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Airbrushing Art

110 artworks, 22 artists
Aerographics or airbrushing is a technique for applying a pattern to a surface using a special device — an airbrush. Artists use liquid or powder paints sprayed under pressure. The art of airbrushing is very impressive, but it requires basic drawing skills and the ability to handle an airbrush. The images which are created with this technique are often used to decorate cars and motorcycles. Airbrushing is used in modelling, creation of frescoes, textile design, printing, painting toys, glass and ceramics. There are also a number of street artists who work with spray paints to create interesting “space paintings”.

The main distinguishing feature of airbrushing is its ability to create smooth colour transitions, add volume to drawings, and achieve photographic accuracy of the image. Paints are applied to a specially prepared surface and later fixed with varnish. Thanks to the fine spray, artists can achieve depth and texture unachievable with a regular brush.

The first experiments in aerographics were undertaken by the people back in the Paleolithic era. Ancient artists used tubular bone or thick straw through which paint was blown onto the cave walls using their own palm as a stencil. The modern history of airbrushing began only in the 19th century, when the American Francis Edgar Stanley created a device for colouring and retouching photographs. It was perfected by the jeweller Abner Peeler who connected the device to a hand compressor. According to Peeler, his invention could be used for watercolour painting. Three years later, he sold the patent to the Liberty Walkup Company, and in the autumn of 1884 the first 63 airbrushes were sold to photographers. Somewhat later, the device was improved, now the flow of air and paint could be adjusted with one button and with one hand. The first artist to use airbrushing in painting was the American impressionist Wilson Irvine.

Only in 1893 did the airbrush come to Europe. In 1900, Charles Bredick found the Aerograph company, which made products very similar to the present-day airbrushes. Aerographs began to be used in industry; for example, they were used to apply patterns onto Singer sewing machines and fabrics. Several years later, Man Ray, one of the founding fathers of Dadaism, became absorbed by the airbrushing technique and hewidely used it in his works, which he showed at the exhibition in Paris in 1920. Critics met the innovation with hostility, calling Man Ray’s innovation “the devaluation of painting through a mechanical apparatus”.

The airbrush was used to create posters, illustrations and placards. For example, artist and designer Lyudmila Mayakovskaya, the sister of a famous Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, is known to have helped her brother with the posters for ROSTA Windows when she used her airbrush. Mayakovskaya was the head of the airbrushing shop of the Moscow Trekhgornaya Manufactory, where the “air brush” technique was used to create new methods of fabric decoration. Later in the USSR, with the help of an airbrush, they retouched photographs of Soviet party leaders by removing the unwanted people from photographs.

In the mid-1930s, the first drawings appeared on the car hoods — eagles, horses, flames. Race cars were airbrushed with the sponsor logos and the trophies the car had won. The artists improved their technique, which brought birds and animals to the car sides and hoods, which looked very naturalistic. In the 1950s, airbrushing came to pin-up. The artist Alberto Vargas, who gained his popularity during the Second World War with his drawings of half-naked girls for the Esquire magazine, was especially fond of it. His mastery of airbrushing was immortalized in history with the Vargas Award, which is awarded annually by the prestigious Airbrush Action Magazine.

In the 1960s, the airbrush was used by the pop art representatives — Andy Warhol, Allen Jones, Peter Phillips. At the 1972 Paris Biennale, “realism brought to perfection” became one of the main events of the exhibition: airbrushing gained its recognition and its place in the world of fine arts.

Artists who used airbrushing:
Wilson Irvine, Man Ray, Lyudmila Mayakovskaya, Jackson Pollock, Alberto Vargas, George Petty, Andy Warhol, Allen Jones, Peter Phillips, Ilnur Mansurov, Boris Kudryashov, Aydar Valeev.