Artist Statement About Encaustics Care of Your Encaustic Art

Artist Statement Back to top

What forces are at work in our perceived world that lie beyond our understanding? Scientific evidence of other dimensions and quarky particles mix and mingle within the soup of the worlds great myths and find their way into my art. My Grandparents came from many lands, Italy, Hungary, Germany and Sweden! They held different religious and political beliefs. They liked different foods! Sadly most of their myths were left behind save a few treasured holiday treats.

In the great post World War II melting pot that is America I was left to seek my own myths and find my own spiritual path. So, I reach out through my art to touch the myths and spirit of others and weave them into my own belief system. It is a joyful way to discover the missing threads of your psyche.

My abstract narratives weave a tale of the human condition. My interests in mythology, psychology and the metaphysical are woven throughout my art. The inspiration for my work springs from a deep intuitive empathy for that which lies beyond our grasp of the physiological and psychological experiences of life.

I primarily work in the ancient medium of encaustics for my paintings and sculptures. Pigment mixed into molten wax and resin is my paint. Each hot brush stroke must be fused to the previous layer either with a torch, heat gun or simply the sun. It is an amazing alchemical process that allows for burying and rediscovering imagery by scraping back the surface. Unlike oils or acrylics, the paintings are always “alive” and simply by applying heat can be worked into again. It suits my need for speed as well since it takes no drying time, just a short while to cool off. I have just begun to explore the possibilities of welded and cast metal sculpture for public art works and love the magical change to the metal of both the heating and the patina processes.

About Encaustics Back to top

As early as 800 B.C. Homer talked about painted warships sailing into Troy. These ships were caulked with beeswax and colored with pigmented wax. Many Greek statues, now a glistening white, were at one time painted in the encaustic method. The most famous surviving encaustic art is seen in the Fayum portraits of Egypt.

The confluence of cultures, Roman, Greek and Egyptian, after Alexander's conquest of the Egyptian Nile delta in 330 B.C, created a tremendous synergy in the arts. The Romans adopted the Egyptian manner of wrapping the deceased but kept the portrait (created for the coffin or “mummy case”) in a more traditional style. Grecian Krater vases have been found with detailed images of painters using tools heated in a brazier to apply the wax to the surface though some were painted with wax emulsion (Punic wax, beeswax boiled with sea water and potassium carbonate then bleached by the sun). The handling of the wax in these Greco-Roman portraits is very classically thin, dark to light layers with some impasto for jewels and fabrics. Gold was painted on after death to acknowledge the transition from temporal earthly life to a more timeless spiritual existence. An interesting aside, when full length mummified remains were examined the bottoms of the feet were worn off and it is believed that the mummies were kept standing on display for quite some time prior to removal to the burial site.

The largest group of Greco-Roman “Fayum” (an oasis in Egypt) portraits dating to 100-125 A.D. were discovered in 1888 (British, W.M. Flinders-Petrie) in a Roman era cemetery at Hawara. By the 7th century encaustic was generally out of favor with the exception of Byzantine icons as easier methods such as tempera were being developed.

During the World War II years, artists materials were in scarce supply and artists were searching for a new means of expressing the impact of the war through their art. Thus, candle wax began a new era for encaustics. It was however a difficult medium with which to work and many artists were made ill by improper ventilation and heating practices. In the 1970’s, Jasper Johns flag and target paintings caused a modern revival of interest in the medium. With greater understanding of safety issues and, of course, electrical devices and propane torches it is a far safer and more flexible working method for today’s artists. Contemporary 2D and 3D artists, printmakers, photographers and mixed media artists find the medium seductive and produce a wide variety of encaustic works.

Working Method
The actual word “encaustic” comes from the ancient Greek’s “kausticos” meaning “to burn in”. As with caulking of warships, each layer of wax must be “fused” with heat to the previous layer or it will flake apart. At its most basic, encaustic painting consists of using molten refined beeswax and a resin (for hardening) as a medium mixed with dry pigment. Molten is the key word here as the medium cools and hardens quickly once removed from the heat source. Artists use either a heated palette or heated tools such as spatulas, hot air guns and propane torches to move the paint about the surface. Since wax is an adhesive it can be used to both adhere and preserve a variety of collaged materials. Artists are able to inscribe lines, model forms from the wax and even pull prints from the wax surface. Beautiful glazes can be achieved and the final surface can be made rough or polished to an enamel like finish with the wax and resin lending a richness and depth to the color.

Care of Your Encaustic Art Back to top

Encaustic paint is stable in a temperature range of approximately 40-110 degrees Fahrenheit (It becomes liquid at approximately 165 degrees). If any dulling occurs (generally due to a natural curing process as the surface continues to harden) a simple buffing with a soft, lint free, cotton cloth when the piece is cool should restore the high polish. The mixture of wax and resin provides a surface that may be buffed but not abused so please be careful not to scratch it with sharp objects. Encaustic paintings should not be varnished or covered by glass. However, if the surface of your piece includes rough textures or more delicate unfused surfaces you may wish to place the piece under glass leaving sufficient space for air circulation.

Sources: “Art of Encaustic Painting” by Joanne Mattera, R&F Handmade Paints -, Mayer's Artist’s Handbook



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