Guiding the Creative Process

by Nancy Natale

The Abstract Expressionist movement occurred decades ago, popularizing the idea that spontaneity, improvisation, and process should be the guides in creating art. This kind of expression worked for trained painters such as Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Joan Mitchell, who approached their canvases with an understanding of color theory, composition, materials, and art history.

Today, many beginning artists seem to have adopted the view that medium and process will generate paintings for them without giving any additional thought to what they might want the work to mean. This notion is particularly prevalent with artists using the medium of encaustic. What generally happens is that they concentrate on effects produced by various techniques or processes achieved with the medium. Although good resolutions may be produced with some individual pieces, such medium-driven works are usually not very interesting over the long term except as sample boards.

Misunderstanding the Way Intention Shapes Art
I have observed that some beginning artists, particularly those who come to art making with no formal training, misunderstand what it means to use a more intentional approach to creating art. They fear that an intention must be so fully formed and strictly adhered to that it will eliminate the joy of creative discovery and the feeling of being in that zone that we all strive to find. Alternatively, if they do decide to use an idea to make a work, the idea is often so personal and idiosyncratic that it requires explanation for viewers to understand what the artist is attempting to depict. In such works, the specificity of the idea prevents the viewer from finding any universal meaning in the work. Some artists even go so far in carrying out their particular idea that they actually label the work with their meaning so that it becomes trite. We have all seen paintings that include clocks labeled with something like, “It’s about time.” Such a limited idea with or without labeling prevents viewers from finding interest in the work.

Intention Shapes Meaning
Creating with intention produces meaning in the work, and meaning in art exists for the artist and for the viewer. The meaning that each sees in the work may not necessarily be the same for both. The artist, of course, has a much more intimate relationship with the work, having created it, but the artist can’t always be sure how viewers will interpret the work. A knowledgeable viewer may find meaning in the work that the artist had not intended or that was overlooked by or hidden from the artist. This makes neither meaning “wrong” but only enriches the work. It’s another aspect of art that makes it so fascinating. To invite viewers to search for meaning, an artist must create work that allows a way in, that does not so direct the viewer to one meaning that it can be realized with a quick glance.

Is the Viewer Necessary?
There are some art theorists who posit that art is not complete without a viewer. Such a theory does not account for the sheer compulsion to create that drives those of us who make work for our own satisfaction, to answer questions or problems we pose to ourselves, or purely as a means of expression. There are always artists who are driven to create despite financial hardship or limited opportunities to exhibit. The creative urge takes many forms and art is not always made for others to find meaning in it. Sometimes it’s just enough for the artist to make his or her own meaningful works and be an audience of one for the art.

PWJ8_Jan_2015_Feat_NN_LDeveloping a Thoughtful Approach
to Creating

However, if artists seek to share their work with viewers and potentially build careers in the world of art, it is important to understand that intentionality in making our work helps rather than hinders the creative process. Thinking critically about what we are creating can simplify the process in many ways and eliminate some of the frustration and wheel spinning that sometimes occur in the studio. Working in series, looking back at works that we have made, receiving critical input on our work, looking at work in galleries and museums, studying art history and particular artists to find a context for our own work, communicating in our Facebook art groups, and attending the annual Encaustic Conference are all ways in which intention and meaning can be developed and implemented.

Influences Affecting Intention
Rather than writing about my own work, I have asked Pro Wax members Lynda Ray and Timothy McDowell if I could include them in this article. I hadn’t realized before inviting them to participate that both artists found so much of the inspiration for their work in nature. What is so surprising and enlightening is the vast difference between their works even though both artists look to aspects of nature as a major influence.

Lynda Ray: Interaction of Patterns in Nature and Human-made Systems

A Massachusetts native who now lives in Richmond, Virginia, Lynda Ray has established herself as a knowledgeable and well-qualified teacher of painting with encaustic in Virginia, California, Massachusetts and other parts of the country. At the Encaustic Conference she is known as the guru of textures. She works abstractly with drawing, frottage (rubbing to transfer textures), direct painting with encaustic and chine collé. She also creates larger works in oil, sometimes with cold wax.

Lynda’s work was included in both iterations of Swept Away: Translucence, Transparence, Transcendence in Contemporary Encaustic at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, Massachusetts in 2013 and then at the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Clinton, New Jersey in 2014. Her painting, Fracture, was featured on the cover of the Hunterdon catalog, and her work, Landmark, was selected for the cover of the catalog of The Elephant in the Room: Contemporary Encaustic Works at Laconia Gallery in Boston in 2013.

Lynda Ray, Talus Unit, 1991, beeswax, wood, found metal, 48” x 16” x 6”

Lynda Ray, Talus Unit, 1991; beeswax, wood, found metal; 48” x 16” x 6”

When we were both at Massachusetts College of Art as returning students majoring in painting in the BFA program, Lynda and I became friends; we reconnected when we met at the Encaustic Conference decades later. The work we had each created during our years apart was parallel in many ways: emphasis on physicality, inclusion of found materials, love of pattern, geometry, texture, and strong emphasis on color. Despite this broad similarity, our work was inspired by entirely different sources.

In an online interview with Julie Karabenick of Geoform, Lynda said that her work was influenced by patterns in nature and by human-made, architectural elements. She also said that her work was experimental and intuitive.

Nancy Natale: Lynda, please expand on these seemingly different descriptions of why you make your work.

Lynda Ray: I work in the studio with a general concept of the visual idea I want to express. I engage with the materials and gradually the work comes into focus. I work intuitively responding to the colors, space, and marks that begin to form. Once there’s enough happening, it starts to become clear, and I organize the direction I want to take as I work towards the resolution of the work.

Many other secondary incidents happen as I paint that enrich the main direction and later may inform other works. I work back and forth between applying the paint and looking. Sometimes I photograph the work and/or move it to another location to see it in another context.

Lynda Ray, Facing East, 2001, oil on canvas, 38” x 64”

Lynda Ray, Facing East, 2001, oil on canvas, 38” x 64”

NN: Are your recent encaustic pieces with built-up texture and overlays of Asian paper still based on patterns from nature?

LR: Yes, I have a general concept which is based on my environment and asks the question of my relationship with the land. This idea came about after many years of looking, thinking, building/sculpting, and painting. I extracted from my environment colors, shapes, textures, and patterns that I felt had a history or story. This has been the consistent theme and interest most of my painting life.

NN: Would you say that when you use frottage to find texture in your previous work, you have become your own reference and personal environment?

PWJ8_Jan_2015_NN_RAY1LR: More recently I have used Asian paper to capture the surfaces of my sculptures or of found materials to make rubbings or frottage. I stash those Asian paper pieces into my flat files and use them as needed for my more recent work.

I am always looking.

Lynda Ray, Random & True, 2014, drawing with pigmented beeswax on frottage and chine collé with Asian paper, mounted on panel, 14” x 14”

Lynda Ray, Random and True, 2014, encaustic drawing on frottage and Chine collé, 14” x 14”

I think about time as expressed in layers, like a multiple-exposure photograph with each new century or event covering over the past but still leaving it somewhat visible. How can I express that in paint? That was and is my challenge.

The sense of building a work through layering can especially be achieved with encaustic painting through scraping back to earlier layers or showing the buildup of paint on a work’s surface or edges. The end result allows multiple moments to appear at once, as if one is looking through peeled back layers to reveal earlier stages of development.

NN: Do you care if the meaning viewers find in your work is not what you intended?

LR: I am hoping to express a universal idea. The work does not have a didactic intent. The best work would be capable of connecting with many experiences of the viewer. It is like experiencing music, without words.

Lynda Ray’s website:

Timothy McDowell: Exploring Images and Systems Within Nature

Originally from Texas, Timothy McDowell received his MFA from the University of Arizona in 1981. He has been a professor of printmaking and drawing at Connecticut College in New London for more than 30 years. For the past 20 years he has been making paintings, prints, and works on paper in encaustic and oil. He has shown widely and his work has been acquired by many major private, corporate, and museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art Print and Drawing Collection, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Timothy McDowell, Dry Planet, 2014, hide glue, beeswax, pigment, 72” x 48”

Timothy McDowell, Dry Planet, 2014; hide glue, beeswax, pigment; 72” x 48”

Timothy’s recent work, Dry Planet, is included in the exhibition Organic to Geometric: Investigations in Structure and Surface at Endicott College, Beverly, Mass., January 20 – March 20, 2015, as well as in the catalog of the exhibition. Works such as this depict what I interpreted as a damaged natural world in danger of disappearing altogether because of environmental damage.

NN: Is my interpretation of your work what you had intended, Timothy?

Timothy McDowell: Your reading of the content is very close to my intention. It is an arid place, the structures are imagined, some future devices are functioning in some possibly futile way to collect moisture. The whole painting is about humanity’s attempt to regulate nature through technology, after ruining nature’s balance. It is a statement about how we disrupt balance and then try to correct it with science but rarely use the science to avoid imbalance.

NN: What is the meaning of the varied content and palette in images shown in the oil painting gallery of your website?

TM: The paintings shown in my oil painting gallery span four to five years of work, so my palette and subject changed over that span of time, even though all the work falls under the heading of exploration of nature and natural studies. I really try not to duplicate a painting once it exists. I try to make each painting an investigation with paint and subject in an attempt to understand the world around me. The whole process is one of visual research. If I don’t fully understand something or I am trying to learn more about something, painting it will help me know it better.

Timothy McDowell, Symbiotic Relationship, 2010, oil on wood, 36” x 36”

Timothy McDowell, Symbiotic Relationship, 2010, oil on wood, 36” x 36”

You mention one painting, Symbiotic Relationship, (I think you call it Day of the Locust, which I like!) and again, close enough on intention to satisfy me. This painting is about the interconnections of agriculture and nature: there is a mule, some oats, tobacco and, of course, the big grasshopper. All are in some way under the management of humans, either directly or not, naturally occurring or not, but nonetheless interconnected as a dark narrative.

NN: What I get from these paintings is a feeling of confused profusion or some portrayal of the extreme variety of things being displayed for some reason. Are these things that are disappearing; things that might disappear?

TM: These works were from an exhibition in 2010 at Marcia Wood Gallery titled Kingdom Come. The overall influence was my reading of accounts by early naturalists such as William Bartram, who explored Florida in the 18th Century. I was struck by the fact that a few of his discoveries were already extinct by the end of his own life.


Visually, I was also influenced by the documentation through rendering of many of the plants and animals catalogued during those explorations. Those influences combined with more contemporary thoughts on chaos and nature and evolution, which led to an imperceptible order inside the compositions. Nature always has order, but sometimes, because of its complexity, we can’t perceive it.

I also incorporated a sense of nostalgia through the color palette, the substrate (many are painted on the back side of National Geographic maps), and the subject matter. There are animals depicted that are becoming more and more rare but are placed within an image of profuse layers to suggest a diaspora of species in the animal kingdom. From profusion to extinction was the commentary.

Timothy McDowell, Wings to Steam, 2012, encaustic on paper (National Geographic map verso side) over canvas, 20” x 16”

Timothy McDowell, Wings to Steam, 2012, encaustic on paper (National Geographic map verso side) over canvas, 20” x 16”

NN: Does the variation in your palette reflect your emotional involvement in the paintings?

TM: These works, and I guess every painting I have ever done, are a reflection on my emotional involvement. I believe I am emotionally involved in painting: the act of painting, the history of painting, and maybe even the slowness of painting. It is a lifetime involvement which progresses at a pace that can’t be hurried. The time in the studio is the process; process is not the medium or the materials used. Of course I am both intellectually and emotionally involved with the content. Otherwise I would be more of a non-figurative painter and more involved with color and form as an intellectual exercise. We are filters and sometimes influences come without conscious awareness, so work changes gradually and doesn’t become apparently different until viewed as a comparative history of detail.

Timothy McDowell’s website:

Developing a Signature Style by Working With Intention
Both Lynda Ray and Timothy McDowell very generously let us look into their processes. They describe a way of working that is at once intentional and intuitive. Within their own general framework of interest, each has left room for exploration and discovery, making each piece unique but still within the range of personal interests. Each artist has a signature style, or what might now be called a brand, that makes his or her work recognizable and personal. Instead of the beginning artist’s misperception that intention is a straightjacket of conformity holding back invention and surprise, we see that working with intention guides these artists on their creative paths.



by Deborah Winiarski

Wax in its molten state flows. It is the fluid nature of wax that is inherent in the encaustic process. The combination of heat and wax presents the greatest challenge to artists working in the medium, yet in turn provides its richest rewards. Conversely, it is the intentional and precise control of the wax flow that allows a spontaneous and fluid expression of movement. When happy accidents do occur, it takes an artist’s eye, heart, and mind to see them and hold on to them or to decide to let them go.

Artists, when they are truly that, access what I call an inner creative fluidity. It is their highly creative and intuitive thoughts and emotions, together with their skill, expertise, and experience that make Art possible. The creative life is never static. It is a forever evolving, fluid, and vibrant way of being.

The artists included here are highly attuned to their creative fluidity and have taken the concept of fluidity beyond the literal. Their works flow metaphorically, conceptually, emotionally, musically, linearly, physically. They reflect on geologic processes, weather patterns, self-examinations, socio-environmental interactions, microscopic organisms, and beauty. They flow – wholly and singularly.


“My work is about energy and spatial ambiguity. The tension between figure and ground results in amorphous shapes layered with vibrant, exuberant colors that possess a strangely beautiful power and energy. Feelings of dissonance, mystery, and unease prevail. The work represents the ideas of the journey, the flight, and the search.”
– Binnie Birstein

Binnie Birstein, A.I.R., 2014, encaustic and graphite on panel, 30” x 40”

Binnie Birstein, A.I.R., 2014, encaustic and graphite on panel, 30” x 40”.  Photo credit: Elisa Keogh

“I am interested in making objects that are enigmatic and personal, ambiguous yet engaging. The surfaces of my ‘Rhythmo Box’ series contain rhythmic, scored marks into plaster and wax.”
– Lynette Haggard

Lynette Haggard, Rhythmo Box No. 2, 2010; resin, beeswax, pigment, foam, plaster, 10” x 13” x 9”

Lynette Haggard, Rhythmo Box No. 2, 2010; resin, beeswax, pigment, foam, plaster; 10” x 13” x 9”

“In the ‘Microcosm/Macrocosm?’ series, I explore the connections that exist between the cosmos, the terrestrial, and the cellular worlds. The work is a visual account of the human condition through a fantastic voyage of vast atmospheres and biomorphic shapes.”
– Gregory Wright

Gregory Wright, Elemental Antithesis, 2009; encaustic, oil, pigment, shellac on birch, 20” x 48”

Gregory Wright, Elemental Antithesis, 2009; encaustic, oil, pigment, shellac on birch; 20” x 48”

“I make organic, encaustic-covered sculptural forms. I intend my work to be disturbing, funny, and sometimes sexual. It’s about human foibles and disasters. The work – founded formally, conceptually, and technically in history, history, history – rests on Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Poisonwood Bible’ concept that misunderstanding is the cornerstone of civilization.”
– Pamela Blum

Pamela Blum, Dress-up, 2010; encaustic on paper mache, plaster gauze, wire mesh, 34” x 9 ¾” x 9"

Pamela Blum, Dress-up, 2010; encaustic on paper mache, plaster gauze, wire mesh; 34” x 9 ¾” x 9″

“My work reflects a longstanding interest in environmental change, infectious disease, and our individual and communal responses to our altered world. Over the years, my work has progressed from drawings inspired by microscopic imagery to room-sized environments steeped in the research of epidemiology and the social history of infectious disease.”
– Lorrie Fredette

Lorrie Fredette, (more/less) Reflective, 2010; beeswax, tree resin, muslin, brass, steel, wood, nylon line, 8’ x 12’ x 6’. Photo credit:  Richard Edelman

Lorrie Fredette, (more/less) Reflective, 2010; beeswax, tree resin, muslin, brass, steel, wood, nylon line; 8’ x 12’ x 6’. Photo credit: Richard Edelman

“My work references nature from an aerial perspective observed during cross-country flights in a single engine plane to the view through a microscope.”
– Pamela Wallace

Pamela Wallace, Brood, 2014, encaustic on panel, 8” x 8”

Pamela Wallace, Brood, 2014, encaustic on panel, 8” x 8”

“Utilizing processes such as burning, rusting, decomposition, burying, or weather exposure, layers of fabric are collaged with encaustic, images, and found materials. Through pattern and materials, narratives interact with and contextualize the markings, as well as speak to our wants, needs, temptations, and desires.”
– Lorraine Glessner

Lorraine Glessner, Under the Bridge, 2013; encaustic, mixed media, horse and human hair on composted and branded silk on wood, 48” x 48”

Lorraine Glessner, Under the Bridge, 2013; encaustic, mixed media, horse and human hair on composted and branded silk on wood; 48” x 48”

“Though still, my work incorporates and sings movement. In the most recent ‘Relief’ series, elements flow over and around the edges of the picture plane. Monotyped fabrics are cut, sewn, woven, curled, crumpled, and collaged onto the painting surface creating a visual dance of form and color.”
– Deborah Winiarski

Deborah Winiarski, Saffron III, 2014; encaustic, fabric, thread, oil on panel, 25” x 21” x 5”

Deborah Winiarski, Saffron III, 2014; encaustic, fabric, thread, oil on panel; 25” x 21” x 5”

 “Musicality is established through pattern, variety, and intensity. My recent ‘Étude’ series draws the viewer into an abstract musical world. The understated presence of the composition captivates then ultimately satisfies with its meditative rhythm.”
– Winston Lee Mascarenhas

Winston Lee Mascarenhas, Étude No.1/Op.8, 2014, encaustic on panel, 10” x 10”

Winston Lee Mascarenhas, Étude No.1/Op.8, 2014, encaustic on panel, 10” x 10”

“’Pendulum Series’ was created on encaustic-painted panels positioned on the studio floor that received marks made with a wax-drizzling pendulum that was swung, pushed, and propelled. Having been aware of the tension created between the mechanical symmetry and organic flow, I played with the relationship between control and the lack thereof.”
– Kim Bernard

Kim Bernard, Drishti, 2011, encaustic on panel, 48” x 48”

Kim Bernard, Drishti, 2011, encaustic on panel, 48” x 48”

“Documenting the dramatic interaction created by light on water through seasonal shifts, this is my own research into the sublime. In the end, my work is based on memory, both the memory of place and my connection to the emotional qualities held by light and color.”
– Carol Pelletier

Carol Pelletier, West Beach, 2013, oil and cold wax on panel, 13” x 13”

Carol Pelletier, West Beach, 2013, oil and cold wax on panel, 13” x 13”

“My artwork explores the breadth of metaphoric meaning that can be derived from non-objective abstraction. Through mixed media paintings, drawings, and prints, I make paradoxical concepts tangible with formal elements, such as the repeated use of the color black, acting as both presence and absence, simultaneously weighted and ephemeral.”
– Toby Sisson

Toby Sisson, Timeline of Seemingly Unrelated Events IV, 2010; encaustic, oil, charcoal, and silver leaf on wood, 24” x 48”

Toby Sisson, Timeline of Seemingly Unrelated Events IV, 2010; encaustic, oil, charcoal, and silver leaf on wood; 24” x 48”

“With allegiance to no particular religion, my paintings are prayers and/or meditations. The dots made with hot tools were placed freehand, creating a motion that represents the fragility of the human spirit. ‘Prayers for the Earth: Belly’ was inspired by my 14 year old cat, Paris Frankenstein.”
– Fanne Fernow

Fanne Fernow, Prayers for the Earth: Belly, 2011, encaustic on two panels, 24” x 48”

Fanne Fernow, Prayers for the Earth: Belly, 2011, encaustic on two panels, 24” x 48”

Essential Questions: Self-Criticism in the Studio

by Jane Guthridge

Graceann Warn recently opened this stimulating discussion in ProWax:

“Writers talk about a concept called ‘killing off your little darlings.’ For me, that means that once aware of the ‘hook’ in my work, the thing I rely on to finish the piece, the thing that was once fresh but now may be stale (although still tasty), the thing that is perhaps a little lazy on my part or might be too often repeated – this is a ‘darling’ that needs to be retired. I either have to stop cold turkey and come up with something new or be super conscious and critical of each use. Is my little darling an element (technique, color, manner, whatever) that is germane to this painting, or am I being lazy? Am I losing the ‘here and now’ of my process? What are your ways of being self-critical in the studio?” 

Several of our members responded:

Nancy Natale‬: The term ‘little darlings’ does not refer to making work of a similar style, approach, or genre but to little features in our work that we fall back on all too regularly and almost without thought.

Cheryl D. McClure‬: I think just the fact that you seriously consider this off and on is the first step in getting yourself away from the box or little darlings or whatever you want to call them. Some people never question themselves this way. I just do little things now and then like take a color off the palette or start in another way or switch to another medium for a time.‬

PWJ8_Jan_2015_EQ_WagnerElise Wagner‬: Determined to take a minimal approach and make a white on white painting – I’ve reached my darling moment. I can’t help but want to add color! I am looking and letting it tell me what to do next, to reveal the next move. Will it be a hook? That remains to be seen. This painting is at that juicy stage where it is going to take a turn. ‬To answer your question, I am always thinking of ways to shake it up slightly and often turn to different colors and scales for this. My biggest problem is that I don’t stay anywhere for long and am always revisiting ideas to bring them more fully into focus.

Shawna Moore‬: Elise, it’s so crazy that you mention the white on white as those have become some of my most redundant darlings of late. They come really easily and I love the comfort. But, I also have also been stuck on a big red painting. It is quite formal, minimal, and I am having a really hard time finding my way in. So I keep thinking if it were only white, then I would know what to do. Solution? I may start a white painting that I have going simultaneous to Big Red. The hope is that the ease, comfort, and darlingness of Big White acts as a roadmap to find my way into this new territory of more saturated color. So, I guess I find myself babysitting my darlings this week instead of killing them off completely. Thoughts?‬‬

PWJ8_Jan_2015_McCGraceann Warn‬: Shawna, it sounds like you are trying to do the ‘sneak up on it’ approach. I like it! I will also say that sometimes I just slap my little darlings, not kill them off entirely.‬‬

Elise Wagner‬: That’s a great solution, Shawna‬. Having something familiar around to jump from adds comfort to the unknown waters.‬‬

Graceann Warn‬: Sometimes it is absolutely painful to go through the process but it’s good to see some light here and there. Once the thought comes into my head that I should revisit a trusted idea, I feel a certain hesitancy to go down that road. But once you think it, you know there’s truth there to be dealt with and so onward you go into that dark abyss!‬

Deborah Winiarski‬: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about emotional vulnerability. I think the little darlings begin to show up when we protect ourselves from or put up our guard against our own authenticity. It’s hard not to do that, but it’s vital. It’s so important to give everything we have each and every time we walk into the studio – to risk it all.‬

Elise Wagner‬: I think the little darlings show up as a safety net to soothe the fear of the unknown.‬

Graceann Warn‬: So much truth there, Deborah.‬ Somehow it’s getting easier as I get older. Probably knowing that time is ticking makes me more willing to embrace the authentic even if it feels like being up on a wire without a net.‬‬

PWJ8_EQ_N-FKaren Nielsen-Fried‬: My little darlings are often, as Deborah suggested, something not truly authentic, but rather are defensive maneuvers. Sometimes my darlings are the crutches I pull out when I’m lost in the middle of a painting. They can be very beautiful; I love them because they might have worked in another painting but I hate them when they show up in this way and block me from getting to the authentic stuff of the moment. Even so, it is hard to kill them. The worst studio days are when I’ve got a ‘live little darling’ in one painting that has become way too precious and I’m beating dead horses in whatever else I’m working on. My husband can tell when I come in from that kind of studio day, “Beating the dead horses again, are we?”

Graceann Warn‬: I know those days, Karen! I look like I’ve been in a fight – which I have.‬

Karen Nielsen-Fried‬: Exactly, Graceann!‬

Deborah Winiarski‬: A mentor of mine would refer to this as the guy hiding behind the rock, always waiting to jump out and say, “Gotcha!”‬

Graceann Warn‬: It’s comforting to know that so many of us experience the same things.‬

Tracey Adams‬: So apropos of where my work/head is at the moment, it is a conundrum that we artists deal with constantly, but is so important! ‬

Artist Communities: Pamela Winegard

By Milisa Galazzi

Milisa Galazzi: Thank you, Pamela, for agreeing to be interviewed for this ProWax Journal column, Artist Communities. For the past year, the column has focused on individual experiences with artist residencies and how each artist created or maintained a sense of community through that endeavor. In this issue, we shake things up a little! Since you and your artwork address this topic of community, please explain how ‘community’ became a topic near and dear to your heart.

Pam Winegard in her Studio

Pamela Winegard in her studio

Pamela Winegard: My interest in definitions of community developed over a lifetime. As a child of a military father I was uprooted quite a bit. I carried that sense of being uprooted into adulthood when I joined the military. Both the detachment of moving and the sense of belonging to that transient community inspired my artwork.

MG: Can you tell me more about your early influences?

PW: From childhood in the 1960s through young adulthood in the 1980s, politics strongly influenced my acute feeling of belonging or not belonging. Women’s roles were changing. Watergate changed my relationship to national politics. As attachment to small towns changed, a twisted sense of nostalgia influenced how we carved out a community identity.

MG: Can you share some more with our readership about becoming an artist in this changing view of community?

PW: When I concentrated on serious study of art and an art practice, I knew that I didn’t just want to make art about superficial qualities or esoteric formalities. I was strongly motivated by visual narratives and storytelling. I explored traditional mediums, always working in a representational fashion. I began to chop up the picture plane, to break up the surface, create layers, and I started to explore a mix of materials. After about a decade of work, I found myself using non-traditional and more contemporary materials as a way of leveraging that discussion of community. In this way, layers of visual information became metaphors for all of the disparate elements of community. Breaks in imagery became the lacuna in the storytelling and the found materials or human detritus acted as memory links or physical connections. Architecture became a metaphor for our footprints.

MG: Pamela, you mention that politics have shaped your understanding of community. Can you talk more about that?

PW: I am strongly affected by my politics, my sense of patriotism, my liberalism, my feminism, my faith, and my family. All of these influences shape my understanding of my immediate and larger communities. I was privileged to live abroad as well as in the United States. I lived in West Berlin, Germany. I have some profound memories of that experience. I am Jewish. I have some profound experiences because of that, too. I have visited the Western Wall and traveled throughout Israel. I have been the new kid. I have been poor. I may have moved about 60 times in my life. I have been in the early generations of women who served fully integrated in the Armed Forces. I turn all that life experience into a discussion about who we are and what we do as a people. I consider the question, “What does it mean to be in a community?” and I confront identity or try to confront identity as a result of what I see happening around me today.

MG: Can you talk more about your present work and the ways in which themes of community literally show up in your art?

Pam Winegard, Paths to No Where, 2014, encaustic, found materials, graphite, and mixed media on luan panels, 24x 45

Pamela Winegard, Paths to Nowhere, 2014; encaustic, found materials, graphite, and mixed media on luan panels; 24″ x 45″

PW: I am working on several bodies of work specifically directed toward concepts of community. Paths to Nowhere is a diptych recently completed for a solo show in Austin, Texas. This body of work confronts homelessness; it began in response to itinerant population growth in communities like Austin, but reflects the ubiquitous situation across the United States. I created the work as a reaction to children crossing borders into the U.S. to escape horrific issues in their home countries. Symbols such as water towers represent gatekeepers of the more permanent element of the community; motels represent the transient way stations. Some images are quite literal with no need for interpretation. Others are symbolic, more ambiguous in order to lend themselves to the viewer’s own story. All of this work was created with the intention of weaving a larger visual story of community and interconnectivity.

MG: Thank you, Pamela, for sharing your thoughts about art and community!