Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Expanding and Contracting

I've been out of hand the last few weeks. I'm experimenting now with blending photography and encaustic, trying a lot of different things and looking at a lot of artists. My encaustic world is getting bigger very fast, and it's at once confusing and exciting. The one very clear thing I've learned is, there are as many different processes for encaustic as there are artists who use it, and almost every "rule" I encountered in my first experiences with it (you can't work big, you can't use gessoed board, you can't use inkjet prints on standard paper, you can't use unmounted paper as a base ...), has turned out to be a "rule" only for the person who said it.

I've seen videos of artists who painstakingly use tiny brushes and precise strokes, painting and etching the wax with great care; I've seen videos of artists who "paint" with irons and tacking tools. I've seen the careful and exact application of wax to completed photographs and oil paintings, I've seen an artist carefully position a wood-mounted black-and-white photograph in the middle of a metal tray and proceed to dump (literally) an entire pan of melted wax medium onto it.

I've seen encaustic that references other mixed media work, graphic design, and collage. I've seen encaustic that simply uses wax instead of paint to produce works ranging from abstract to photorealistic. I've seen encaustic work that was specifically (and wonderfully) only about shape or color or texture or flow; I've seen equally-wonderful work that was about impressionistic landscapes or portraits of faces. In short, any kind of artwork that existed out there, has been accessed, referenced, and redone by someone working with wax. Slowly, as I experiment, I'm beginning to figure out who I am as an encaustic artist, and starting to recognize differences and similarities between her and the artist who uses the camera.

I knew early on that I would not be constructing collages per se with this medium; there is something too "craftish" about the work I've produced in this vein, and although I like some of it, it doesn't seem to mean anything. I've done a couple of pieces that referenced or were inspired by specific experiences or sights, but this hasn't felt quite right to me either, although I'm fairly happy with the work. I've done some pieces that began as oil "paintings" (for lack of a better word), and these feel the most interesting and most authentic to me, and the most solid ... again for lack of a better word. They don't incorporate stamps or embedded objects or transferred images, they aren't specifically recongizable as anything from the real world.

They seem to be about the world inside my head instead of the world in front of my eyes, and this is an enormouos departure for me. My photography is confrontational and initially asks the viewer "what do you really see?" followed by "what do you think?" My encaustic work takes a more transformational tone and seems to aim for a place inside the viewer, asking instead "what do you really feel?" followed by "how deeply do you feel it?"

Like all my other artwork, I don't really care what the answer is. I simply want people to have a visceral uncalculated response to the work, and I want it to stay with them, at least on some level. But it's interesting to see how I'm coming at this. It's from a different place in me, and I'll be excited to learn more about that place and shine a little light on it for my own edification.

Some recent work which I consider "finished:"

untitled #4, 2011
5" x7"
encaustic, oil and paper on canvas board
(the half-moons at the bottom are not part of
the piece)

untitled tryptich (working title: Dawn to Dusk), 2011
3 panels, 6" x 6" each 
encaustic and oil on cradled birchwood panel

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