Mixed Media

Have you ever been in a museum or art gallery, looking at an oil painting just to discover that in the technical description the work is classified as Mixed Media? An artwork that visually looks just like the oil painting next to it, can actually be made from Mixed Media. So, what exactly does this often mentioned term mean?

According to Tate’s art dictionary, “Mixed media is a term used to describe artworks composed from a combination of different media or materials”, which means several types of paint, varnishes and materials where used in the creation of the work of art. An artwork created from, for example, tempera, oil, felt pen and acrylic on canvas can easily be taken for a painting, but is actually a Mixed Media Work.

If we analyze traditional media like painting or sculpture, we realize that almost all of the works can be also classified as Mixed Media, and over time, the term has been applied to artworks that are sometimes in between techniques or that have more than four materials visible to the viewer.

Img1: Pablo Picasso, Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper 1913. Tate. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2019
Img2: Pink Morro, XXIV, 250gr Colorplan Paper and acrylic on paper
Img3: Christian Gastaldi, Sous le Pont XLII, Torn posters and paper on cardboard

When composing a painting, the artist usually starts on a supporting canvas, followed by an underpainting layer, called imprimatura, that prepares the canvas to the application of paint like acrylic, oil or the paint selected and usually finishes with a protective transparent varnish. A painting therefore is already composed of more than 4 materials, but it is described as an ‘Oil on Canvas’. Something similar happens with Sculptures: the metal or wood is actually only the base of the work that later has to be painted, varnished or treated in order to persist in time.

Today, the term Mixed Media also refers to the use of unknown or unfrequently used materials in an artwork. Mixed Media first appeared as an art style in 1912, when the Great artist Pablo Picasso created the first cubist collages: Following the idea of incorporating everyday objects into art, he started to incorporate parts of newspapers and previously drawn on papers into the creation of his artworks.

Picasso was followed by several artists like Georges Braque and Marcel Duchamp. Mixed Media artworks became more popular and opened a new range of possibilities for artists to apply unusual materials, that have never before been considered as part of an artwork. Thanks to those early pioneers, contemporary artists today incorporate diverse materials into their creations, such as spray paint, poster cut outs, photographs, paper, cardboard, cloth, glass, etc. If we look back on the last 100 years of art history we can see that the opportunities for artists to experiment has dramatically changed and given them so many new opportunities to express themselves, which made Mixed Media art extremally popular in the late 60’s.

Img1: Alejandra de la Torre, Herencias 8, Mixed Media on canvas
Img2: Gerard Torres Sanmartí, Landscape 8, Mixed Media on canvas
Img3: Gerard Torres Sanmartí, Landscape 3, Mixed Media on canvas

Artists today have the possibility to create art with any material they want. However, as collectors or buyers of a Mixed Media artwork, we need to pay close attention to the materials used and ask the gallery or read the descriptions carefully about which materials have been applied and how to best take care of the work. Sometimes, the lack of knowledge about whether the material or structure of the work will last or if it will keep its properties over time, is just part of the experiment.

As a gallery, we recommend framing mixed media works in order to protect them from UV light, dust and abrasion. However, some works can be directly protected if the artist applies a varnish over the final work and thus don’t necessarily need framing.

Mixed Media is an incredibly rich and diverse technique in which contemporary artists apply academic know-how and, at the same time, experiment with a different approach to art and its technical possibilities.

Discover the best mixed media art, curated by our art experts, in our category Mixed Media.