20 Famous Acrylic Paintings from Top Artists

By Milan Art Institute on July 3, 2024
20 Famous Acrylic Paintings from Top Artists

Acrylic paint, developed in the 1940s, was initially used in industrial applications before its potential for fine art was realized. By the 1950s, acrylic paints became available to artists, offering quick drying times and vibrant colors making them popular for various techniques and styles. Acrylic paint brushes were designed to handle the medium's thickness and quick-drying nature. The best acrylic brushes come in various shapes and sizes—flat, round, filbert, and fan; each providing different strokes and effects suitable for many techniques.

To enhance the flexibility of acrylic paints, various mediums have been developed. Gel mediums thicken the paint for texture and three-dimensional effects, while matte and gloss mediums adjust the paint's finish to matte or glossy. Flow additives make the paint more fluid, which is ideal for techniques like glazing, and retarders slow drying time, allowing for better blending. Texture pastes add raised textures to paintings, offering even more creative possibilities. At Milan Art Institute, we encourage artists to explore these tools and discover their unique creative potential with acrylics.

Let’s explore some of the most influential acrylic artists, from the early pioneers to today’s visionaries. We'll see how they’ve pushed the boundaries of this dynamic medium in their most famous acrylic paintings and the stories behind their most iconic works.

Historical Acrylic Artists

David Hockney

His vibrant landscapes and portraits are full of life and color. His innovative use of perspective and a bold palette brings his subjects to life. Hockney loves acrylics for their fast-drying abilities and bright colors. His most well-known piece, “A Bigger Splash” (1967), shows his mastery of the medium. This painting captures the moment just after someone dives into a swimming pool, with the splash of water frozen in time. It reflects Hockney's fascination with the Californian lifestyle and his exploration of water as a subject.

https://www.thedavidhockneyfoundation.org/chronology/1967The David Hockney Foundation​: 1967


Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler was a pioneer of the Color Field movement, created large, abstract canvases with a sense of spontaneity and fluidity. She adapted her soak-stain technique to acrylics. Her famous work, “Mountains and Sea” (1952), showcases her innovative approach. Inspired by a trip to Nova Scotia, Frankenthaler poured thinned paint directly onto canvas, allowing it to soak and spread naturally, which resulted in a spontaneous, landscape-like imagery.

1952_Frankenthaler_Mountains_and_Sea_copy0Mountains and Sea, 1952


Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol was a leading figure in the Pop Art movement, is known for his iconic prints of celebrities and consumer goods. His work explores themes of mass production and consumerism. Warhol's use of acrylics allowed him to explore bright colors and mass production techniques, making his work instantly recognizable. “Marilyn Diptych” (1962) is one of his most famous pieces, created shortly after the death of Marilyn Monroe. The repetition of her image in vibrant and fading colors reflects both her recognizable presence in popular culture and how fleeting fame can be.

MarilynDip-2048x1448.jpgAndy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962, acrylic on canvas, 2054 x 1448 mm (Tate) © 2022
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (photo: rocor, CC BY-NC 2.0)


Robert Rauschenberg

Robert combined painting and sculpture using non-traditional materials, connecting Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Acrylics allowed him to experiment with textures and layering, creating what was considered groundbreaking mixed media works. The “Vydock” series (1995) was created using acrylic paint, silkscreened images of his own photographs, and graphite on white aluminum. Rauschenberg’s use of combining everyday objects pushed the boundaries of traditional art and invites viewers to find beauty in the unexpected.

RAUSCHENBERG_inst_HK_2018_v01-HighResolution3.width-2000Robert Raushenberg | Pace Gallery


Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko creates large, abstract color field paintings use soft, rectangular forms and deep colors to evoke emotions. Rothko switched to acrylics for their vibrant colors and flexibility. His notable work, “No. 61 (Rust and Blue)” (1953)", shows his ability to create profound emotion through color. This painting features large, hazy blocks of color that seem to float against a darker background.

rust-and-blue-headerTara Lloyd, No. 61 (Rust and Blue) and Rothko’s Signature Multiform Style


Roy Lichtenstein

Roy’s comic strip-style paintings and use of bold colors and Ben-Day dots made him a leading artist in the Pop Art movement. Acrylics allowed Lichtenstein to achieve the bright, crisp lines and colors needed for his graphic, cartoon-like works. His famous painting, “Whaam!” (1963)", depicts a fighter plane shooting down another aircraft, created in the style of a comic book panel.

T00897_10'Whaam!', Roy Lichtenstein, 1963 | Tate


Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell was an abstract expressionist known for his large-scale paintings, characterized by bold, dramatic forms and striking use of color. Motherwell used acrylics to create expressive works that conveyed deep emotion in abstract forms. “Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110” (1971) is one of his significant pieces. This painting is part of a series reflecting on the Spanish Civil War, featuring repetitive black ovals and bars against a white background, symbolizing mourning and loss.

84.3223_ph_web-1Robert Motherwell | Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110


Ellsworth Kelly

Kelly is known for his minimalist abstract works, often featuring bold, simple shapes and vibrant colors. Kelly used acrylics for their bright, consistent colors and sharp, clean lines. His work “Red Blue Green” (1963) shows his approach to minimalism. This painting features three large, flat shapes in vibrant red, blue, and green, creating a striking visual impact through simplicity and color contrast.

Screenshot_2024-07-01_at_3.13.54_PMekelly | Red Blue Green


Bridget Riley

Pioneer of the Op Art movement, Bridget is known for her mesmerizing optical illusions created through geometric patterns and vibrant colors. Riley used acrylics to achieve precise, clean lines and vibrant contrasts for her optical effects. “Movement in Squares” (1961) is one of her well-known pieces, featuring a grid of black and white squares that appear to warp and shift, creating a dynamic sense of movement and depth.

bridget-riley-1000Jill Spalding | Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist's Studio


Frank Stella

Stella is known for his minimalist and abstract works, often featuring geometric patterns and vibrant colors. Stella used acrylics for their bold, flat colors and sharp lines. His painting “Harran II” (1967) is a well-known example of his style. This work features interlocking geometric shapes in bright colors, creating a sense of rhythm and order that challenges traditional ideas of composition and perspective.

82.2976_ph_web-1“Harran II” (1967)


Contemporary Acrylic Artists

Gerhard Richter

His diverse body of work spans photorealistic paintings to vibrant abstracts, blurring the lines between realism and abstraction. Richter uses acrylics for their layering capabilities and range of textures. His piece “Betty” (1988) showcases his versatility with the medium. This photorealistic painting of his daughter, turning away from the viewer, captures a moment of quiet introspection, blending detailed realism with a sense of mystery.

article00_large-29-1.jpgGerhard Richter “Betty” (1988)


Julie Mehretu

Mehretu’s large-scale abstract works reflect urban chaos and movement, built up through layers. Acrylics’ fast-drying properties and ability to build complex layers make them perfect for Mehretu’s energetic paintings. “Mural” (2009) is an example of her dynamic style. This massive work, commissioned for Goldman Sachs, combines architectural drawings with sweeping, abstract marks to convey the energy of urban life.

goldman3Julie Mehretu's Mural at Goldman Sachs, New York


Kehinde Wiley

Wiley’s vibrant portraits celebrate contemporary black culture and challenge traditional representations, blending classical portraiture with modern themes. Wiley uses acrylics to achieve vivid, realistic depictions with bold colors and intricate details. His “Portrait of Barack Obama” (2018) is widely acclaimed. This portrait features Obama seated against a backdrop of lush foliage, symbolizing his connection to nature and history, while the pose and setting reflect Wiley’s unique blend of traditional and contemporary elements.

cr-barack2SisumD | Barack Obama


Alexa Meade

Renowned for her unique technique of painting directly onto human bodies and objects, creating a surreal blend of 2D and 3D art. Her work transforms live subjects into seemingly two-dimensional paintings, making her Instagram feed a fascinating visual experience. Most known for her “God is a Woman” piece, where she painted pop star Ariana Grande for a music video.

Screenshot_2024-07-01_at_3.38.24_PMAlexa Meade Art | Wonderland Dreams


Carl Rice Embrey

Carl Rice Embrey created realistic depictions of Americana that offer a nostalgic glimpse into small-town life. Embrey uses acrylics for fine detail and depth, creating visually engaging and narrative-rich paintings. "Song for Margaret" (1973) is one of Carl Rice Embrey's well-known works, and a captivating piece that showcases the versatility and vibrancy of acrylic paints. The use of acrylics allowed for rich, layered textures and bold, luminous colors that bring depth and energy to the artwork. This medium's quick drying time enabled the artist to experiment with multiple layers and techniques, resulting in a dynamic and expressive composition.



The Milan Family

The Milan family is a collective of artists known for their collaborative and innovative approaches, who bring together traditional techniques with contemporary themes. Acrylics provide the Milans with the flexibility to explore various artistic expressions. "Reclaimed Realms" is a captivating piece by contemporary artist Dimitra Milan. Known for her ethereal and dreamlike style, Milan’s work often merges elements of abstract realism, featuring vibrant colors and intricate details. This painting portrays her unique ability to blend realistic elements with imaginative, otherworldly settings.

Screenshot_2024-07-01_at_3.58.36_PMDimitra Milan Art | Reclaimed Realms


Rex Hausmann

His work explores themes of identity, culture, and the human experience through vibrant, narrative-driven paintings. Hausmann uses a bold acrylic palette to layer textures, creating deeply engaging compositions. His piece “Rain, Rain Go Away” (2015), tries to portray how fast life happens. Challenging the viewer to assess how they react to that reality by seeing the best in everything and everyone daily.

5a8055_794de4db1a3d4b2ba9bc1022fc00fb4c.jpgRex Hausmann | Artist | San Antonio, Texas


Takashi Murakami

Murakami blends traditional Japanese art with contemporary pop culture, creating vibrant compositions. He uses acrylics to achieve bright, flat colors and crisp lines. His piece “727” (1996) is well-known for its vivid style. It features his signature character, Mr. DOB, amidst swirling, colorful patterns, merging functional and aesthetic art in a playful and profound commentary on modern culture.

Takashi Murakami 727 1996 | MoMA


Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey is a renowned contemporary artist, graphic designer, and social activist known for his street art and political driven imagery. Fairey uses acrylic paint to achieve bold, eye-catching results, often using stenciling for crisp lines and detailed layering. His "Obama Hope" piece, created during Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, features a portrait of Obama in a tricolor scheme of red, white, and blue, with the word "HOPE" prominently displayed.

Barack Obama "Hope" Poster | The Art Institute of Chicago


Brian Donnelly

Known professionally as KAWS, Brian Donnelly is an acclaimed American artist who started as a graffiti artist. KAWS developed a distinctive style characterized by bold lines and vibrant colors, often reimagining well-known characters. His "Companion" series, features a figure with crossed-out eyes and exaggerated features. This series shows his ability to blend street art with pop culture, creating thought-provoking pieces that resonate globally. KAWS's work spans various media, including acrylic paintings and large-scale sculptures, bringing fine art and commercial art togther.

Screenshot_2024-07-01_at_7.15.56_PMKaws. Acrylic Painting. Original Artwork Painting | Saatchi Art


Are You Going to Be the Next Famous Acrylic Painter?

Through their unique styles and innovative use of acrylics, these artists have significantly impacted the art world, showcasing the medium's versatility and potential across different decades and styles.

Acrylic paint has transformed the art world with its versatility and vibrant colors. From the pioneers who first explored its potential to the contemporary artists who continue to push its boundaries, acrylics have empowered creativity and innovation.

At Milan Art Institute, we celebrate this spirit of exploration and encourage our students to experiment with acrylics, just like these masters.

If you want to explore this medium in your work, take our transformative Acrylics Remastered Masterclass and watch your artwork come alive. You can also start your art journey by exploring diverse mediums and finding your unique voice within our Mastery Program. The Mastery Program is the proven online program to become a professional artist in just one year. We've helped over 5,000 artists turn passion into profession.

Whatever you choose, we want to be there to support you in the next steps of your creative journey. Happy Painting!


Milan Art Institute
Milan Art Institute

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