If you haven’t heard of encaustic wax art you are not alone. It was Greek to me once. The art form has been around since Marc Anthony and Cleopatra had their fateful love affair. Encaustic means to burn in pigments made from pure organic beeswax, mixed with damar resin and fixed with heat. The exact formula was lost until a modern chemist reinvented it in the 1940’s. The earliest surviving examples are the Fayum mummy portraits, head and shoulder portraits painted onto wood panels for the mummy casing - an early Greek version of the funeral makeup artist.
Currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art there are more than 70 on display until May 2010. This funerary is a fascinating blend of Roman and Egyptian culture and is a rare glimpse into the faces and eyes of an ancient civilization.
Encaustic wax art fell into obscurity by the seventh century and was forgotten with the invention of more practical methods such as oil and tempura. Electricity and pre-made pigments have made encaustic more available to everyone. Now in the 21st century encaustic is back in a big way. This summer there are several major exhibitions on the East Coast and at the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts in Oregon, in June, encaustic art is the cornerstone exhibit. My work is on display at Bagels Alaska, 6177 E Palmer Wasilla Hwy, The Alaska Gallery, 105 Arctic Ave, Palmer, and The Firefly Gallery, 419 L Street, Anchorage.
The qualities of the artwork that can be achieved with encaustics are unique. The beeswax is pure and organic, perfect for artists concerned with the Green Revolution. The methods are more like alchemy and magic than painting. It can be layered with translucent pigments to mysteriously reveal what lies partially hidden. The depth and luminosity that can be achieved is remarkable. Modern artists have taken the wax to amazing places. It also appeals to artists who want to carve, sculpt or collage.
As encaustic goes more main-stream, collectors and galleries are becoming more interested in the medium. Encaustic art is losing some of its novelty - which is good. Collectors will not shy away from this medium as more people hear about it and understand its unique qualities which include durability and permanence.
My mission is to spread the “cult of the wax”. So, fired up with enthusiasm and new techniques, I am planning a 2 day workshop in the late summer. I have taught encaustic wax techniques to artist organizations and art teacher groups. Also at Art on Fire and the Alaska State Fair. I teach children through the Alaska State Council of the Arts. I have taken several intensive workshops locally and in June I will be attending the 4th annual convention of encaustic artists in Massachusetts. Please keep on the lookout for more information in this Make a Scene paper.
Only you, the artist, knows it is not the paint that makes the painting but the artist who creates. Imagination and will are all that is required.