Who knows of what the super elastic bubble plastic was made? That’s the point really. Silly putty is a similar conundrum, although,
I think it contained silicone. Better living through chemistry, right? Maybe, not so fast. Today, we have Bucky Balls of small polyethylene spheres called micro beads. They are ubiquitous in the environment and we have the forever chemicals like the Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Manufacturers love the stuff for everything from fast food packaging to fireproof and stain resistant fabric. It’s in you, it’s in your cat, it’s in your baby. Plastics are found in everything in the living food chain now, fish... all the way down to the bottom of deep sea trenches. It will likely never go away... it might get sedimented over in time and sealed away under sand like so many fossils, only to become a layer in some rock tectonic plate churned up a few million years from now.
I infer from the current science that we won’t be around as a species by then, though. I read an article recently that the human fertility rate has dropped 50%. The insect population has dropped 50% or more species, too, and the number of wild animals is dropping at an alarming rate. We are in a mass extinction brought about by human activity. Some of it is due to habitat loss, and in some cases like our own, climate change and hormone interruption from chemicals.
As an artist, I’m concerned about the sustainability and archival quality of my practice. I paint with toxic chemicals and heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and cobalt, not to mention clean up with volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) distilled from petroleum. While all of those pose hazards to me directly (causes cancer in the state of California), it also has implications for the environment.
I was doing some light YouTube research on fabric supports (canvas) and learned about cotton, hemp, linen and polyester. There are many possibilities out there and I learned some great stuff, like hemp was used long before cotton became a thing, like even in the colonies, sails for ships were made of it, before cotton. The invention of the cotton gin pretty much sealed the fate of hemp and for whatever political reason it became illegal to grow hemp in the US at least, probably to protect the cotton industry. And, I had always just assumed linen was a form of cotton. It’s not, it’s from the flax plant, the same plant that I get linseed oil from to make oil paint. Don’t ask me why flax seeds all of a sudden become linseed oil (probably a language thing like old Dutch). Linseed oil is a drying oil... it dries by oxidation.
I’m supposed to keep these posts short, so, linen has the smallest carbon footprint, requires little water.. blah, blah. But it’s organic. It can rot or be eaten by bugs and mold. Polyester canvas is the holy grail of archival flexible painting supports. It lasts “forever.” It is also in the environment as pollution, everywhere, every living thing, except maybe mold. We are not sure if mold is a plant or an animal, but that’s irrelevant.
Copper and aluminum panels are also ‘the shit’ to paint on these days, full circle the Dutch painted on that in the Renaissance. But copper mining is not good for the Amazon rain forest. I’ll conclude by saying that there are artists foraging, using, and interested in sustainable painting practices. I posted in FB group about my opinion that polyester may be forever, but I’ll probably choose to paint on organic linen or hemp glued to bamboo. The post was not received well.
And, then there is the whole glue thing... polyvinyl acetate (PVA)... I’m glad we don’t kill rabbits for rabbit skin gesso anymore, but there are some fish skin glues, and I would imagine other less archival mastics like pine tars, resins, or casein made from milk that absorb water, expand and contract with temperature and humidity and make the paint crack... but I haven’t resolved that question, yet.