Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 7:15 pm
PALMER — Often I write about art and artists. It is what I do. And though I like doing it, this piece is especially pleasing to me because I am writing about Judy Vars. Judy is the “real deal,” an artist’s artist. I have said before that “passionate” is the best word to describe this artist and her art.I should mention as disclosure that I own several of her works. I am terribly biased. And, in spite of being an artist (we all know how they can be!), Judy is a wonderful human being, kind, compassionate and thoughtful. She is a joy to work with.
Judy is a painter, but she paints in the incredibly sensual medium of encaustic wax. Encaustic wax uses beeswax and pigment in one of the most ancient and durable methods of painting. Encaustic dates to Pharaonic Egypt, and possibly before, but is most notable in the Fayum mummy portraits of the first century.
Despite its ancient heritage, encaustic is very much part of modern art. Fritz Faiss (a student of Kandinsky) redeveloped the Punic wax techniques described in ancient Greek texts. None other than Jasper Johns and Diego Rivera were encaustic painters. Judy’s work is definitely symbolically modern, though it often pays homage to ancient iconography as well as ancient technique. This comingling, a sort of mental assemblage, is one reason her work is so compelling.
And it smells really good.
Because encaustics are wax, they can be rather topographical and sculpted. This translucent three-dimensionalism and wonderful odor of honey separates this medium from all others. Even though the complexity of the composition can equal any other painting media, the sensual complexity of encaustic far out shines any other. I love to smell and touch Judy’s work.
This sensual media is very apt for Judy. She exudes a jaunty sensuality and translucent depth as well. It would seem a symbiotic relationship exists between her and her work. That is not unusual for artists, but it seems more perfect here, more accessible and real. It could be the mortar and pestle where she grinds her pigments or maybe the cauldrons of hot beeswax perfuming her air with the essence of honey that fill her dreams with fanciful notion and her art with elixir.
Her work can be found from Talkeetna to Anchorage and even in Hollywood! Some of her more exotic pieces are found in exotic places like Wytchwood Herbal Shoppe in Willow while Arctic Rose on West 5th Avenue has many of her more conventional works. At Madd Matters in Palmer, she has had a number of successful shows and seminars over the years. She is also a perennial favorite at Art on Fire, the Alaska Museum of Transportation and Industry’s event celebrating hot arts in Wasilla.
Even album covers, like she did for the local band Theory of Hate.
In some ways Judy lives the idyllic life of the artist. She and her husband Peter (also an artist) have a cabin on a lake in the quiet Meadow Lakes area. True, she has all the worries and concerns of a modern woman, but her life as an artist seems protected and serene — spacious honey filled studio, and water and Alaska wonder out her windows. It is no surprise her whacky notions become sophisticated art. Between her heart and brain and her environment, things seem to flourish.
For the past seven years she has published her cabin fever in her Alaska blog, cabinfeverinalaska.blogspot.com. Interestingly, Judy writes as well as she paints. Her blog is an exploration of her work and both the trials that succeeded and those that weren’t as successful. Though it is impossible to fathom Judy’s mind, her clear and precise writing is interesting and refreshing.
I can’t say what will appreciate monetarily in the art world anymore. Things are rather strange. But if you should be so blessed as to own one of Judy’s pieces you and your heirs, for timeless generations, will enjoy the wonderful art. You will have invited Judy into your home and made her one of your family.
I’ve three of her works to describe. The ones pictured here.
The first “Alaska’s Venus Rising from the Sea” is a beautiful and somewhat comical composition. Venus is an amalgam of Botticelli hair, Venus de Milo torso, and the limbs and face of a neighbor girl. This is combined with a menagerie of Alaska sea mammals, a flock of terns and a cathedral of ice seeming to rise from rather than fall into the sea. Though there is no direct intent, perhaps a subconscious or channeled act, much of the Inuit and Inupiat myth of Sedna seems to saturate this painting.
The work is not an encaustic. It is an oil with a cold wax finish. The finish gives the work a soft, silky feel to the touch and a depth not available to varnishes. The work is a pleasant size of 36 inches by 42 inches, just right for the depiction.
The other is an incredible portrait of Martha Sanchez. Martha is a Costa Rican Buddhist. Judy has portrayed her in encaustic wax as Frida Kahlo in all her natural and spiritual symbolism. “Martha as Frida” is especially suited to encaustic wax. The color vibrancy and the three- dimensional qualities are simply outstanding. You have to touch her.
In this piece Judy has taken the representational aspects of portraiture and made it a real emotional work of art. She has done what every fine artist hopes to achieve, an exacting composition, a harmonious but not boring palette, a symbolic but accessible theme, an homage to past masters, and an exhibit of technical but artistic proficiency. “Martha as Frida” is 16-inch-by-20-inch encaustic beeswax on panel.
And then there is the striking death angel the centerpiece of her album cover for Theory of Hate. This is a 20-inch-by-20-inch encaustic beeswax on panel.