Three Encaustic Artists

WAXING POETIC

by Wendy Stefansson

“Encaustic paint is simply beeswax, resin and pigment.” Yet its “surface can be pol- ished to a high gloss for a luminous effect, or the wax can be modelled, sculpted, textured, and combined with collage material,” according to Wisconsin encaustic artist, Jessie Fritsch.

Dating back to the 5th century BC, encaustic is making a comeback among Peace Country artists nearly two and a half millennia later.

CAROL BROMLEY MEERES

Forces - Carol Bromley Meeres

Grande Prairie artist Carol Bromley Meeres admits that she finds the materials she uses for her encaustic work “sensually pleasing to use.”
Although encaustics are paints, Bromley Meeres’ approach doesn’t necessarily involve brushes at all. She might use brushes just to get the warm wax onto the surface of the work. After that, she uses a heat gun to keep it flowing while she pours, tips, tilts the paint, or moves it around with sticks. It’s a fluid process, literally.

When it hardens, she buffs it to translucency – or not. Buffed, encaustic takes on a clarity and luminosity akin to oil paints. Unbuffed, the wax becomes opaque. It takes on a whitish colour referred to as a “bloom.” Traditionally considered to be a mistake, Bromley Meeres sometimes uses it to deliberate effect.

“I find the bloom very attractive,” she relates. It has an organic quality, “like the bloom you find on really dark grapes.” But then, Bromley Meeres is not afraid to break the so-called rules.

She sometimes uses encaustic paints on loose canvas or paper instead of the traditional wood panel. These surfaces bend and flex, causing the wax to crack and resulting in random and unpredictable textures; batik-like. Or she inte- grates found materials into her work – anything that serves her purposes from the ‘precious’ to the throw-away, from copper leaf to delicate pieces of ink-stained paper to bits of plastic.

Bromley Meeres likes the way encaustics “get materials into the piece.” Submerging an object in wax makes it immediately integral to the work of art; not just an addition to it. She also likes the texture encaustics can add to otherwise flat pieces.

TABITHA LOGAN

Diffusion 1 - Tabitha Logan

It’s a warm art in a cold climate. That’s one of the things that Dawson Creek artist Tabitha Logan says she loves about encaustic.

Eight or nine years ago she discovered the work of Toronto- based encaustic painter Tony Scherman and immediately became “infatuated with the idea of using wax.” And although there have been moments since then when she felt “the wax wouldn’t co-operate,” Logan says the thing that kept her coming back to encaustics was that “the warmth of all the wax was like therapy.”

Under the glow of a heat lamp, Logan applies the wax in strokes she describes as “chunky,” developing sensual new textures with each layer. Sometimes she engraves the surface or cuts away parts of it in a one-step-forward-one- step-back kind of process. Sometimes she integrates collage elements into the work — charcoal sketches she has made, for example. Sometimes she burnishes a photocopy face down on the still-warm wax to transfer it onto the surface, leaving behind an imperfect image like a partially forgotten memory.

Logan says: “If I am trying to understand something … I’ll take those ideas and work them into my collages.” In a recent anthropology class, for example, a professor was describing the dispersion of early humans out of Africa and throughout the world. Listening, Logan’s “mind went off into the art zone.” The result was Diffusion, a work in which she transferred a map onto the background, then layered it with an image of a homo sapien skull and various masses of colour – brown, green and red – ‘moving’ in different directions like our early ancestors did.

Logan says, art is a part of the process of “making sure I understand it all.”

DARLENE DAUTEL

Ladies In Red - Darlene Dautel

“It’s absolutely freeing!” That’s what encaustic artist Darlene Dautel has to say about the medium.

For years Dautel, who raises honeybees with her husband on a farm near Beaverlodge, has used the wax her bees produce to make batiks. In that process, hot wax is applied to a fabric as a resist to the dye which is used to colour it. The artist works through the process alternately applying wax and dye, wax and dye. Along the way, water spots of dye become embedded in and between the layers of wax, sometimes creating beautiful and surprising effects. Dautel was often sad to iron off the wax in the end. She found herself wanting to leave the work as it was. So when she discovered encaustics through a magazine article five or six years ago, she could immediately see the possibilities.

“It’s sort of magical,” Dautel says, because you can take something that is hard and set one minute, and apply heat to it and completely transform it into something else. From a solid to a liquid: “You can really get the whole board moving.”

“It’s that fluidity. It’s the movement. It’s the surprise of it,” that keeps Dautel challenged and excited about encaustics. But she also enjoys the medium’s sculptural qualities; first building up texture in a work through layer-upon-layer of wax, then carving back into it, uncovering earlier colours, gestures, and ideas like an archaeologist digging; like a mind remembering.

Dautel concludes: “it’s the everchangingness of it that I really love.”


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