Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Encaustic and Me: Ambiguity in 3D

I haven't been doing much encaustic over the last couple of weeks; I was pretty deep into my Holiday slugfest and the last project I started was not working out as conceived and that always throws me off track a bit. (Yes, yes, I have pictures, but I'll post them later after I fiddle more with the piece.)

I have been looking at a lot of encaustic, though, and thinking about where it seems to want to take me, and I'm pretty clear on one thing: the sort of crafty-collagey graphic designy approach to it is really not what I'm interested in. In one of those fortuitous moments, a friend of mine from my MFA days posted a picture on Facebook of her newest work, a gorgeous evocative interesting piece even from just from the photo. Others commented extensively on what a great painting it was, but I knew right away it wasn't just a painting. There were elements of painting, yes, but what it was, was encaustic.

This artist and I were in crit together back in 2003 when she showed some of her first encaustic efforts. Most people in the class either didn't quite know what to make of them or commented on them as if they were paintings, which was not entirely inappropriate, but also not the most helpful. I remember being really struck by how free they were, how the wax lumped and piled and swirled, how the colors blended and layered. I remember telling Ellen they were wonderful, "bllissfully free from the strictures of knowledge of technique" (because so many artists are perfectionistic in some way or another, once we know "how" to do something a lot of us get hung up on doing it "right." It's a hard, but very rewarding, thing to break out of.)

She's come a long way since then, and her current work blends encaustic with oil painting in a way that really adds an air of mystery and strangeness to the work. If you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this blog, you'll know that mystery and strangeness are two elements I respond to fairly consistently.

In addition to just appreciating her work, thinking about her piece really made me consider what I like about encaustic--both the pieces I've done and the work that she does, and other work I've seen in galleries. I like the fact that it can have a kind of "Magic 8 Ball" quality to it, layered and complicated and revealing only bits and pieces of itself to the casual observer, in ways that are ambiguous enough to be interpreted differently by each person who sees them. If you're a long-time reader of this blog (I think there are 1.4 of you), you'll know this is one of my primary conceptual underpinnings. The idea of making a statement that appears concrete but really isn't, a kind of brain-tag with the viewer ("Look! I'm showing you everything! Except I'm not!"), is in almost everything I do.

The other thing I remembered finding striking in my friend's first encaustic pieces was their dimensionality--executed on a flat panel like a painting, but with all the texture and 3D impact of a mixed media construction or a sculptural piece. I've recently seem some encaustic artwork that takes this notion to an extreme that I was already thinking of as something to try, and for once I'm inspired by this rather than being discouraged that someone already thought of it.

So, I'm approaching my next two encaustic pieces with these elements in mind. The piece that derailed itself may have derailed itself for a reason, and I can already envision its transformation now that I'm more conscious of my concepts. And I'm working hard to hang on to "beginner's mind," not focusing on "how" but instead on doing, and letting the materials speak beyond the notion of what is correct technique.


silentwitness said...
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E. Marie said...

Thanks, I'm glad you liked it! I'll ask Ellen if her work is on display somewhere at the moment; I know she was in the Bedford Gallery's "Working in Wax" exhibit in Walnut Creek but I believe that was awhile ago.