artist to have used plastic as a material, has died. Valentine was part of a group of Californian artists in the 1960s using sleek industrial materials and processes to explore the intersection of op art, minimalism and geometric abstraction.

Born in Colorado, Valentine arrived in Los Angeles in 1965 to teach a course in plastics technology at the University of California. His work was soon included in local group exhibitions including Sculpture Of The 60s at the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art and New Sculpture-Shaped Canvas at California State University. Red Concave Circle, made in 1971, is typical of how his work sought sleek material perfection, but allowed for warmth and mystery within this. At almost 2.5 metres in height, the transparent bowl-like slab of red polyester resin is semi-transparent, both framing the background behind the object and suggesting something akin to a portal. The works in Valentine’s later Grey Column series were more sombre, but no less enigmatic, featuring an obelisk of his trademark material.

Valentine cited the environs of his adopted city as a major influence, telling the Brooklyn Rail in 2019, ‘I was living near the beach in Venice, California in the 1960s and experienced the kind of atmosphere that LA had then as compared to the Colorado atmosphere. The atmosphere in Colorado is so clear you couldn’t see it, but moving to LA in the 1960s the atmosphere was so thick you could cut it, you could take a saw and cut a chair out of and sit on it. These works started with that California sea air. I was living a half block from the beach, so I spent a lot of time looking at it.’

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