Thursday, February 17, 2011

Deep Analog

I've had a lot of ideas over the last few days, despite being sick (or maybe because I'm sick and I'm not actually leaving the house for anything other than feeding the horse), and I've gotten several new pieces into production. I am working on probably six different things right now; they're in various stages and represent a huge range of techniques, approaches, concepts, and goals. Encaustic is one of those artistic pursuits that involves a lot of waiting, interspersed with periods of hyperactivity ... kind of like chemical (as in, old school analog) photographic printing, actually, which is another one of my favorite things to do. One piece I loved, then ruined, then saved, then ruined again, but that's okay--I have a pretty good idea of how to re-save it, and because I'm working in encaustic, re-saving is in fact possible. Encaustic is kind of magical in how it permits the artist to undo what's been done up to a certain point; aside from oil painting, very few working media have this characteristic, and it's a quality I as a rank beginner really appreciate.

Even though I've always been primarily a photographer, I'm having trouble finding a way to combine my images with encaustic that feels "right" to me. I am still in the early stages of this investigation, and there are so many variables that it's mind-boggling. Slowly I'm lurching toward something, although it's still a process heavily in the "trial and error" phases.

More appealing to me, as you'll already know if you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this blog, is the combination of oil paint with encaustic. I am not painter and never have been; I can't make a decent line with a brush on canvas, but for some reason using my fingers to apply oil paint onto surfaces or wax and then applying more wax (or more paint) is incredibly fulfilling. The paint, especially if you're using cheap oils, does amazing things when you fuse it into the wax; the pigment and oil separates somewhat and the liquid quality of the wax as it heats lets the paint move and flow into strange and interesting patterns and pathways. Higher quality oils will still run with the flow of overfused, liquid wax, but resist the interesting separation that creates such odd patterns within the painted sections. So I am using a blend of high quality and student-grade oils, with the cheap stuff where I want interesting scumbling and patterns and the better stuff where I want the paint to maintain its integrity when it is fused with the wax.

So far my favorite surface is a raw birch panel made specifically for use in art. I like being able to see the grain of the wood through the wax and feel the texture, and there is also something appealing in the idea that I'm using a host of organic materials in this process: pigmented oils, beeswax, wood, natural bristle brushes. (Certainly some of these organic materials can be wildly toxic, but that's nature for you.) And I'm also using my hands a lot, because that just seems to feel right. When you get right down to it, I have gone deep analog with my artmaking, and at the moment, it's incredibly satisfying.

Here are a few works in progress which I like, in various stages of development:

working title: Pink
Encaustic and oil on acrylic panel

This acrylic panel is transparent, so it will be interesting to see what it looks like when I remove the backing. I think I will probably apply one final overcoat of medium and overfuse to a smooth glasslike surface, then buff to a high shine.












working title: Rorshach
Encaustic and oil on cardboard canvas
panel
 This piece started out as a pure experiment, but now I'm thinking it's a study for a much larger piece that I'll produce in the future. (This is 6" x 9".) The  black is applied wax, which I allowed to cool, then added some simple lines with student-grade white oil paint. I then fused the paint into the wax by heating the surface until it liquified. I think to complete this piece I'll add some high-quality crimson oil paint to the line at right, and fuse lightly to preseve the integrity.


working title: Woodflow
Encaustic and oil paint on wood panel
 This last piece I feel is almost finished, although it needs one more thing ... I am not sure what that thing might be. I enjoy being able to see the grain of the wood through the paint, and the way the white paint (the student-grade paint) has separated a bit and started spreading in the middle of the panel. You can see here how the gold paint (artist quality) retained its integrity even though it was fused at the same time and to the same degree as the white.

I know there are a lot of little details in this new artistic practice that I need to get better on, like cleaning my brushes and paying better attention to safety details. Although really, I've spent so much of my life up to my elbows in black and white photo chemicals, if I'm going to be poisoned by something there's a good chance I already have been. And I might one day learn how to actually deliver oil paint to my surfaces with a brush. But right now this slap-dash, experimental, deep analog place I'm in feels just right to me.

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