GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 70-3
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-5:30 PM


DICKERSON, Robert P., Stoller Newport News Nuclear Corp., 105 Technology Drive, Suite 190, Broomfield, CO 80021 and FORTNER, Pamela S., SYNC Gallery, 931 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO 80204,

Inorganic mineral-based pigments have been used for cave paintings and rock art dating back 40 Ka (and possibly as far back as 100 Ka in Blombos Cave, South Africa). Although mineral-based pigments remained a stable component in both ancient and renaissance art, they fell out of favor with the invention of chemical-based pigments in the mid-19th century. However, during the last 20 years, mineral-based pigments have regained popularity.  Ancestral indigenous artists used ochre (clay + Fe oxides and hydroxides) for red and yellow, azurite and malachite for green and blue, calcite, gypsum, and diatomaceous earth for white, and charcoal for black. To this list contemporary artists have added over 30 minerals including amethyst, turquoise, and mica. Ancestral artists traditionally used water, saliva, oil, and fats as binders for their pigments whereas contemporary artists are adding linseed oil, wax, resins, Gum Arabic, and commercial acrylic products to their pigments.  Indigenous artists closely guard the knowledge of where they procure mineral-based pigments due to the importance of these materials for ceremonial and artistic purposes. As such, many contemporary artists develop their own procurement sites for these pigments. For instance, red and yellowish-red ochre can be procured from the lateritic soils of North Carolina. Purple, lavender, reddish-brown, reddish-grey, yellowish-grey, greenish-grey, light grey, and dark grey pigments have been procured from exposures of the variegated mudstone of the Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation, the Mancos Shale, the Summerville Formation, and the Chinle Formation in Colorado and Utah. These pigments are ground to fine powder and mixed with a binder to create paint. Mineral-based pigments with a greater silica component contain more grit and create a more textural result. Very finely ground muscovite is being added to artists’ paints to create an opalescent effect. The use of mineral-based pigments by contemporary artists in modern art is a growing movement that expands upon a tradition as old as art itself.