What Powers Abstract Painting?


A passionate connection to the work is what keeps any artist creating. We feel driven to make art, no matter what the genre, by our need to capture something – an idea, a color, an interaction of colors, shapes, forms, lines, a mystery, a feeling, a love of paint, a solution to a problem, a desire to make real what only we can imagine. Abstract art has usually been defined more by what it is not—non-objective, not representational, not depictive—than by what it is. A more positive definition, from the Oxford University Press, says: “What is missing in such qualifications is that ‘abstract’ as applied to works of art is not a merely passive negative characterization, but has a further privative force.“

There are many types of contemporary abstraction, such as conceptual, gestural, geometric, and formalist. In the future I intend to do a series in ProWax Journal of occasional articles about types of art made by Pro Wax Members (including not just abstraction but realism and figuration). To begin this series I have invited two painters to speak in some depth about their work. Both artists paint abstractly: Cheryl McClure, gesturally, and Graceann Warn, compositionally geometric. I wanted to know why each of them had chosen to work in that form of abstraction and also about the emotional connection to her work that each artist felt.

Cheryl McClure

Cheryl McClure, Parallels, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 inches

Cheryl McClure, Parallels, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 inches

I was particularly focused on emotion since the force driving abstract art has at times been regarded as no more than an intellectual exercise. Yet, if it were only cerebral, would that be motivation enough for artists to keep making the work, painting after painting, year after year? Would the work be aesthetically pleasing and capable of arousing emotion in viewers?

Cheryl McClure is mostly self taught and has been painting for more than 30 years. She shows throughout the U.S. and is represented by five galleries. Living on a ranch in northeastern Texas, she finds influences in nature – the trees, sky, pastures, pond and creek – but is careful to say that she does not try to replicate what she sees. Rather she lets her observations come through as she paints and “has a conversation with the paint and the process.” She is most interested in surface quality, color relationships and formal design.

NN: What draws you to abstraction as an approach to painting?

CMC: I am not sure there is an easy explanation. As a kid, I drew, but I was never really attracted to drawing or painting people and things. I see now in retrospect that I was more interested in the colors and shapes in a work of art.

Cheryl McClure, Gray Day, April, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 inches

Cheryl McClure, Gray Day, April, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 inches (click to enlarge)

NN: Would you comment on the idea of abstraction allowing you to have greater freedom in painting. Do you think that’s true? Or does the “freedom” of not trying to represent something make it more difficult?

CMC: I feel that I have more freedom, more that I can do or say without having to spell out something I would rather keep to myself. Most people would think of me as a gregarious, extroverted person, but I have a side to me that is very private and this is a little bit of protection.

I am invested in the emotional side of things. I don’t always identify it as emotional, but my work does come directly from my own experience, and usually is just an unexpected and unconscious inspiration. I have come to realize that I generally paint from non-objective to abstraction. In other words, I set parameters in my work with formal issues. Then, as I work, relationships in the painting begin to take on meaning that possibly only I will know. It might not be what others will see, but that doesn’t matter to me.

McClure_Feat_RThe emotional involvement to me includes some kind of gesture and a sense of space – probably coming from working less abstractly in the early years. When I am painting, I paint furiously and quickly, then I look and analyze, taking a lot longer than the time I actually spent painting. The brain can get in the way of the hand and the brush and this is my way of trying to avoid that.

NN: How do you begin a painting?

CMC: Sometimes it’s entirely arbitrary because I have set myself up to work with whatever relationships develop as I go along. However, I began a continuing series in 2014 when I started thinking more about intent after reading On Looking, Eleven Walks With Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz. I started looking around me more carefully and then took days at a time just jotting down words or phrases that I thought would be inspiration for paintings. I called the series “Annotation” and also noted the color inspirations.

Cheryl McClure, Annotation: Cobalt Blue-Violet, 2014, encaustic and oil on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches

Cheryl McClure, Annotation: Cobalt Blue-Violet, 2014, encaustic and oil on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches (click to enlarge)

NN: Is struggle a necessary part of painting for you?

CMC: It has become a part of my work. Usually I do not really want to know exactly where I am going when I begin a painting but only have a generalized map of what I intend, when I do have a more fixed intention. I don’t have to think about it much in the beginning because I can do just about anything and make a layer that adds to the richness that I hope to achieve in the final work. I’ve come to believe that the longer you paint, the more you realize how little you know. You become more critical of your work. Hence all those ugly middle layers. That said, I am thankful for the few paintings that come now and then without a lot of struggle, as though someone else painted them.

NN: What effect does changing mediums have on your work? Do you find you work differently in one medium than another?

CMC: I studied watercolor painting when I first began painting since that was the only thing available from teachers in my area. I didn’t love watercolor because it took too much pre-planning, but I learned a lot about negative shapes. I also learned a lot from using pastels and charcoal about the marks I like to make. I like acrylic because I can layer over and over without a problem of compatibility. I find that working with oil and encaustic slows me down a lot, but sometimes slowing down is a good thing. The richness and surface qualities of oil and encaustic are very appealing. I think working back and forth with all these mediums helps me to grow as a painter.

Cheryl McClure, Pier, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches

Cheryl McClure, Pier, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches

NN: Are you ever inspired by particular places?

CMC: Pier is an example of my being inspired by a place. I’ve made several trips to Provincetown, Mass. for the annual International Encaustic Conference. I have been struck by the color and the shapes of the piers, boats and buildings there. Not being a coastal person, I didn’t start out to paint this, but I found myself making these marks with large brush loads of paint on the canvas. It just developed and somewhere in the process it became Pier. More than likely others do not see it this way, but this is Provincetown to me.

Graceann Warn

Graceann Warn, Sugar Factory Painting #2, 2014; oil, beeswax and pigment; 30 x 40 inches

Graceann Warn, Sugar Factory Painting #2, 2014; oil, beeswax and pigment; 30 x 40 inches

Graceann Warn was born and raised in New Jersey and currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in landscape architecture. Later, while pursuing a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan and working as a landscape architect, she visited an exhibition of the last paintings of Mark Rothko. The emotional impact of that exhibition was the catalyst for great change. Within a year she made the decision to devote her life to making art. She has been a full time studio artist since 1985 with work exhibited and collected nationally and internationally.

NN: Why do you think you were drawn so strongly to abstract painting?

GW: Abstraction was always the style of painting that I was moved by as a viewer. Particular artists whose works made my heart beat faster were Tapies, Rothko, Motherwell, Mitchell, and Twombly. These artists made marks and gestures on canvas that seemed like a secret alphabet to me, yet one that I could somehow read. My training in design probably cemented my interest in seeing form and color as being more important than representation.

warn_feat_LIn my expanded story about seeing the last Rothko paintings at the Walker Art Center, I talk about being so overwhelmed with emotion that I had to sit down. I was trembling and possibly tearing up. It was huge. It was so clear in that moment and then later in retrospect that my work life had to change and align more with my emotional life. It was devastating for me because I was on my own, still paying school loans, in grad school plus working full time, trying to be an adult and yet my insides were screaming ‘get outta here!!!!’–totally irresponsible to some but undeniable to me.

NN: Does abstraction allow you more freedom in painting?

GW: It’s a natural way for me to “talk” so it’s freeing and not difficult in that regard. Painting in a representational way, which I did do at one transition point in my career, is frustrating in that it feels constraining. I do believe that successful expression through abstract means is more challenging, especially as regards viewers. When someone clutches their heart or covers their mouth in front of one of my paintings, I know I’ve been successful.

NN: Do you generally begin a painting with an idea in mind?

GW: Paintings generally have their genesis in a word or a line of words. Words connote images very powerfully for me. I have lists of single words or short sentences in journals, post-it notes, and random scraps of paper all over my studio awaiting transformation into a physical entity. I am constantly listening, reading, and looking for the spark of engagement with a word or two. Beginning this way generally gives me a strong sense of the direction in which I want to go with a painting, but sometimes things go awry, frequently in a good way, and I change course.

Graceann Warn, Stonington, 2013; oil, beeswax, pigment on wood panel; 40 x 40 inches

Graceann Warn, Stonington, 2013; oil, beeswax, pigment on wood panel; 40 x 40 inches (click to enlarge)

NN: What are some of the sources for your words and phrases?

GW: Some come from physics textbooks, others are place names or descriptive titles, such as Red Contents and Stonington. I am also fortunate to have a working relationship with the poet Dan Gerber, for whom I provided art for his latest book, Sailing Through Cassiopeia. We collaborate via email by exchanging his words and my art. We inspire each other this way. Most of the poems he writes that I am drawn to center on the mysteries of the cosmos and the wonder of science.

NN: I know that you are also influenced or inspired by particular places. You mentioned the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn, where Kara Walker had her well-known show.

GW: I made a series of paintings derived from photographs I saw of the abandoned Domino Sugar plant (Sugar Factory #2 at the top of this section is one of the series). Maybe it’s because I live near Detroit and have an emotional reaction to them, but abandoned factories attract my attention. The very idea of these once mighty structures literally humming with purpose but now discarded and left to ruin makes me want to honor them in their present state. The beauty I see in the scraped and battered walls informs the look of most of my work. In the Domino Sugar plant, the colors and surface textures were made even more lush by the patina of caramelized sugar and that was irresistible to me.

Graceann Warn, Sugar Factory Painting #1, 2014; oil, beeswax, pigment on wood panel; 40 x 30 inches

Graceann Warn, Sugar Factory Painting #1, 2014; oil, beeswax, pigment on wood panel; 40 x 30 inches (click to enlarge)

NN: I also want to ask you about materials. I notice that you usually describe your medium as “oil, beeswax and pigment” and only occasionally use the word “encaustic.” Do you mean that you use just beeswax or that you don’t choose to mention encaustic?

GW: A while back I realized that two things might happen in response to the word “encaustic.” Either people didn’t know what it was or they equated it with some of the truly egregious examples of the medium that are out there in the world. It’s not like oil painting in that there are millions of examples that everyone is familiar with, good and bad. Encaustic is still used by only a small minority of the art world and unfortunately there are too many poor examples of it, in my opinion. Another issue is that I am starting to introduce some oil painting into my work.

NN: Do you view color as a vital component of your work?

GW: Absolutely. I am a synesthete, which means my brain mashes up sensations. In my case I combine color with words and numbers as well as words with flavors. This wonderfully weird condition most likely helps me make decisions in the studio.

Graceann Warn, Red Contents, 2014; oil, beeswax, pigment on constructed panel; 40 x 30 inches

Graceann Warn, Red Contents, 2014; oil, beeswax, pigment on constructed panel; 40 x 30 inches

NN: What do you think is the most important quality about your work?

GW: There is a restraint in the work that, when successful, seems to be on the brink of something without being obvious – an innuendo, the unsaid, or what lies just below the surface.

NN: Because of this apparent simplicity and reticence, your work seems to me to be influenced by a Japanese aesthetic. Would you comment on this?

GW: When I was studying landscape architecture, I was deeply influenced by certain aspects of Japanese design. The editing inherent in that aesthetic is deep within me. I respect its quiet strength and its dignity.

NN: What do you want your work to reflect?

GW: Throughout the process of making it and then later experiencing it in its finished state, I
want to feel that I’ve been true to myself and, by extension, my work.


 Summing Up

Although the final forms of their work may differ from each other, Cheryl and Graceann have in common paintings sparked by words, phrases, or observations and composed with formal arrangements of elements. From there, they proceed in two directions with structure and balance still being necessary to the final compositions’ success in both forms of abstraction. I think they each have a poetic sense of their work in that they are sensitive to beauty and to the feelings their paintings elicit from themselves and from their viewers. While their own personal intention or meaning may not be explicitly stated in the works, the emotional reaction to the aesthetics of their work is important to each of them and something they strive to achieve.

1. http://creativetime.org/projects/karawalker/ – a short video about the Domino Sugar factory project
2. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jarak08/13995716857/ – a cast-sugar statue against a wall at the Domino Sugar Factory
3. www.americanabstractartists.org – American Abstract Artists – a democratic artist-run organization founded in 1936 in New York City to promote and foster understanding of abstract and non-objective art
4. www.geoform.net – Geoform – an online scholarly resource and curatorial project whose focus is the use of geometric form and structure in contemporary abstract art being made by artists from around the world.

On the Horizon

by Deborah Winiarski

Landscape as Art is a fairly recent development in Western Art tradition. Historically, paintings of scenes in nature were relegated to the backdrop of imagined subjects and not considered viable subject matter for painting. The development of visual perspective helped to change this as it allowed artists to create the illusion of depth in space from one particular viewpoint. The possibility of landscape as Art had begun.

Another development particularly important to landscape painting was the development of the paint tube. Finally, artists could take their canvases out-of-doors and paint the world literally around them. It helped make Impressionism possible and sparked fresh interest in landscape. Later, landscapes influenced by Romanticism and Impressionism depicted vast, realistic panoramas whose size and scope reflected the enormity of the scene being painted. Modern times have seen landscape increasingly become a point of departure for work more abstract in character.

The contemporary artists here, all working in the medium of encaustic, offer a broad spectrum of ideals, perspectives and interpretations of landscape reflecting the breadth of its history. Whether imagined, abstract, or realistic, with a land-based, subterranean or aerial perspective, these works resonate with a love of the land and beauty of the environment.


Mark Lavatelli, Pine Bluff, 2012; oil, encaustic and collage on panel; 44” x 66”

Mark Lavatelli, Pine Bluff, 2012; oil, encaustic and collage on panel; 44” x 66”

“This unusual horizontal ‘diptych’ is actually a single panel. In the section above is a close-up view of a pine tree. Below it are abstract shapes and words identifying both natural elements and threats to the environment.”
– Mark Lavatelli

Laura Moriarty, Unit No. 1 (Underground Settlement), 2015, pigmented beeswax, 8” x 9” x 1.75”

Laura Moriarty, Unit No. 1 (Underground Settlement), 2015, pigmented beeswax, 8” x 9” x 1.75”

Unit No. 1 is part of a 16-piece collection entitled Underground Settlement. This work illustrates my fascination, not only with the intricately stratified forms of rocks, but also with their metaphorical evocation of human experience.”
– Laura Moriarty

Cora Jane Glasser, Six Stories, 2012; encaustic, oil, pencil on six wood panels; 61 ¾” x 31 ¾” (including built-in frame)

Cora Jane Glasser, Six Stories, 2012; encaustic, oil, pencil on six wood panels; 61 ¾” x 31 ¾” (including built-in frame)

“I work by deconstructing, fragmenting, and abstracting iconic visual cues. These cues are then rebuilt by pulling selected elements to the painting surface with the use of color, form, and texture. The works convey tensions between old and new, solid and void. They evoke gut recognition and an ambiguous sense of place.”
– Cora Jane Glasser

Christy Diniz Liffmann, Fields of Summer, 2012, encaustic on panel, 15” x 15”

Christy Diniz Liffmann, Fields of Summer, 2012, encaustic on panel, 15” x 15”

“Observation and interaction with the natural world are crucial for me on a daily basis. Visual meditations turn into notations on place and space, color and pattern. Often I document specific locations through sketching or plein air painting in oil and watercolor. Recurring concepts in my work are impermanence, life cycles, growth and renewal.”
– Christy Diniz Liffmann

Francesca Azzara, View From My Dream, 2011; encaustic, fabric, paper and oil stick; 24” x 24”

Francesca Azzara, View From My Dream, 2011; encaustic, fabric, paper and oil stick; 24” x 24”

“Usually my work connects with the recurring theme of the imagined and internal landscape. The work from this series, Ancestral Memories, were directly inspired by a recent trip to my family’s hometown of Chiaramonte Gulfe in Sicily. Sitting high in the hills, this ancient town has sweeping views of both the mountains and the gulf.”
– Francesca Azzara

Helen DeRamus, The Wild, Wild West, 2015; paper, India ink, watercolor, encaustic on cradled wood panel; 30” x 30”

Helen DeRamus, The Wild, Wild West, 2015; paper, India ink, watercolor, encaustic on cradled wood panel; 30” x 30”

“This series of paintings began following a residency at The Hambridge Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia. Immersion in the landscape and the solitude afforded to me allowed for the discovery of this imagery as it relates to my continuing interest in memory and the passage of time.”
– Helen DeRamus

Cherie Mittenthal, Cottage with Cloud, 2014, encaustic, 32” x 20”

Cherie Mittenthal, Cottage with Cloud, 2014, encaustic, 32” x 20”

“My work explores the ritual of layering molten wax. I love the sense of the unexpected, the sensation of scent, and the anticipation evoked as I scrape and carve through the wax. I am most interested in marrying image and medium. My imagery is redolent of the meeting of sky, sand, and sea.”
– Cherie Mittenthal

Dawn Korman, Winter Ditch, 2011, encaustic on birch panel, 9” x 13”

Dawn Korman, Winter Ditch, 2011, encaustic on birch panel, 9” x 13”

“In my studio practice, I use a broad range of media. When I work with encaustic, it lets me move with a looseness and an immediacy that I can’t get with other paints. It is wonderful for exploring light and luminosity. I like to approach painting with a sense of wonder and spontaneity.”
– Dawn Korman

Leslie Sobel, Rising to the Clouds, 2014, encaustic on panel, 20” x 24”

Leslie Sobel, Rising to the Clouds, 2014, encaustic on panel, 20” x 24”

“I make expressionistic landscapes responding in a painterly way to a specific place and my environmental concerns. I am more interested in painterly abstraction than strict depiction of landscape while maintaining more than a vestige of representation in my work. I work from drawings and photography.”
– Leslie Sobel

Judy Klich, Tree Hollow Dream Catcher, 2014; encaustic, oil, photo transfers and metallic pigment; 32” x 48”

Judy Klich, Tree Hollow Dream Catcher, 2014; encaustic, oil, photo transfers and metallic pigment; 32” x 48”

“I capture earth’s beauty often missed by our busy lifestyles by combining macro views and overall landscapes. This painting is from a hidden trail hike ending at the Harpeth River in Tennessee. The tree hollow offers an unseen glimpse of the river.”
– Judy Klich

In Five Words, Part One: Amy Weil

Amy Weil

In Five Words is a regular feature of Prowax Journal in which we go literal, lyrical, and poetic. Visual art does not exist in a vacuum, it sings along with poetry and prose, music and rhythm. Each issue we ask our feature artist to comment on one of their works with five single words, chosen to add meaning and highlight intent. Enjoy.

Weil's Can't Catch Me

Can’t Catch Me, 2014, encaustic and collage on wood panel, 8″ x 10″


Essential Questions: Experimentation in the Studio


Following are some responses from a discussion among ProWax members.

What is the role of experimentation in your practice? Early on, it’s all about the materials, trying new paints and techniques, but once we get to the place where we understand what we want to say and how we want to say it, content takes precedence. Where are you at in the process?

Christine Shannon Aaron: I find I am constantly toggling back and forth. I have concepts I want to express through a certain process or medium, but as the series develops it invites new ideas. Then I find myself back on the material end. I need to figure out how to use new materials, where to source them, learn the properties of the materials so that I can combine them, all in an effort for the concept to speak through the materials. Goller_EQ_RRight now I am investigating more sculptural pieces with wood and shattered mirror. This has required a learning curve about adhesion properties, sealing and attaching.

Pat Spainhour: Currently I am experimenting on collaborative work with my blacksmith husband. This has lead to incorporating iron supports, as well as charring the wood panel prior to encaustic. I find it helpful to keep a journal. Everything I do is an experiment; that is the thrill!

Debra Claffey: Well, content is still part of the experimentation process, even after learning what the materials and techniques will do. I need to figure out which materials will express my content most strongly. Drawing or collage, paint or wax–the experimenting is an integral part of the constant decision-making.

Amy Weil: I’m using the grid as a jumping off place, thinking about a psychological space and interiors that invoke memories from my past. Color and composition are key to achieving these places in time and space. The technique is taking a back seat these days to my ideas. Maybe not so much a back seat but it is in the service of my ideas.

Jane Guthridge: I am currently working on a new series that I started at my residency this fall. It involves capturing and suspending light and shadows. While still trying to express the same ideas, I am always looking for new ways to do that. The new work is dimensional so requires experimenting with new materials and methods of display. It is a long and often frustrating process, but keeps my work moving forward.

Judy H. Klich: I continually push myself to dig deeper into my message and that has led me to look at developing the art to convey my intent more concisely. I have another side of me that wants to go in a whole new direction but I struggle to maintain my “style” so I am consistent with my work. I am also starting to work on making jewelry and crocheting as hobbies and today I had one of those ah-ha moments where I would love to incorporate [those materials into my work]. That idea is just starting to bubble.

Cheryl McClure: It is not a direct process, as we all know in art making. I am a ‘mature’ artist in age and time spent in the studio. I still do not know where I am going most of the time. I am also an intuitive painter using gesture and color, organizing it with line. I experiment, YES, when I need to. NO, I do not go looking for every new thing coming out. I use something new, I have to think about how I will use this and if it will be useful to my process and me. I still think of using a material and then analyzing if it will be appropriate since I do sell my work.

Krista Svalbonas: I’m constantly experimenting. The thesis of what I’m saying usually stays consistent but I find many ways and media to explore its potential. I never thought my photographic documentation, which I use as part of the painting process, would launch into the series of collages that I am making now. With this work, I’m finding new materials and new display methodologies. It’s pretty invigorating, sometimes frustrating, but really fabulous when everything comes together.

Hylla Evans: Being in a new place, I’m witnessing seasons that have lighting completely different from Northern California. Returning to colorist landscape work and pushing through a tendency to overthink combine to form new challenges. It’s unclear whether I’m documenting the light I see or capturing what I feel. Working initially outdoors and maintaining the emotional thrust of the sensory moment are harder than painting a scene. I’m pushing myself.

Rae Miller: I am experimenting for at least part of every day I spend in the studio. At times I am a voracious consumer of new materials: seeking, trying, casting away or totally adopting. Currently, I am in a reductive mode. I’m working on a series about “lightness” and am stripping down to basic elements. The push and pull of content and materials is what keeps me interested.

Miller_EQ_LJoanne Mattera: When I was writing my book, back in 2000, one of the questions I asked Jasper was this: “Over the past few years, encaustic materials have become increasingly available. Has this changed how you approach your work?”

He responded: “There has not been a change for me, because I formed my habits under earlier conditions and have stuck to the same procedures. I know now that there are catalogs of materials. I ordered some paint but haven’t used it yet.”

I understood it then, as I was 15 years into my own involvement with the medium, but I really understand it now, as I dig deeper and deeper into a small field of interest.

Cat L Crotchett: It’s rarely experimentation for the sake of experimentation. Even when I’m learning a new technique, the content of my work is consistent. That said, the content shifts and moves over time. I have found that during the summer, when my son is out of school, it’s hard for me to maintain a rigorous studio schedule and so I’ve accepted that by giving myself permission to do plein air work when we’re at the beach or on vacation. This work is entirely about experimentation.

Karen Nielsen-Fried: I still find that I am totally entranced by the endless possibilities of encaustic paints and oil sticks. I find that my experimentation has more to do with content than medium, because encaustic just seems to deliver the material needs I have and it is up to me to figure out how to transform it to meet my content needs. That’s a challenge I give to myself and I never feel that I am hitting a wall with it. I do occasionally go on exploratory side trips with gouache, cyanotype, cut paper, but I always come back to encaustic.

Lisa Pressman: Experimentation is key to my process and the content of my work. Beginning as a ceramist, turning to sculpture in various media and then painting with oil and cold wax in the 80’s, to encaustic and back to oil, I am always trying to think of my studio as a lab. I approach my work with the ‘What if” question not only with the materials but also in content. My process of layering while painting allows for the freedom of experimenting both with image and materials as I can always cover it up and use it as history. I find that my ongoing content–inside and outside spaces, mark making and abstract narrative –are the structure for my meanderings.

Krista_EQ_RHelen Dannelly: For me, experimenting can be very uncomfortable, but it’s the only way I stretch the boundaries of my work–jumping off into the void and wondering what will come of it. Sometimes it’s a lot of “failure” before I seem to land upon something. As Thomas Alva Edison said, ” I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Marilyn Banner: My work has always been content driven, starting from something that moves me deeply, something that makes me stop and hold its image–a certain light, a certain spot of sand, the ways two objects bump in the midst of flow. Encaustic has been my main medium since 2003. It is the perfect medium for my way of working, which has always mixed adding with subtracting, layering, mixing image with abstraction. I experiment and “muck around” until the “accidents” bring me closer to what some part of me is after, but I never know exactly what that is until I get it.

Nancy Natale: I feel that every piece I make is an experiment of one kind or another. Perhaps it’s not evident to others, but to me each piece presents problems to solve and reaching a solution is key for my relationship with the work. I also toggle back and forth between my tribal-looking work and something more conservative. The methods I use on all the work are pretty much the same but the content changes.

Laura Moriarty: I used to experiment like mad with materials, and I still approach every piece with some kind of question in mind. But as the content of my work has become clear and understood (I think) by viewers, I am challenging myself in that regard. So instead of resting on my geologic time/human time laurels, I am asking myself how my work might approach ideas that I’ve held myself back from, like human activities that disrupt the environment. I never wish to be didactic, but I always push my work as a form of communication.

Deborah Kapoor: I don’t think it’s necessarily an either/or answer. I think of the word ‘experiment’ as pushing oneself somewhere new. With encaustic, there are many options of ‘how’ to use it, which I now see as a great strength. If you spend time learning about new materials, I think you can afford to try something new as it serves your idea.

Artist Communities: Louise Blyton


Milisa Galazzi: Louise, thank you so much for agreeing to partner with me to contribute to this issue of ProWax Journal. In the past, I have focused my Artists and Communities column on interviewing folks who have attended artist residencies. Last issue, I interviewed an artist who explores themes of community in her work. Continuing now to push the definition of ‘artist community’ I am virtually reaching out to you in Australia. After perusing your website, I am struck by how many countries in which you have lived and worked: Australia, China, France, Portugal, England, the United States–to name just a few places! Please talk briefly about how you define your ‘artistic community’ as you have lived and worked in so many places across the globe?

Artist Louise Blyton at Work

Artist Louise Blyton at Work

Louise Blyton: Thank you Milisa for asking a question that is so important to me yet, is rarely asked! From a young age, I knew I wanted two things; to become an artist and to travel. I grew up in a very white, Anglo town near the beach in Australia. My longing for history and culture was so strong that at the age of twenty, I ran off for a few months to India. I wanted to see what was outside of my country. I then came back to Australia, finished my degree, and promptly left again for Europe. I didn’t return to my native country for three years. This long trip greatly displaced me. I didn’t know where I “belonged.” As I finally found my voice as an artist, I realized I still needed to travel to feel connected. Australia has a very small history of non-objective art (although this is changing very quickly right now). For this reason, as a young artist, I looked to European and American artists to find a community of like-minded creators. Connecting to other artists outside of Australia gave me a sense that I wasn’t alone and that I was part of a greater visual language. Now through social media, I am able to connect with my contemporaries all over the world. When I went to New York to take part in a two-month residency at PointB in Williamsburg, I arrived at a ready-made “artistic community.” When I got to New York, I felt like I had finally met my family!

MG: You talk about ‘travel’ as a way for you as an artist to feel more ‘connected.’ Could you talk a little bit more about that?

Louise Blyton's Exhibition

Sugarland Exhibition

LB: I feel very strongly about the benefits of travel. I think traveling should be compulsory for those artists who are able. Through the journey, we begin to understand the world around us. As an artist, I enjoy the adventure of travel as well as the ability to conduct visual research. Through my travels, I am able to connect with art that I’ve studied for years in books and on-line and yet have never seen in person. Studying these pieces in person makes my connections to them far more meaningful.

MG: Please share a little more about how you as an artist use social media to connect with your contemporaries all over the world?

LB: Social media has become a large part of my life as an artist. I use social media to showcase what I do. In this way, the digital connection acts like a calling card. This way of connecting works very well for me, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have been in any of the many overseas shows without the ability to connect via social media. Building relationships with contemporaries is so important. We are privileged to live in a time that this type of community building can be done all over the world and not just in your own country. The beauty of social media is that you can banter with other artists in a casual format no matter where you live. You can show them a snippet of your life and engage with them on a more personal level. In this way, social media is unlike a website which showcases purely your professional life and can be very static.

The artist in her residency studio at PointB

The artist in her residency studio at PointB

MG: As an artist living and working in Australia, you traveled half way across the globe to spend time in New York for a two month residency at PointB. In what ways did that experience influence you as an artist and how did your work grow as a result of spending eight weeks living and working in another country?

LB: Gosh, I could write a book on this question but will keep it short. I’d only been to New York once before and that was purely as a tourist. I fell head-over-heels in love with the place! The amount of art and the number of galleries and museums was astounding to me. Many of my friends had taken part in this residency at PointB and I was very eager to take advantage of this opportunity. I have a very busy life in Australia and didn’t know how on earth I could fit a residency into my already full schedule. My former residency partner from Beijing, Cat Poliski, put her foot down and said, “That’s it. We’re going!” Once accepted, I settled quickly into the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg that felt immediately like home (in fact it’s almost a clone of my neighborhood in Melbourne). The wonderful thing about a residency is that you can submerge yourself purely in your artistic interests with no other distractions outside of your art life. My main goal was to make contact with artists whom I had met through social media. I also made many studio visits that allowed me to meet some wonderful people. I also attended many gallery openings and I generally took part in the art community. You ask, “How did this influence on my work?” Well, that’s something that is still slowly evolving! I became obsessed with videotaping the water on the East River. I became fascinated with the memories that this river holds. I took over eighty videos and I’m still working with them. This is a long-term project that will find me back in New York again, I hope!

MG: What else would you like to share with our readers about this topic of Artist Communities?

LB: As an artist locked away in my studio, I can feel extremely isolated. It’s important for me to know that I am part of a larger community of artists, and a very supportive one, at that. Being part of a global artist community has been a great way for me to learn about other artists and their individual studio practices. I’m always amazed at the generosity of the artists I have met overseas and on-line. I truly look forward to these relationships maturing over time.