Life Before Wax

By Joanne Mattera

Unlike Athena, who legend has it sprang full grown from the head of Zeus, artists require years to reach their mature selves. The sepia photograph you see here of a young Lisa Pressman at the potter’s wheel inspired an inquiry into the evolution of our creative lives.  This lighthearted throwback to our early work nonetheless underscores the oft-noted idea that our contemporary artmaking comes with a personal history of techniques learned, materials mastered, and ideas explored..

Lisa Pressman, 1978

1. Lisa Pressman 1977 - Copy

Lisa at the wheel,
with a vessel from the same period, below

2. Lisa

“I began doing ceramics in high school and continued the studies in college starting in 1979. Clay offered so many possibilities to me in its ability to transform and cycle through various states. In graduate school . . . I focused on painting with oil (adding wax for texture and body). After seeing the show Waxing Poetic at the Montclair Art Museum [in 1998], I decided to try encaustic. The materiality and transformative qualities of wax feel connected to my past experience with clay.”
. . .
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Joan Stuart Ross, 1971

4. Portrait and Self Portrait 1s

“Here I am in my first Seattle studio, where I painted myself painting myself. Oil paint’s viscosity, impasto, and the intense eye contact required to commit to oneself in the mirror is similar to the visual acuity I needed to work with the luminosity of wax. This myopic ‘look’ led me to connect and bond with encaustic painting 25 years later.”
. . .
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Paula Roland, 1983

Paula

Primal Garden (acrylic on canvas, 41 x 69 inches) was made in my first semester of grad school and was included in the International Women’s Exhibition at the World’s Fair Exposition in New Orleans, 1984. In this early work I interpreted landscape through the senses. Sounds were made visible—mosquitos buzzing and lizards leaping. The large scale allowed my body movements to be captured in the saturated color. The piece spoke to me of primal energies. With this work, I began to aim for ideas, materials, and aesthetics that are deeply integrated. I was able to access intuition because the basics of drawing and painting were ingrained through years of practice.”
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Dan Addington, 1988

3. addingtonstudio882

Here’s a look at “some young dude painting in his studio.” Dan was painting in oil in grad school in Jonesboro, Arkansas

addingtonstudio88
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Deborah Kapoor, 1994

5. Through

“This is an oil painting that is seven by seven feet square. I built the stretcher and painted it in my 600-square-foot [Chicago] studio only to discover I couldn’t get it out the door!  I had to take it apart and rebuild it to show it.”
. . .
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Howard Hersh, 1984

6. Santa Fe, 1984   6. 1987

“At 36 years old, after a divorce, I decided to move to Santa Fe to dedicate my life to artmaking.  Not at all confident that this would actually work out, I nevertheless dove into my work.  I was a confirmed oil painter, but acquired a growing interest in texture.  (Three years later, in 1987, I saw encaustic paintings at the Chicago Art Fair, and decided to give it a try.)”
. . .
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Lynette Haggard, 2007

7. LynetteHaggardStudio
“For many years I painted plein air landscape, and eventually the work became non- representational abstraction. Here’s a studio shot with a wall of work in oil. I also worked with oil monotypes and gouache.”
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Lynda Ray, 1988

self-site-hiber 1988 Boston - Copy
Lynda in her studio in Boston’s South End with Hiber, oil on shaped panel, 60 x 48 inches, on the wall and completed, below

02 Hiber oil on wood, 60x48in 1988

“For this painting  I drew on the wall with my paintbrush. When I got the right shape, I used found wood and cut, shaped, and manipulated the materials, adding and subtracting paint until I had the right color-shape relationship. I used a palette knife and added Dorland’s wax to  create the edges you see here.”
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Elise Wagner, 1993

8. 540861_10151768779673626_1458967466_n

In-progress views of Three Months Without Sun, oil and collage on panel, 32 x 96 inches

9. 377378_10151768779573626_421106075_n-4

“These pictures were taken at a transitional time in my work. I was looking for ways to attain transparency, build layers and use alternate forms of applying the paint. Having been deeply influenced by Joan Mitchell, my early paintings took on an all-over approach to composition and color. I wanted to layer and elicit atmosphere through brisk, active movement and part of that relied upon what I chose to move the paint. I wanted less control, not more, so the extension of something like a broom really suited my intentions. The broom painting lasted well through the Nineties and was even used in some pieces up until about 2008.”
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Deborah Winiarski, 2007

10. Winiarski_Before_Wax_Pic

Deborah in the studio; below: Arabesque, 2007; acrylic, paper, sand on canvas; 60 x 60 x 3 inches

10. Winiarski_Arabesque_2007

“Before I found my way to encaustic, I painted with acrylic. I would lay the stretchers flat and apply layer upon layer of light washes, soaking the canvas.  My imagery was created with kozo paper which would become soaked as well. As the paint slowly dried, the pigment would settle at the edges of the paper where there had been puddles. I loved how the veils of monochromatic color layered to create a field of depth.  Some papers I would leave in the work and some I would tear off. I had been thinking about how to push the of depth of field idea when I ‘found’ wax. I’m completely self-taught.  I worked in both mediums for about a year before switching my studio over entirely to encaustic.”
. . .
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Beverly Rippel, 1994

11. 4Rippel _FFT beginnings oil     12. 5Rippel__Food For Thought_final oil_64 x 42

Food for Thought, oil on linen, in progress, left, and the completed painting, 64 x 42 inches

“Through the years I have gone back to drawing, especially with charcoal or pencil, and find that it is such an immediate medium. One’s thoughts can come down the arm directly onto the paper without stopping to decide on color. After college and the birth of my two sons, I went back to a studio practice when time permitted. I used drawing as a primary medium, but also as a preliminary process for sketching up an idea. Eventually I branched out to a painting practice. Then in 2001, while trying to find a way to paint ‘a veil between now and then,’ I discovered encaustic. Today, I explore many mediums and often combine oil and/or encaustic painting and drawing.”
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Jeff Schaller, 1992

Schaller1

Jeff and friends at dinner; below: Dinner, latex on canvas, 48 x 60 inches

Schaller2

“This is my senior thesis in painting for Beaver College, now Arcadia University, in Pennsylvania. I covered myself and some friends with paint. I ordered Chinese food and painted the bottom of the containers and the bottom of our plates, so as we passed food and put it down, it left a mark. Our arms on the table left a mark. I was all into Fluxus and the happenings movement. The idea of capturing time intrigued me. So here is a picture of me ‘painting’ and the final painting.”
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Catherine Nash, 1987

Nash1 - Copy

Catherine in Japan; below: Shrine, 1989, an environmental installation [first] shown at the Franklin Furnace Gallery in New York City

Nash 2 - Copy

“The top photo is me in March of 1987 learning to make paper in the Japanese method. I’d been making paper for about five years and realized that I needed to study in Japan. The experience altered my life on diverse levels.”
. . .
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Kay Hartung, 1986

15. KHartung_ WovenPainting
“In the Eighties my work was based on an ongoing exploration of ordered systems. The Woven Paintings used hand-manipulated techniques of construction with the basic structures derived from the simplest forms of weaving. I painted on large sheets of tar paper, cut them into strips and wove them together. The painted patterns were restructured and combined with added elements collaged into the woven surface.”

On the wall: Woven Painting with Diverging Rectangles, 1986; tar paper, acrylic paint, aluminum, wood; 35 x 60 inches. Photo: David Caras
Below: Woven Collage with Red Grid from the same period

khartung_wovencollagewredgrid
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Joanne Mattera, 1979

16. Mattera.1979

Me in my Beverly, Mass., studio; below: a recently framed work from the series I made then

16. photo - Copy

I was making grid-based drawings with thread on paper. I enjoyed the meditative process of hand stitching and loved the materiality and dimension of the line. Initially I called this body of work “fiber drawings,” but while they were getting into fiber shows, they were not getting any traction in the larger art world. I dropped  “fiber” from the description, identified them as “drawings” or “works on paper,” and they started to get the attention I wanted for them.
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Susan Lasch Krevitt, 1979

FullSizeRender - Copy

“This image was taken in Chicago in 1979, possibly early 1980. I’m leaning against a wall outside the foundry at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I was an undergrad. I worked for Joan Flasch at the school store during the week, made thin, chased gold and silver rings that sold well, and waitressed on the weekends. It was my last semester before receiving my BFA. Both of the large mixed-media pieces you see were made with wood, cotton batting, Rhoplex, and black acrylic paint. The components were created in my storefront live/work studio and transported to school in my 1974 VW Bug (on an angle through front and back  windows!). The grids were bound and assembled on site. Smaller work was made with found branches, cotton batting, and Rhoplex, sometimes pigmented with small amounts of acrylic paint and embedded with found elements.”
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Nancy Natale, 1985

14. NN with Penis of Patriarchy - Copy (2)
“This is me with The Penis of Patriarchy on the roof of a building at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. This was the freshman challenge where we were given a list of materials to use in our piece. The object was to throw the work off the roof and have it land without breaking a whole egg that was contained in it somewhere. I put my egg right in the tip because I wanted it to break—and, sure enough, it did.”
. . .
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Anna Wagner-Ott, 1995

Ott duo.PNG

Anna with her sculpture, left, and the sculpture on pedestal

“From the Eighties until 2012, I created sculptures that were influenced by feminist theories. For many years I worked on the Womandala series. Those figurative sculptures were angst- ridden and personal. I used acrylic to paint the plaster surfaces of the bodies.”
. . .
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Pat Spainhour, 1978

18-pat-spainhour-wheel-demo-1978

“I used to be a potter— well, at least during college. Here I was teaching high school art. The photo is from a demonstration on how to throw a pot. It was important to me as a teacher that every advanced-level art student experience the potter’s wheel. Students were required to make at least one pot on the wheel, while I coached them and sometimes held their hands. During my teaching career, I taught all forms of art: drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, fibers.”
. . .
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Jane Nodine, 1980

19.Before wax

Jane at the workbench; below: Neckpiece with articulated brass and electroformed copper

20.nodine.#2

“In the photo, I was making a wax model for casting a ring. At that time I was operating a commercial jewelry design studio and teaching metals and design at the Greenville Museum School of Art. In this shot I am wearing several of my designs. Much of my work was fabricated in metal (constructed from sheet and rod) and also castings using the historical lost-wax process. I was trained in metalsmithing to use heat for working the metal–welding, soldering, cutting, and forming. It never occurred to me that I would one day use wax as the medium and not just a byproduct.”
. . .
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Helen De Ramus, 1993

H.DeRamus_SideViewBeach_1985

Helen on the beach with her 4×5 camera in Savannah, Georgia; below: The Argument, a platinum print

H.DeRamus_The Argument_1990

Art history was my major. I taught school for a short time, then started a commercial photography business since my dad was a photographer. I used my off time to work on platinum photographic prints. Those photographs led to a desire for more flexibility with image making so I started studying painting. The transition took time, but in 1993 I found a studio where I could teach and paint. Oil paint had been my primary medium until I discovered oil sticks and encaustic paint at the time I found my studio. Photographs with encaustic have reemerged from time to time.
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Elena De La Ville, 1970s

21. edlv
“I was a young photographer working with the local music scene in Caracas, Venezuela, and this photo was taken at one of the venues. I photographed musicians for the monthly Mermeladas/Jams.  (Concerts were billed as a “psychedelic experience.”)

Below: Numero #122

22. Numero 122. . .
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David A. Clark, 1987

23. DAC at La Scala
“I was an actor from the time I was eight years old until well into my thirties. One of my first big international jobs was performing in Robert Wilson’s production of Richard Strauss’s Salome at La Scala in Milan. This photo is from one of the very, very long lighting rehearsals. I’m pictured there, in the back, long hair dangling, wearing a costume custom made for me by Gianni Versace. My main task in the production was to walk across the stage, from one wing to the other, moving at a snail’s pace while carrying a giant boulder on my back. It would take me almost 30 minutes from stage right to left. Opening night was my 21st birthday and the audience booed us off the stage. It is still, 30 years later, hands down, one of the greatest moments of my professional career.”

. . .

We opened with a potter at the wheel and end with a performance of a long, slow trek with a heavy load. Both images offer apt references to our journey, with plenty in between. Clay, fiber, paper, and metal offered us physical, sometimes visceral, engagement with material and process, but so did conventional painting in oil or acrylic. Ever seeking, we painted with brooms and constructed paintings from industrial detritus found on the street. We etched and printed. We photographed. We beat pulp into paper. Life changes affected our decisions. Feminism influenced our expression. There were many paths to wax. As for the Sisyphean slog, who among us—no matter how successful—cannot relate?

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