When I called Art Guerra recently at one of his Brooklyn warehouses, he asked me to call back shortly since, as he put it, “I’m up to my elbows in Ultramarine Blue.” The founder of Guerra Paint and Pigment in New York’s East Village, he is constantly hunting around for neglected pigments gathering dust in the storage facilities of pigment-dispersion companies and automotive plants. Going through his large collection of manufacturers’ catalogs, he makes frequent phone calls and inquires after unneeded pigments. Many of these companies don’t have a thorough knowledge of their own inventories and are happy to unload unidentifiable substances. Yet as an honest entrepreneur, Guerra only buys things if he knows what the barrel contains, which can entail some research.
In his ongoing quest to find elusive and rare pigments, Guerra takes a decidedly hands-on approach. His diligence has garnered a fair amount of success, such as cornering the worldwide market on the supply of Indo Double Scarlet. The ultimate triumph for a pigment collector is to find and acquire a so-called “extinct pigment”—one that is no longer produced and distributed—housed in a drum in a forgotten corner of an industrial warehouse. Guerra was once faced with the highly tempting offer to buy a container of Cobalt Arsenate, a once-popular violet pigment that has been illegal for over forty years. After some soul searching, Guerra declined to purchase the dangerous goods. But he has managed to obtain other interesting materials with evocative monikers such as Cat-Tail Brown and Hooker’s Green. These names give the merchandise at Guerra Paint and Pigment a more down-to-earth accessibility than the average ready-made paint that comes in premixed tubes.