Artworks are cultural achievements but often also achievements of science and engineering. It's easy to forget, for instance, that Impressionism's impulse to take to the countryside to paint in the open air owes a great debt to Winsor & Newton and other paint technicians developing portable paint tubes, allowing artists to forgo the hours of grinding and mixing raw pigment and allowing for on-location experimentation. Slow and studied became quick and spontaneous.
In Los Angeles, what Winsor & Newton was to Impressionism, Hastings Plastics was to the Light and Space movement, considered by many to be Southern California's great contribution to art history. Light and Space worked with new, space-age materials to channel the natural beauty of the ocean and desert into art, and these materials, more often than not, came from Hastings. Sadly, the store, on Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica, has closed its doors to make way for the Exposition Line of the Los Angeles Metro.
More than a store, Hastings quietly operated in Santa Monica for 55 years as an innovator and, most importantly, a collaborator with the local art, sports and movie communities. Without Hastings, resin and plastic sculptures, sharp shines on hot rods and difficult-to-fabricate plastic movie props would be unthinkable. “If you worked on surfboards or art or anything with plastics or resin,” says Tom Lerner, senior scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute, “you knew about Hastings.”
Opened by Norry Hastings, a founding member of the Southern California Society of Plastics Engineers and a World War II veteran, Hastings Plastic facilitated and often developed materials according to the dreams of its clients. Peter Alexander, Judy Chicago, Doug Edge, Fred Eversley, Craig Kauffman, Terry O'Shea, Helen Pashgian, Joe Ray and VASA are just some of the artists who mined Hastings for information and guidance. Hastings helped artists to accomplish what was thought impossible.
The store's service perhaps can best be seen in the work of DeWain Valentine. Inspired by L.A.'s coastlines and sunsets, Valentine approached Hastings in the mid-1960s, saying he wanted to cast large-scale sculptures out of resin. Hastings' answer was not that resin (in nature, tree sap or amber) is notoriously difficult to use in large quantities, or that it cracks while drying under even the best circumstances. Instead, Hastings helped Valentine, in conjunction with PPG Plastics, to develop not only a new resin but a new technique for drying. Evidence of this transaction is now on display at the Getty in Valentine's Grey Column from 1975-76, a monumental resin descendant of those mid-'60s experiments.
Hastings' closing, even now, sent a shock wave through the art community — the store helped the young and upcoming with as much gusto as it put into helping the famous and well-funded. “These types of places, when they go away, don't come back,” says Damon Cardwell, gallerist and former prop man for the entertainment industry. “It is like losing a great esoteric hardware store.”
When Edge, Chicago and Valentine approached Hastings in 1972 about funding a show at CalArts, now famously known as “The Last Plastics Show,” Hastings not only funded the show and its catalog but also insisted on putting out a general call for submissions, opening the exhibition to newcomers who were not known on the art scene at the time.
“Norry was very involved,” Edge says, “and we got all our material from Hastings.” When asked how Hastings evolved over time, Edge adds, “It stayed exactly the same: innovative.”