Essential Questions: How does the use of encaustic help to express your ideas?

Edited by Jane Guthridge

Going beyond medium to ideas and intent, how does the use of encaustic help to express your concepts? Do you work with other mediums as well and why?

Elise Wagner: For me it’s the organic nature of the materials. I’ve developed a way to create a surface that emulates the earth’s surface and topography or the surface of the moon. This fits perfectly with the overall concept and ideas that emerge for my work. I like both the predictability of the wax and what it will do and the unpredictability of it. I have always combined my encaustic paintings with my oil paintings and have now reached a point where the layering process of the wax is informing the layering process of the oil paint. Printmaking and creating encaustic collagraphs as studies of paintings to dovetail with my concepts also helps tremendously. My greatest challenge, but also my greatest joy, is harnessing what seem like millions of ideas whirling through my head and filtering them succinctly into bodies of work!

PWJ.Issue11.Pullquote.Addington_rightJoanne Mattera: For my “Silk Road” series, I use translucent layers of colors to create the color field. I couldn’t imagine using any other paint than wax because it offers subtlety along with substance.

But for a concurrent series, the hard edge “Chromatic Geometry,” I am taping and painting, and I’ve begun to think that acrylic would be a better choice. The color is opaque, and I could achieve the texture I want with a heavy-bodied matte medium. Using acrylic would also give me the option of working much larger. A model for me is the painter Steven Alexander, who uses acrylic in a way that does not look plastic.

Nancy Youdelman: I create mixed media sculpture and use encaustic medium as a final layer. To me, it is vital to the works, it creates a “skin” that transforms and unifies the individual units of the work, gives it a glow that would not be possible with any other medium. When Fanne Fernow visited my studio in July, she said this about my use of encaustic, “it holds the soul in.” I love that, thank you Fanne.

Fanne Fernow: I could not do what I do with any other medium. If I had to switch, I’d be doing something else. Elizabeth Michelman from Artscope wrote this quote about my work: “It really was one of my favorites in the show. It [goes] beyond “look, mom, I’m using encaustic” and simply seemed to rejoice in a material that allowed you to do what you needed to do in exploring your artistic vocabulary. I liked that it risked appearing simple-minded, repetitive, and understated. Saying less it said so much more.”

Amber George: For my Sewing Series, encaustic was the perfect medium. It allowed me to layer papers and fabric into the work as well as create texture. The layers imparted the idea of how many different roles I felt pressured to take on as a woman in contrast to the roles of my grandmothers who were critical in my early creative experiences. I also work extensively in monotype, using a more traditional approach, though not with encaustic. The layering possibilities with the ink and multiple passes, plus using stencils, allows me a similar but more immediate effect. After 10 years of consciously and thoughtfully volleying back and forth between the two mediums, I’ve noticed that the monotypes usually inform the next body of work in painting.

PWJ.Issue11.Pullquote.Roland_leftSarah Rehmer: Being that my work revolves around memory loss, being able to have vintage [book] paper take on a skin-like quality and become semi- transparent, to see the text become a jumble of words, plays perfectly into conveying the idea of memory loss, and where do these memories disappear to. It gives stability to the paper also, yet because you can see through it a bit, it imparts this feeling of complete fragility.

Haley Nagy: I work in a variety of media but often choose to incorporate encaustic into my works because of the inherent symbolism it brings. The way wax both absorbs and reflects light lends itself well to a spiritual metaphor. The way it adds transparency to a page in an artist book fundamentally changes the way that book is read. And when I am dealing with topics of religion in my work, one cannot overlook the connection between wax and the church: the candlelight amidst a religious ritual, the reference to stained glass, the way it both obscures and illuminates. These are all ideas I intentionally evoke through the use of encaustic.

Lorraine Glessner: My work is rooted in linking the earth and body through physical patterns and marks found on both surfaces. In grad school, I explored a lot of materials that were skin-like and translucent, such as latex, wax and polymers. I fell in love with encaustic because of its smell, its luminosity and tactile qualities that I couldn’t find with any other medium; since beginning to work with it, I’ve never looked back. There is a definite process to working in encaustic–applying the paint, fusing the layers, then adding more or scraping back–it’s like a dance or a poem as the creation and meaning of each step or verse hinges on the one before it. I work intuitively as each collaged layer I apply is in response to the one beneath it. Because of the inherent transparency of wax, many layers of information are collaged within the medium, so invariably many levels of meaning merge and coexist within the painting. Conceptually, this process speaks to the symbiotic relationship between the earth and the body and further supports my ideas. I also work with acrylics, gouache and watercolor, but I’m always exploring ways to bring these mediums into my encaustic work. For me, encaustic must be present in the painting or the meaning lies flat.

Paula Roland: The qualities of wax embody metaphors for natural phenomena and life events. Heat and cooling, flow and dispersion, erosion, and light play are a few examples. Through the physical action of slashing, forming, heating, and scraping wax paintings I have found connections between remnants of environmental devastation and scars and imperfections on my own body. Finding deeper connections in the work is inspiring and I will continue to use whatever medium is necessary to that end.

PWJ.Issue11.Pullquote.Glessner_right For me there is a magical process of transformation that is achieved with wax that seems almost alchemical. I find that my ideas and intentions are informed by the medium, which keeps my process very open ended and fluid. I am a painter who likes subtraction and erasure so scraping and digging into the wax is a very satisfying process.

Dan Addington: In my paintings, I tend to think of my chosen materials the way sculptors often think of theirs. I’m interested in the qualities and meaning that the pure materials bring to the table. My first paintings with wax addressed issues of mortality. The body has always figured into my work, and the wax has almost always referred to flesh, both revealing and concealing the musculature of the painting’s structure buried beneath.

Krista Svalbonas: Since I work in a variety of mediums the question of media is an important one for me and it certainly factors into my conceptual process. I started working on felt to build connection between modernist architecture’s devotion to industrial, cheap and simple materials as well as drawing a link in color to concrete. With my recent photographic series I used Dibond, a common architectural substrate for signs and renderings. When I started using wax it was really about what the paint would allow me to do in the constraints of an overall conceptual idea. That’s similar to how I’m approaching using oil with my paintings now. Oil is the only paint that allows me to achieve the surface I wanted with the substrate (felt) that I’m using. Things often become a mixture/balance of concept and aesthetics, but I always start off with the idea and move on from there.

Jeff Hirst: In my work, I am drawn to the material density of encaustic…it has substance. The wax density is what first hooked me almost 20 years ago. I like the paradox of the wax being dense yet translucent. Building an image is a big part of my work and wax plays a major role in how I construct images; because the wax sets so fast, I am able to work at a faster tempo. My work moves in a process-oriented path and I am interested in transformations, change, and organic and geometric (architectural influences) co-existing–the wax plays an important role during this process. As an artist who makes prints, I see many overlaps/parallels between working with encaustic and mediums such as intaglio, relief and silkscreen because of the layering nature of both prints and wax.

Timothy McDowell: I think what all of you are referring to is vocabulary. Visual vocabulary. As a painter or a printmaker one selects the most appropriate way of creating an image (or an object) and wax, as one choice, has an eloquence and a range. But so do oil, ink and numerous other mark-making substances. As artists, I think we ought to choose the most appropriate tool for the intention we have in mind. That doesn’t always mean the most convenient, maybe sometimes it’s the most conducive to the intention. For me, painting medium is a consumable commodity, not the subject of my painting. It may become a qualifying trademark or a defining method but in my own work, I prefer the image to capture the viewer’s attention. Wax is beautiful, that is why I use it but so are all the other toys in the painter’s box.

Howard Hersh: I think I was initially drawn to encaustic for its texture, but that was quickly replaced with the ability to create atmospheric space. This is a crucial element in any figure/ground work. My Structure paintings, which are done with encaustic, rely heavily on the luminosity of the wax to complete the illusion.

My other work, which is actually 3D, has no need to create an illusion of space, and seems better suited for acrylic.

Leslie Sobel: my work is environmentally focused so the organic physicality of encaustic is important to what I do. Its translucence and materiality let me build work that echoes my content and works so well with collage. I do work with other media when they seem particularly suited to an idea–have used paper, printmaking and both oil and acrylic over the years as well as all matter of drawing materials. Nothing has held me for as long or as deeply as encaustic because of its versatility and materiality.








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