Waxing artistic: Ancient encaustic technique wins modern favor
Encaustic work by Katsy Johnson of Wilmette
‘FUSEDChicago: A Group Encaustic Exhibition’
Robert T. Wright Community Gallery of Art at the College of Lake County, 19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake
8 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thurdays; 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 1-5 p.m. Sundays; March 1-April 7. Shortened hours week of March 25-31.
Opening reception, 7-9 p.m. March 1, featuring live music by harpist Daphne Freund
See gallery.clcillinois.edu or call (847) 543-2240
Updated: February 27, 2013 11:50AM
The ancient, decorative art of encaustic painting is enjoying a well-deserved renaissance.
Today’s artists give a fresh, modern twist to the technique, which involves using pigmented wax fused to a surface by heat. The process harks back to the Greeks, who used it to seal and decorate the hulls of boats, and to the Egyptians, who used it in mummy portraits.
Visitors can check it out at “FUSEDChicago: A Group Encaustic Exhibition” running through April 7 at the Robert T. Wright Community Gallery of Art at the College of Lake County. The show features 14 Chicago area artists from FUSEDChicago, an organization of 40 artists committed to the encaustic tradition.
In its most basic form, encaustic art entails painting with hot wax. But it’s more than that. Pigments can be added to the wax, as well as linseed oil or varnish. Heat guns or hot plates keep the wax malleable and artists use metal tools or brushes to manipulate the wax. The entire painting can be made with melted wax or the wax can be used to create dimension to an existing object or photograph. Either way, the method allows for a luminous, rich, often three-dimensional effect.
“Unlike pure oil paint, encaustic painting is thick and has an impasto texture to it along with the unique translucency of the wax,” said Steve Jones, curator at the Wright Gallery.
Katsy Johnson of Wilmette, an artist whose work is being represented at the exhibit, blends photographs and wax together. She was immediately drawn to the possibilities of the two mediums when she first saw them together. Her pieces examine buildings and architecture long-abandoned and left to the elements.
“Encaustic is like no other medium out there: the texture, luminosity and layering possibilities give it a versatility that I don’t perceive in other art disciplines,” she said.
And although she recognizes that her pieces often depict a forlorn quality, “the addition of wax adds to the surreal fragment of beauty that is still left behind.”
While most works at the exhibit are created directly on canvas or wood, a few are three-dimensional objects or use an existing item, such as Johnson’s photographs.
“I think visitors will really take away how diverse this approach can be,” said Jones.
Visitors to the FUSEDChicago exhibit can also wander over to the OutPOUR exhibit in the adjacent Artcetera Gallery. This themed ceramic show focuses on anything that can pour: bowls, vases, gravy vessels, even salt and pepper shakers. Artists across the country were invited to participate and all pieces are for sale.