What is Atl Color?
Above is a painting I recently acquired by Dr. Atl. I have a client who’s been asking about certain things inside the painting that concern him.
Mounted on Board
The paintings in great condition, the colors are quite beautiful and fresh. The painting was executed circa 1928 and it incorporates what we call a Atl color, which refers to the petroleum based-paints created by Dr. Atl.
Here you can see he’s painted on this paper and mounted it onto wood. He’s sealed the paper so that no acids from the board will seep into the paint and damage it, this technique was common in the 19th century.
The color of the paper looks kind of golden because he painted the whole sheet of paper this color. The reason he’s done this is because when an artist works on a white sheet of paper it’s very difficult to see the colors and how they work together, because there’s too much contrast with the white. To create harmony with the colors of the paint, many artists start off with a darker and almost neutral base; that’s what Dr. Atl has done here. But, he hasn’t completely painted over the original base, he’s allowed some of the paper to also show through, which gives the effect of a sunset or sunrise.
Now what my client was asking about are these strange blots that almost look like watermarks throughout the piece. He thought they might be water damage, caused by water spilling onto the painting, but since he’s used a petrol- plastic based paint, water cannot really affect it in that way.
The reason for these blots that look like watermarks are because used more paint thinners in these areas, similar to the effect of adding water to watercolor pigment that will spread out the paint and create little rings when it dries. So this is part of the painting, nothing has been spilled on it afterwards it was created, it hasn’t been damaged.
In other places, like the top right corner of the piece, you can actually see texture, and if you notice there are no little ringlets that look like water. This is because the paint here is thicker, so it’s not drying and bleeding out like a watercolor. These techniques make it a very lovely and loose painting, very atmospheric and rich in texture.
Breaking Away from Traditional Painting
Dr. Atl was the one that really broke away from academic painting (although some of the techniques to use for academic), he lived and worked in Paris for a long time and adapted various non-traditional styles of painting. In the top right corner he uses a more impressionistic style, moving his brush quickly to create the atmosphere of clouds moving in the sky.
As I’ve mentioned, he made his own paints called Atl Color, the formula he was quite secretive about. Today there are probably people who know how they were made, with modern scientific techniques you can run an analysis on the paint to figure out its chemical composition, but at the time, the time no one knew how he put it all together.
David Alfaro Siqueros also used a lot of petro-plastic mediums. Atl was was a big influence on people like Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orosco and Siqueros because he brought a lot of ideas that were happening in Europe back to Mexico and broke away from the tradition artistic norms; for example instead of painting in the studio he would go outdoors and paint, and he would experiment with his own techniques instead of copying the old masters.
Volcanoes in the Valley of Mexico
This is a painting of the valley of Mexico, which he’s famous for painting. And his most famous paintings are of volcanoes erupting, you may have seen these paintings, often with oranges, and fire, and ash coming from volcanoes, using very expressive brush Strokes. This partifular image, my friend told me (who lives in Mexico), is one of the volcanoes from the Valley of Mexico. The volcano is not active right now.
I’ve seen many volcanoes like this when I fly up from Oaxaca to Mexico City, or drive from Mexico City to Puebla. Last time I went to Pueblo I saw two different volcanoes with plumes of smoke coming out of them. They always remind me of Dr. Atl.