Q & A


With Lorrie Fredette

By Nancy Natale

Above the cloud view of The Great Silence at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, Massachusetts, 2011

Above the cloud view of The Great Silence at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, Massachusetts, 2011

I remember seeing Lorrie Fredette’s installation, The Great Silence, in the main gallery at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in 2011. It consisted of a massive 36-foot-long canopy of wax-painted muslin forms suspended from a metal grid under the room’s huge skylight. The light from above illuminated them and emphasized their hollow, irregular shapes. In the room’s air currents, individual elements drifted slowly and silently in almost imperceptible movements, small vessels within the vast cloud formation. Above the canopy, a glistening veil of nylon lines supported individual elements below at slightly varying heights.

Installation view of The Great Silence, Cape Cod Museum of Art, 6 feet 2 inches x 36 feet 9 inches x 5 feet 8 inches, suspended 8 feet 6 inches above the floor

Installation view of The Great Silence, Cape Cod Museum of Art, 6 feet 2 inches x 36 feet 9 inches x 5 feet 8 inches, suspended 8 feet 6 inches above the floor

What was the meaning behind this installation, I wondered. Was it all about the beauty of these light-filled objects or did the artist intend more with this powerful and labor-intensive work? My interview with Lorrie Fredette allowed me to explore the meaning and method of her extraordinary work.

Studio portrait of Lorrie Fredette

Studio portrait of Lorrie Fredette

If you are unfamiliar with Lorrie Fredette’s work, it helps to know that she creates site-specific installations, sculptures, and drawings inspired by medical and environmental stories. At the core of all of her work is her interest in repetition, many small parts coming together to create a larger whole.

Nancy Natale: Do you have a name for the wax-covered muslin pieces that you make?

Lorrie Fredette: Though I most often refer to the pieces as pods or elements, they have also been referred to as components, pieces, units, and ingredients. As a single member, each is important. However, it is their aggregation that has the most visual forcefulness.

Identifying names for the installed collective whole varies by concept, site and assemblage. For example, I refer to The Great Silence, a site-responsive installation for the Cape Cod Museum of Art, as an undulating canopy. Complex Interplay, a site-responsive installation, for the Islip Art Museum, is referred to as clusters.

NN: Would you describe your process of making these elements?

LF: I handcraft each element from the armature to the painting. On occasion, I hire assistants to help with aspects of the making.
A brass wire armature is hand formed and soldered. Though there is no mold or physical pattern, each frame is created with a specified length of wire in order to retain some size consistency.

Closeup showing variety of pod shapes as well as line and shadow, Situational Variables, Herron School of Art + Design, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2016

Closeup showing variety of pod shapes as well as line and shadow, Situational Variables, Herron School of Art + Design, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2016

Unbleached cotton muslin is fitted to each frame and sewn by hand, assuring a tight painting surface. It is in this part of the making that I bring in studio support because it is the most time consuming part of the process.

Every pod is painted individually with a minimum of five coats of beeswax and tree resin (encaustic medium). Often the painting layers exceed nine but five is the absolute minimum density.

NN: How do you decide on the shapes and the variety of shapes in an installation?

LF: The variety of shapes and sizes for each installation is determined by multiple factors and these considerations are richly intertwined. My work is activated though research, which often includes geographical area of the hosting venue; who is the hosting venue; current and historical news of the area including environmental, medical, social, and political (these are often already intertwined); microscopic imagery of bacteria and viruses; the measurable impact of a disease (morbidity and mortality, food supply, as well as other economic losses); and the physical attributes (square footage, height and special features) of the space.

By collecting, comprehending and culling through the data, the facts and the falsehoods, shapes, sizes and configurations come into focus. One aspect of the process is to create renderings reflecting my interpretations.

NN: How closely does your scientific research influence the objects that you make and the form of the installations?

LF: It would be false for me to suggest the research doesn’t hold some authority. However, the foundation of my making is drawing. I attempt to translate the language-based research into drawings and any image findings into my own handwork.

For example, when I create the very first sketch of a microscopic image such as smallpox virus, the drawing is as literal as I possibly can make it. The sketching of this one particular finding doesn’t stop there. It’s actually the beginning of my visual note taking. The drawing process is repeated with only the previous drawing as my source. Because of this process, I’ve created my own evolution over this one image; drawing #20 of the smallpox virus shows noteworthy differences from drawing #1 and from drawing #50. And, yes, there can easily be 50 drawings. I see the relationship of each visual translation to its predecessor as linear, orderly, and progressive, but should you view a sampling of these drawings, you might not see them as sequential.

NN: How much of your research do you want to share with your audience?

LF: If any of the research is to be shared, I’m only interested in it appearing as statements, press releases, and conversations. I’m interested in creating spaces visitors that find approachable, inviting and, dare I say it, beautiful. Because the work is boldly attractive, I see it as a conscious lure ushering each person into the space and toward, into, and under the installation. Once I have them involved, many people will seek out the supporting statement. So, it’s the art first, the science second.

Implementation of Adaptation, Garrison Art Center, Garrison, New York, 2013, 6 feet 1 inch x 36 feet x 12 feet, suspended 40 inches above the floor

Implementation of Adaptation, Garrison Art Center, Garrison, New York, 2013, 6 feet 1 inch x 36 feet x 12 feet, suspended 40 inches above the floor

I want to be clear that I’m not a scientist. I’m an artist interested in science. My research is motivated by my interest, and I am mindful that it can become convoluted. I’d never suggest the majority of my research findings as facts, though when I write about the work for venues or am speaking about the work, I make sure I have the recent facts to share.

However, I’ve noticed a recent pattern has developed within the arrangement of the installations. It is the number of individual elements. They now typically reference some factual statistic. For example, the installation Implementation of Adaptation included 574 individual elements referencing the number of reported outbreaks by the New York State Department of Health for yellow fever, dengue fever, malaria, and West Nile virus during a specific range of time.

While I do wish for people to consider the science at some point, I’d be making different work if the science was the most important aspect or even equally important as the art.

NN: Do you consider yourself a sculptor who does installations or an installation artist who installs objects? That is, how important are the individual objects that you make? Are you thinking of them as a group of multiples or as individual objects that you combine together?

LF: I believe my response is going to surprise you. I consider myself a painter. I paint portraits and landscapes — molecular portraits and the landscape of the body. I simply manifest them as larger dimensional objects intervening in architecturally defined spaces.

The individual object and the whole have equal importance. There are several parallels we can reference. Medically, one person sneezing will eject and distribute millions of fluid droplets covering a room in seconds and hovering in the air for some time. A second reference is the importance of an individual vote. It is in their totality that political determinations are made, but without the individual there is no aggregation.

NN: What influences the installation height for hanging work? (i.e. I’m thinking of The Great Silence installed at three different heights in three different locations)

LF: Simply put, it’s the level of engagement I’m interested in obtaining from the visitor.

The Great Silence, Morean Art Center, St. Petersburg, Florida, 2012, 6 feet 2 inches x 16 feet 4 inches x 5 feet 8 inches, suspended 40 inches above the floor

The Great Silence, Morean Art Center, St. Petersburg, Florida, 2012, 6 feet 2 inches x 16 feet 4 inches x 5 feet 8 inches, suspended 40 inches above the floor

Each venue offers a complex and unique set of variables. As a choreographer–and I do actively participate in this role—my attention turns toward encounter. The study of disease transmission (such as person to person or airborne), the internal traffic patterns of the hosting venue and the gallery’s architectural features are a few components I use to inform the hanging height.

You’ve mentioned The Great Silence. The installation was specifically created for The Cape Cod Museum of Art. The best presentation for the work was creating an undulating canopy for people to walk under because it would be the most inviting in this space. The gallery is largish and the majority of shows are painting, drawing, and other work on the walls. Obviously, I was directing and moving people to the middle of the room. The installation’s pod-like forms were suspended just above visitors’ heads by 24 to 36 inches, depending on the visitor’s height.

The Great Silence, Bank of America Headquarters, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2012, 6 feet 2 inches x 16 feet 4 inches x 5 feet 8 inches, suspended approximately 24 feet above the first floor

The Great Silence, Bank of America Headquarters, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2012, 6 feet 2 inches x 16 feet 4 inches x 5 feet 8 inches, suspended approximately 24 feet above the first floor

One of the other locations for The Great Silence was at the Bank of America. It was an abbreviated version suspended at the second-story level in their atrium. The idea was to provide a distant viewing so that no matter the vantage point of viewers walking under it, in the ground-floor lobby or in the perimeter of the second story corridor, they would always be at a safe distance from the work.

On a technical note, I always find a work-around to any structural concerns. It’s an opportunity to expand my abilities and that of my installation crew.

NN: How much does the architecture of the gallery influence your installation? I’m thinking of the comparison between Complex Interplay at the Islip Museum and Imperfect Distribution at the Hunterdon Museum of Art – neither one in a white box gallery. To my eye there were some similarities in that the installations seemed particularly graceful and curving. Of course I wouldn’t use the word “decorative,” but they did not seem like they referred to scientific research. How wrong am I?

LF: Islip and Hunterdon are environments where seeing the work in person has a stronger impact. The photographers I hire are very good but they cannot translate the experience and can’t replace the actual environment.

Imperfect Distribution, Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, New Jersey, 2015, 8 feet 6 inches x 21 feet 2 inches x 35 feet

Imperfect Distribution, Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, New Jersey, 2015, 8 feet 6 inches x 21 feet 2 inches x 35 feet

The title I give each installation is to provide an entry point for the viewer. I’ll reference just one of the installations to respond.

Complex Interplay, exhibited at the Islip Art Museum, references the space— the building as body and host for the work. There is a “complex interplay” between a virus and its victim including where it enters the body, the type of cells in which it can reproduce and whether it can then escape to reach another human.

The Islip Art Museum’s main artery hosted Complex Interplay. I was thinking of the building as a vessel that acts as a container of people and objects. Within this repository, corridors serve as a distribution vehicle offering people a pathway to their intended (or not so intended) destinations.

Complex Interplay, Islip Art Museum, East Islip, New York, 2014, 14 feet x 9 feet 8 inches x 34 feet 6 inches

Complex Interplay, Islip Art Museum, East Islip, New York, 2014, 14 feet x 9 feet 8 inches x 34 feet 6 inches

Using these symbolic references of vessel and corridor, the architecture serves as “host” of an unknown contagion where the interchange of virus (the art) and victim (the building) reproduce and escape to reach its next target (the viewer).

The Islip Art Museum installation didn’t have an “it’s this disease” identity; it did have “this is how disease can spread.”

NN: The porcelain installation, Proper Limits, that you did at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in 2015 and at Rutgers in 2016 seemed to move your work in a different direction because of the material that you used, the way it was installed, and the sound component. You created a whole environment for the work. It had a really creepy feel and I thought it evoked more of an emotional response than your other installations. Would you comment on this? And can we expect more immersive installations like it?

LF: The “creepy” response was certainly intentional. Thank you. I take it as a compliment.

I have a background in theater. I worked as a Properties Artisan in regional repertory a few years after graduating from college. In this theater, the production staff worked closely with the director and the designers. Because of this, I gleaned my initial knowledge of blocking (space usage), interplay with objects (props), lighting, and sound.

Therefore, each installation is all encompassing, though I believe the Visual Art Center of New Jersey provided a unique experience because of the space it offered. The gallery size, the low drop-ceiling, as well as having just one way to enter or leave the gallery enhanced viewers’ visceral response. The gallery truly expressed itself as a habitat where these serpentine-like forms claimed ownership.

Proper Limits, Visual Art Center of New Jersey, Summit, New Jersey, 2015, 18 feet 3.5 inches x 17 feet 10.5 inches x 8 feet

Proper Limits, Visual Art Center of New Jersey, Summit, New Jersey, 2015, 18 feet 3.5 inches x 17 feet 10.5 inches x 8 feet

There were a number of alterations or enhancements made to the space to elicit reactions in the installation. The floor was transformed from blonde wood to white linoleum and that change was critical. It produced the necessary experience of separation from the “outside world.” More than a third of the drop-ceiling tiles were changed out, allowing me to introduce tiles with the porcelain elements already attached.

The materials I select for my work are always in service to the concept and not just my personal interest. In choosing porcelain for the elements of Proper Limits, a few of my reasons were because it is “of the earth,” because the symbolically white color is associated with purity, and because the sheer number of components was not as immediately visible on the white gallery walls.

The introduction of sound in Proper Limits was used to push many visitors to their edge. It was a risk on my part (and that of the VACNJ) to show such a piece because a percentage of visitors refused to engage with the piece, meaning they would not enter the gallery. Of course, this was also a response I wanted. If you did enter the space and you were alone, you would hear a faint undertone. The sound associations were routed in facts associated with Lyme disease—neighborhood noises, rustling trees, wind sounds, and hospital noises. [You can view a video of the installation here.]

As I’ve grown and my knowledge expands, so does the way I present my work. Viewers most certainly may anticipate more saturated and involved experiences.

Based in the Hudson River Valley in New York, Lorrie Fredette gravitates toward the iconography and material sensibility of the Postminimal Art Movement, specifically in dimensional form.

Lorrie Fredette’s next exhibition, Iterations, is a solo at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, in Jacksonville, Florida, opening April 8, 2017.

Q & A


with Alexandre Masino

By Nancy Natale

When I attended Alexandre Masino’s talk, Advanced Techniques & Studio Practice, last June at the Tenth International Encaustic Conference, I was immediately impressed with the way he spoke about the process and practice of painting. I recognized him as a painter’s painter, someone who knows the ins and outs of the medium and speaks with authority and easy references to the activity, the obsession, the problems, and the thrill of making paintings. He was someone I wanted to know more about and this interview provided me with the opportunity.


Alexandre Masino painting in his studio, 2016
Photo: Yechel Gagnon

NN: To begin with some technical information, I know you heat your wax in cans on a double boiler, which is a little unusual, but then when I watched your video (in French), I saw that you also paint vertically, which is very atypical of painting with encaustic. Would you tell me more about this method and what it allows you to accomplish with your work?

AM: Everything that applies to painting in general applies to our medium of encaustic. Before devoting my practice to encaustic, I experienced that standing and painting at an easel gave me a liberty of movement that was critical to my painting process. When I began using encaustic, I knew two major painters who used the medium, Jasper Johns and Tony Scherman. They both painted vertically, so I never questioned it.


Another view of Alexandre working on an encaustic painting
Photo: Yechel Gagnon

I started exploring the use of encaustic by myself, without attending any workshops, about a year before Joanne’s book was published in 2001. Teaching oneself a specific medium is a difficult learning curve (years of trial and error can be saved by attending workshops at the Conference). I was on my own and found that the glazing techniques and other methods I was used to had to be thrown out the window. The medium was so physical that I sometimes felt like a construction worker, and I had to appropriate unusual tools. All my working habits had to be redesigned.

Now when I teach, I advocate for the advantages of working on an easel, however I do work both vertically and horizontally. Each method has advantages that we must make the most of. My easel is completely vertical—a real 90 degrees, not tilted at an angle. This means that most of the time when my brush drips, the paint doesn’t fall on my painting but just in front of it. Using the easel allows me to see my painting in the same position as it will be experienced by the viewer.


Sculptural buildup of wax drips on front of the easel

Also, painting requires movement. It is a choreography inscribed in matter, so having freedom of movement adds to the painting vocabulary. Standing upright and facing an easel allows you to move your fingers, your wrist, your elbow, your shoulder—your entire body—in a much freer manner than when you are crouched over a table. For a painterly or expressionist application of paint, it makes a lot of sense to work with an easel. I have even achieved a level of control where I can now fuse my paintings on the easel without any sliding of the surface.

NN: How did the use of double-boilers and cans come about?


Paint cans in double boilers

AM: That came when I first started using encaustic. During my college studies at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal, I experienced severe health problems due to heavy solvent exposure in badly ventilated classrooms. Working with oil paint became impossible for me, so I thought for a long time that encaustic was out of reach as well. I basically had to find a way to use it while keeping my studio air as clean as possible. I found that with the double boiler system there were no fumes since the paint never overheated. This was the first and most important advantage for me.

I never want to change this way of working as it gives me so many advantages: the cans contain larger quantities of wax because of their extra depth, I am able to bring the cans to my easel so my brushes don’t get cold between the stove and my painting, and my brushes stay submerged in wax so that the ferrules and the bristles stay warm longer, providing me with the possibility of longer brushmarks. Also, I can easily change and adjust my palette as I replace one color with another one just by switching cans.


La dérive des siècles (Drifting of Centuries), 2016; encaustic, gold leaf and copper leaf on panel; 46 x 32 inches (117 x 81 centimeters)

NN: Tell us about the other tool for which you have a great fondness.

AM: The third technical element that I always promote, but which does not seem to be used a lot, is the fan brush. It works wonders with encaustic. It holds more medium than a small brush so it stays warm longer and it is very versatile. With the same brush you can do fine lines and details or build up textures. You can also fill up large areas, depending which side of the brush you are using and the angle at which you hold it in relation to the panel.

NN: Let’s talk about your painting process. You also work in encaustic monotypes and have generously shared information about your techniques in your blog. [Also I see that you recently received a grant that allowed you to begin intaglio printmaking that you combine with encaustic monotypes.] Would you explain more about this and show some examples?


Cette marée de pierre III (This Tide of Stone), 2012, encaustic monotype on Gampi paper, 23 x 34.5 inches (58 x 88 centimeters)

I was introduced to encaustic monotype in a demo by Paula Roland during the first year of the International Encaustic Conference. From the beginning I wondered how I could integrate elements of images that could be duplicated in printmaking and then transformed on the hotbox into unique works with encaustic. That is, I wanted to make monoprints as well as monotypes. I think it’s important to differentiate the two: monoprints have an element that can be repeated while monotypes are solely one-off. I have always been very fond of Edvard Munch’s approach to printmaking, which gives a feeling of everything being possible. One image is repeated in many different color combinations, while compositions are reworked and even collaged. His prints achieve a real playfulness because of his free approach.

In my attempts to make monoprints, I tried techniques such as printing with collagraph plates, but I realized that what I really wanted to achieve was a dialogue between finely drawn lines and the expressive physicality of encaustic. Intaglio printing with encaustic monotypes became the obvious method to achieve this combination.


Lexan plate with three versions of an intaglio and encaustic monoprint

However, since I am very sensitive to solvents, I could not work with traditional etching acids or oil-based inks. I developed a way to engrave Lexan plates [polycarbonate sheet similar to acrylic plexiglass] using a dremel and other carving tools. I ink the plates using Akua water-based, non-toxic inks, and I print them on Japanese paper to later work on them with encaustic monotype. Using Lexan for plates is not recommended by master printmakers since the plates are impossible to ink twice identically, as is necessary for printing editions. However, my goal is precisely to make unique prints rather than editions. When I ink my plates, I make a point of being very painterly in the manner that I wipe the ink out, and I even paint with the ink to rework the image in relation to the engraved lines. This way I have a different ground each time that I start the encaustic monotypes. The transparency of the plate is very useful in figuring out what the final image will look like.

NN: Although your work would probably be referred to as representational, I know that you use the subject matter as a means of connecting to traditions in art history as well as making the objects that you portray have symbolical power and meaning. What is your intention more explicitly, and how do you go about accomplishing what you call “a synthesis of the past and the present?”

I love this question. Thank you for tackling these rarely-brought-up notions and addressing the “synthesis of the past and the present”.

It is true that I believe in history. It is only through understanding the human condition throughout time that we can gain some knowledge of ourselves. I want to link things and not to isolate them. I believe reality is complex and it should not be put into small boxes or arbitrary categorizations.


Évoquer les jours (Evoking the Days), 2014, encaustic and copper leaf on panel, 11 x 12 inches (28 x 30.5 centimeters)

A symbol is something that represents or suggests another idea or entity—something precise. In this regard my work is not symbolic as I don’t work with allegories. On the contrary, I want as much as possible to broaden the interpretations of my work. But you are right; I always integrate many different levels of meaning in my work. For example, when I paint still lifes, I paint only one type of fruit at a time, thereby allowing the fruits to represent beings rather than only fruit. If I were to paint pears and apples together, they would remain pears and apples, but by painting two pears side by side, I paint a couple.

If I paint an open pomegranate, I show the continuity of life with the seeds. Such an image might also be understood as portraying an intimate internal reality contrasted with what we see from the outside. This is the dichotomy between the external and the internal. By painting an apple, an apple core and a seed, I paint time: present, past and future.

NN: Is this emphasis on layered meanings reflected in the titles of your paintings?

AM: In a subtle way, all my work is a form of multidisciplinary dialogue. My titles are chosen to open up the meaning and provide possible levels of interpretation. They derive from quotes in poems or essays or they have a link to mythology, history, or art history. I believe that this provides a dialogue with another medium and creates something larger than the anecdotal aspect of the represented elements. I don’t think it is important to know the exact sources of my titles to appreciate them, but in an oblique way, they add to the whole body of information that is conveyed.


Rêves éveillés (Waking Dreams), 2015, encaustic and gold leaf on panel, 32 x 46 inches (81 x 117 centimeters)

I believe my works are philosophical in many aspects even if they don’t shout it out. In contemporary art we tend to associate philosophy with extremely cerebral and austere works, but I stand against this narrow definition. Art can be sensual and intellectual at the same time.

NN: What do you strive for in your work?

AM: My works are very painterly. To really appreciate them, they need to be seen in the flesh. My work is about the lived experience, as expressed in nuances of colors, textures, and how the painting reacts and changes when viewed from various perspectives or in different lighting. But my fascination with paint and its sensual and evocative quality doesn’t mean that my thinking process is solely materially based.


Synthèse (Synthesis), 2015, encaustic and copper leaf on panel, 16 x 16 inches (40.5 x 40.5 centimeters)

Although my work is strongly rooted in the history of painting and many different aspects of the craft of painting, that does not mean I am not precisely aware of contemporary realities. We live in fast times where everything is speeded up, but I propose to make paintings that are difficult to reproduce and which you have to spend time with to fully appreciate. It is my deep belief that slow food is better than fast food.

NN: One more important influence for you, in life and in art, is Asia. Would you tell us more about it?

AM: I have always been drawn to the cultural history of Japan, its esthetic and its philosophy. For more than 10 years now I have been practicing Qi Gong, and I am really moved by writings of the Taoists, Chinese philosophers—Lao-Tseu, Tchouang-Tseu—who date back more than 2000 years. I have studied the work and the writings of many Chinese scholar-painters such as Shitao and Chu Ta.


Kintsukuroi (Japanese art form of repair), 2014, encaustic and gold leaf on panel, 11 x 12 inches (28 x 30.5 centimeters)

In 2010 I traveled through Japan for a month and had the rare opportunity to be accompanied by someone who knew the country thoroughly and who could speak the language. We stayed in ryokan, traditional inns, in order to live the culture as much as possible. This voyage had an immense impact on my practice. It was by experiencing first hand their temples, shrines and esthetic that I developed an interest in integrating gold and copper leaf into my paintings. What really struck a fundamental chord with me was their appreciation of the beauty of shadows to reveal light, their wabi-sabi philosophy of acceptance of imperfections and impermanence along with the understanding that the natural aging of objects gives them richness and warmth. It is this spirit that I try to convey through my use of metallic pigments.

The Chinese and Japanese traditional painters have a different compositional approach from Westerners, and it is extremely rich to create dialogues between these traditions. For example, we Westerners tend to think of the void as something negative. For Chinese scholars emptiness is fundamental as the place where changes can occur; it is the necessary place for transformations. Everything is in the dialogue between the full and the void, between form and the possibility of mutations within a cyclical conception of time. These notions are crucial and inform all of my work.

NN: Your series of Ehon, meaning painted books in Japanese, is a body of work strongly influenced by your interest in Asia that you have developed over time. I am saving most of your response about this beautiful format for a later article on artists’ books, but I wanted to mention them because they are an important part of your practice.

AM: My use of Ehon and of intaglio have inspired a real cross-pollination in my studio over the last months. I now integrate more and more the use of drawing into my actual paintings in dialogue with the painterly elements.


Frontières du possible (Frontiers of the Possible), 2016; encaustic, gold leaf and copper leaf on panel; 32 x 23 inches (81 x 58.5 centimeters)

NN: And finally, at the Conference, I purchased a beautiful catalog from you that documented a show called Correspondances at Dawson College in Montreal featuring your work along with that of your spouse, Yechel Gagnon. What’s it like to share life with another artist?

AM: I feel extremely privileged that Yechel and I share common careers as well as a deep interest in the dialogue between Eastern and the Western cultures. Our work is quite different from each other from a formal point of view, but it is very similar in its meditative quality and in the influences that inform it. It’s great to have someone to talk to and exchange ideas with on a daily basis. We know each other’s work in a very intrinsic manner while not being worried that our two bodies of work are too similar. It’s also a great exercise to comment and critique each other’s work regularly. It trains our vision in a broader manner than if we were only looking at our own production. Although it’s extremely time consuming to be creating and promoting two bodies of work and two careers, the advantages are enriching and really wonderful. We manage to create a real sense of collaboration where we do everything that we can so that the other’s production can bloom as much as possible.

Alexandre’s website
Yechel Gagnon’s website
The Correspondances catalog is not available online but may be purchased directly from Alexandre for $25, including shipping. Email info@alexandremasino.ca for details.

Q & A

PWJ.Q&A with Joan Stuart Ross

By Nancy Natale

JSRoss in studio_ by Cate Gable_2015_600

Joan Stuart Ross in her BallardWorks Studio, Seattle, 2015. Photo: Cate Gable

A couple of years ago I saw some images that Joan Stuart Ross had posted on Facebook to promote an upcoming show. I was familiar with her gridded and carved work in encaustic and so was rather surprised to see the new pieces containing loose and painterly marks with drawings and handwritten text. The work looked related to but different from her previous approach to art making. As time went on and she continued to post photos of paintings that had such a newly expansive feeling, I became curious about what had shaken up Joan’s work after her decades-long art career. I wanted to ask her about the way art changes over time and yet carries forward the initial impetus.

Nancy Natale: First of all, allow me to remark on the changes that I noticed in your work beginning a couple of years ago with the series you made on boats and the series you are calling What is so rare. Do I have it right? Was this work different for you?

Joan Stuart Ross: The What is so rare pieces started in a Lorraine Glessner workshop at the Ninth International Encaustic Conference, June 2015. I’d admired Lorraine’s layers of thoughts and memories and was pleased to use some of her offering of simple materials—tracing paper, magazine images, and carbon paper. Drawing onto the back of black carbon paper that released a mark not seen until the paper was removed, much like monotype printmaking, gave me furry marks and notations that I enjoyed exploring. I’ve been using this technique in my paintings, overlaying layers of carbon-drawing on their encaustic and collaged surfaces.


What is so rare—Boats and Oars, 2015; encaustic, collage, carbon on wood panel; 12 x 12 inches

With this evolution has come a renewed interest in my roots—drawing recognizable shapes from nature. The lines in my color grid paintings that experimented with color dynamics were drawing for me, but with a return to what I used to call “pure drawing”— being inspired by shapes from nature—has come a new, more relaxed flow to my line and to its becoming fresh.

That summer, the title, What is so rare? led to a sort of philosophical freedom, as well. Every June, my sister quotes the poem by James Russell Lowell,

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days…..

There I was in the Truro workshop, in June, continuing my interest in the iconical, metaphorical boat shape, thinking expansively, working across-country from my home studios in the Pacific Northwest, in my old stomping grounds (I’m originally from Boston and spent every summer as a kid at Whitehorse Beach in Plymouth, Massachusetts) and experimenting in an open way with simple media. I continued into the fall, working in my studio on the Washington coast.

JSRoss_What is so rare VIII_600

What is so rare VIII, 2015; encaustic, carbon on wood panel; 10 x 10 inches

When I showed this series of twenty 10 x 10-inch paintings in a solo exhibition last October, several viewers asked for the meaning of the words, “What is so rare?” This rhetorical question seemed an enigma to them. I explained that this snippet of the poem conjures the connection of a questioning mind with nature—the entire poem evokes weather, atmosphere, growth and change, but this introductory phrase asks one to imagine what is truly “rare?” The definition of what is “rare” must be entirely her own; it is the essence of art, and cannot be fully explained. That is the theme of the series.

NN: I also see that you are using recycled wood pieces assembled into groupings. Can you speak about how you started this and how this is influencing your thoughts and work?

JSR: In 1994, when I began working in encaustic, I collected found pieces of wood, my former woodcut printmaking blocks, pieces from the lumberyard’s scrap box, and planks from here and there to use as bases for my paintings. About 12 years ago a student showed me a page from an art magazine—a wall piece composed of individual colorful works set in an abstract grid. I loved it! The image stayed in my mind, and I started piecing together small encaustic paintings in a larger presentation, with spaces in between: abstract maps, scattered landscapes seen from above, flotsam and jetsam, pieces-put- together, patchwork slightly related as parts to a puzzle, like New Hampshire’s stone walls, mosaic, the work of Gustav Klimt and Mark Bradford.


Waves, 2016; encaustic, textile and paper collage on recycled wood; 26 x 38 1/2 inches

I think of my work as refined in ideas about color and shape, layers and surface, media and choice, but it is gritty in its lack of need for perfection in edges, marks and in its abstract associations. I think that these two opposites create an arresting whole, both in a person’s personality and in my work! Nothing predictable, everything may change. Form is selected and placed; perhaps it is irregular and disjointed, but it is of a piece. I select form from the array that is out there, paint, layer, embed, scratch and scrape, then arrange to make it my own.

NN: And then there is collage, which I think has always been a part of your work. Has it changed for you? I see that you sometimes use lots of little pieces that look like mosaic. Is this new to your practice or something that you’ve been doing for a while?

JSR: Looking back, I was inspired as a child by a book of patchwork designs that I still have. More recently, Roman mosaics were influential from both photographs and from observations made in 1993 when I was a Rome Fellow of The Northwest Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies (now named The Civita Institute).


Tiers, 2015; encaustic, textile and repurposed paper collage, oil on canvas mounted to wood; 46 1/4 x 46 1/4 inches

In 2008-2009, I began to cut up some of my old work—paintings, prints, photographs—and to “repurpose” them into new work. I pasted them over monotypes and embedded them into my paintings. In 2010, I had a solo exhibition of these works, titled “Repurposed” at the Washington County Museum in Portland, Oregon. Lately I see that many artists are creating “hybrids.” It seems that cutting up and reinventing our old work has much to do with having created a lot of art over the years and having filled up one’s studio space!

After my mother’s death in 2012, I became particularly interested in using her textiles and fabrics as a guide to revisit the past and to lead into the future. In Tiers, Oriole’s Adventure, and Sky and Sea, the embedded textile deepens in opacity and suggests puzzle pieces that may have not been fully known nor expressed: thoughts, memories and emotions that are both past and present.

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Joan Stuart Ross with Immigration at Foster-White Gallery, Seattle, 1983

See more at joanstuartross.com

An interview with Joan by E. Ashley Rooney and Anne Lee will be featured in the Fall 2016 issue of Fiber Art Now. Her work will also be included in several upcoming shows in the Pacific Northwest.