Taking Realism to Abstraction

My studio sits beside a beautiful lake and the sunsets and sunrises on the lake are amazing.  Every day I feel blessed when I see the sky constantly changing, the reflections in the lake go from bright oranges to midnight blues, and the leaves in the fall pop to reds and oranges.  I can understand why artists in the Group of Seven were drawn to the landscapes around Algonquin Park.   I, on the other hand, have a love – hate relationship with painting landscapes.   I have tried painting realistically.  Six years ago I did a few paintings of water plants by the shores of the lake.  Below are examples.

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Shore Plants. acrylic, 30″ X 30″
Shore Plants
Shore Plants, 30″ X 30″, acrylic on canvas
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Shore Plants, 24″ X 48″, acrylic on canvas
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Shore Plants, 30″ X 30″, acrylic on canvas

I had positive reviews but did not see my future as a realistic landscape painter.  I have always been drawn to the non-representational and have predominately painted in that style. Yet, every now and then, when I need a break from the Interlaced series, I try to paint realistic lake views.   And, every time the landscape is finished I disrupt the pretty realism by painting my woven structure over it.  I can’t leave that painting as a realisitc landscape.

Incubation Period

While staying in Florida, for the month of January (2017), I went to an art store to buy myself a few tubes of watercolour paint, paper, some sewing needles and yarn.  Utilizing the idea of barriers, since I was so against Trump’s idea of building a wall along the Mexican and USA border, I created these small watercolour paintings and used my needle and thread and wove a weaving on top of the landscape.  When I got home I put them away.

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Water colour, yarn on paper, 9″ X 12″
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Watercolour on paper with yarn, 9″ X 12″

Experimental Days

Every month I take a few days off from the series that I am working on and shift my thoughts to experimenting on other ideas. On one of those days I decided to take a photograph from the edge of our lake and then, in the studio, paint those reflections on the lake with the horizon line and distant hills.   When it was finished I saw another pretty landscape which I just could not relate to. The image of my weaving materialized and I added a woven overlay on top of the blue water and fused it.  This time, by accident, I over  fused the lines so the wax melted and created lacy lines over the water.  It felt like I had added a warm woven blanket onto the surface and then it sank in some parts and raised to the surface in other areas.   I just loved the affect.  Then, I remembered the watercolour painting that I did of the barrier in Florida and began adding a fence on the horizon line.  As I was painting the fence it reminded me of a lines of trees so I shifted the fence to trees with spaces in between.   I included colours of reds and yellows peaking through those trees.     It became a tree fence blocking the views beyond the horizon line.

I was so excited with that landscape because it was still realistic yet it was also an abstraction – it had a twist when I fused the water and added the running tree fence.  Below is the first painting in the series.

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Standing at the Edge, encaustic on panel, 24″ X 24″

My intent of using barriers or coverings was still in that first painting and became the catalyst for the next series.  I continued to paint three more variations focusing on lake views from the water’s edge and included a running tree fence blocking the views.

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At the Edge #2, Encaustic on panel, 24″ X 24″
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At the Edge #3, encaustic on panel, 24″ X 24″
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At the Edge #4, encaustic on panel, 24″ X 24″ 

 

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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.