Teaching the Art of Encaustic in the Netherlands: An Interview with Catherine Nash
PWJ: How did you end up teaching encaustic internationally?
CN: Karina van Vught is the owner and director of Zijdelings Studio in Tilburg, a city famous for textile production in the south of Holland. She emailed R&F Paints for suggestions of instructors of encaustic painting, and they recommended me. I am very at home in Europe, but it was my first time teaching encaustic there. (I have lived, made art and exhibited in western Europe extensively: with artist residencies in printmaking studios in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and a year of artmaking in Paris. Opportunities arose for me later to teach the contemporary applications of Japanese and Western papermaking in eight different European countries, returning a number of times to the same site.) After a year of planning and marketing with Karina, I taught two workshops in encaustic monotype and one about the potential of paper with encaustic at Zijdelings last November.
PWJ: How familiar were your students with the medium of encaustic? Do they use the same processes or is there anything different? Where do they get their supplies?
CN: I would venture to say that the use of encaustic in Europe as a fine art is a rarity. While encaustic is known in general as a craft or hobby, artists are just beginning to explore encaustic as a viable art medium. Zijdelings is first and foremost a center for the fiber arts: workshop topics are always related to surface design on fabric and/or mixed media. As the representative for the Surface Design Association in Europe, Karina met Daniella Woolf during the 2009 SDA conference held in Kansas City, Missouri. Intrigued and wanting to introduce encaustic art in her studio, Karina invited Daniella to come and teach at her Tilburg studio in April of 2010. Zijdelings is now an official vendor of R&F paints, products and equipment, one of the very few places to buy quality encaustic supplies in Europe.
Several of the students who took my workshops were repeat participants from Daniella’s class returning to learn more about the medium. Artist and educator Cherilyn Martin (from the U.K., now living in Holland) writes, “Karina attracts and invites some of the foremost international teachers to her studio to teach, which is unique here in Europe. Consequently, participants come from all over Europe to join these specialist classes.”
The workshop participants with whom I worked at Zijdelings Studio, were professional, exhibiting artists from Norway, Germany, Belgium and all over Holland. I observed that they approached encaustic with their own expertise and creative vision, bringing their vast knowledge and skills of the fiber arts, painting, printmaking and artist books to the table. Belgian artist Lia Flemings explains, “I always search for media combinations that offer strength to each other.”
Once I’d introduced varied techniques, I encouraged participants to experiment with encaustic as a visual and structural tool with which to express their creative ideas. I was truly thrilled and inspired by their innovative incorporation of molten pigmented waxes within their work especially with their works using fabric and fiber. They also taught me a great deal – a true exchange.
PWJ: How popular is using encaustic, and if it is popular, who is using it? What kind of work do people make with encaustic?
CN: I thought it would be interesting to pose these questions directly to some of the artists who took my workshops. Their responses support my own observations that the medium is not very commonly used. Lia Flemings has found that few artists work with encaustic in Belgium or France.
Cherilyn Martin has herself been teaching some courses in encaustic at Zijdelings in Holland. She has an upcoming workshop there in mid April and it is fully enrolled. She writes, “There are people using encaustic, but this tends to be the popular method of ironing wax onto paper to use in card making. One can find a handful of artists in Europe working individually with encaustic, mostly exploring encaustic collage/mixed media on paper or wood.” She adds, “Occasionally one will find an artist working sculpturally with the media. But I don’t know of anyone else in the Netherlands who is teaching real encaustic. Luckily Zijdelings attracts painters and textile artists who are able to work independently after learning the basic encaustic techniques.”
Norwegian artist Deborah Mathisen participated in the 6th International Encaustic Conference, in Provincetown and studied with me during a hands-on workshop that I taught as part of the conference. She and an artist friend from Oslo flew to Holland to study again with me there. Mathisen wrote, “There isn’t any encaustic work in Norway that has hit the professional art scene that I’ve noticed, and I keep my eyes open!” Trying to discover the use of the medium in Norway, she polled artists and called a major art supply store in Oslo. “There are some Norwegian artists who buy wax and use it in different ways. But the store hadn’t had any response for encaustic medium, nor did they know of using damar resin to harden wax. One of the salesmen googled encaustic on my initiative and confirmed this is not a media of which they knew anything.” As far as she can discern, “Not much is happening with encaustics here in Scandinavia, only wax on a hobby basis where an iron is used to manipulate the wax to obtain different marks and tone as to resemble landscape and vegetation.” She optimistically adds, “But it could be a growing trend.”
Mathisen is having a solo show this April at one of the regional art societies in Norway. She will be showing, among several works, a large piece/installation entitled Tenderness, a grid of 6 by 6 inch panels that is inspired by D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover (which had a working title of “Tenderness”). “I am working with the colour red, one with which I’m not too familiar or comfortable,” she writes. “What I enjoy about the medium of encaustic compared to acrylic is its textural aspect and dimensional surface. I am looking very much forward to the public’s response.”
Included by invitation into numerous national and international exhibitions, Nash’s work has been exhibited most recently in Japan, Bulgaria, Poland and Australia. The landscape, aesthetics and cultures of Japan, the rich gradations and spaciousness of Scandinavian summer night skies, experiences with Native American friends and her explorations into the wilderness of the southwestern deserts have deeply influenced and informed her work.