Should Wax be our Driving Force?

Many artists having exhibitions use the word Encaustic in their title such as “Encaustic Show”, “Show of Encaustic Paintings,” “Wax Art”, “Encaustic Works,”  “Encaustic: Rebirth of an Ancient Medium,”  “Encaustic Juried Show, 2017”, etc   All of these titles focus on techniques, medium and processes used by the artists.    Where are the interesting  titles or themes for these  shows that focus on the content of the works?    In Facebook groups I see a painting posted by an artist and the title is “Encaustic on Panel?  Does the painting have no title?  Or I hear  Encaustic Artist or Wax Artist as descriptors.   Are  we not artists who  have something to say through our works and not just technicians using molten pigmented wax as a painting medium?

Then I hear such confusions over using Encaustic in our written and verbal conversations.  Shouldn’t I say I am a painter using Encaustic as a process because I paint with pigmented beeswax and use a heat source to burn the top layer to the one below.  As Ralph Mayer explains in his Artist’s Handbook in the section on Encaustic “The word encaustic comes from Greek and means to burn in, which refers to the process of fusing the paint.”    Is there such a thing as Encaustic Paint?   If Encaustic is a process then can it also be encaustic paint?   Aren’t we using pigmented beeswax as paint on panel in the same way as an oil painter would use oil paint?     And what about using encaustic(s) plural?  Do artists use many encaustics?  When I hear an artist say that he or she uses encaustic on panel, I assume that the painter is using a specific process such as a heat source to liquify the wax and a heat gun or torch to burn in each layer of wax.  When I hear  a photographer using beeswax over their photographs and calling their work Encaustic I question whether they are  layering coloured beeswax and fusing  with a heat source.  Can they call their works encaustic if they are adding a final layer of beeswax as a covering to alter the photograph?

Encaustic as a process has been around since the 5th century B.C. In the 1st-2nd century  A.D the Greeks and then the Egyptians used Encaustic to paint their Fayum funeral portraits.  In the 20th century  Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, Martin Kline, Linda Benglis, Michael David, and Joanne Mattera have painted or are still painting with pigmented wax.  When they talk or write about their work they did/do not focus on the medium.   They talk about the intent for their works in relation to the ways they use the elements and principles of design.  When I went to Michael David’s talk at the International Encaustic Conference I left knowing more about the artists’ ideas and why they used Encaustic as their process.  But I was not given a talk on techniques and processes or ways to use wax.  As a community of artists, painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers, etc. shouldn’t we first focus on  the intent of the work and then the techniques and materials and not be driven only by wax?

I would love to hear your views so please leave comments.

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Author: Anna

I am a painter and sculptor and have a studio beside a beautiful lake. For the past 40 years, I designed and built puppets, masks and sculptures and had solo exhibitions of these works. In 2013, I went back to painting and started working in encaustic. I am interested in issues of identity in terms of weavings as coverings to protect or to hide. The intersecting lines that I create over landscapes create an internal conversation versus the external between nature vs. nurture. Or how actual or psychological barriers erected in an environment can disrupt a cherished place. My engagement with woven structures speak to complex dialogues between identity and psychological barriers. My second passion is teaching. I try to encompass more than teaching my students art techniques. I encourage students to, not only learn the language of art, but to also engage in critiquing art. Additionally, we continually explore ways to enhance one's voice through art in relation to contemporary and historical issues. Encaustic adventures is a blog where not only processes and techniques are taught, but hopefully this sites will engage in a dialogue about the making of art, notions of voice, identity, themes, and ways to establish a body of work within an historical contexts.

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