ENCAUSTIC ARTISTS CHALLENGE BOUNDARIES
Life is about transformation, change, transition, growth. Art, as a component of life, also follows that path.
At its most fundamental level, art-making is always about trans- formation — the transformation of raw materials into a finished work, the transformation from concept to concrete result, the personal transfor- mation of the artist during the creative process. And once completed, nothing is ever the same. The work is unique, new and a result of minute, incremental changes; the artist is also transformed and no longer the same as when the process began.”
“Transformations,” currently showing at the Sharon Arts Center Exhibition Gallery, features 42 works from 20 artists from New England Wax, a professional organization of artists in New England who work in the ancient medium of encaustic hot wax painting using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. But beyond that commonality, the results vary dramati- cally.
Exhibit coordinator Deb Claffey said “Transformations” is an exhibit concept that allows the artists to work toward their personal vision as they explore and challenge the boundaries of message, meaning, metaphor and materiality. Encaustic can be used as a medium on wood panels, canvas, paper, metal, Plexiglas and any number of new and unusual substrates. It can also incorporate disparate materials, from collage elements to random objects and natural materials, into the work. The artists’ interpretation of transfor- mations has resulted in a delightfully diverse exhibition.
Some artists, such as Dawna Bemis and Pat Gerkin, arrive at transforma- tion of self through inner journeys and connections to ancestors and history. Bemis, in her work “Hayes Corner,” draws upon block quilt patterns as a metaphor for the loss of generational knowledge transfer. She contemplates whether her foremothers knew the geometric properties of the grid they were demon- strating as they sat around their quilting bees, sharing family lore and everyday wisdom. As she works on her patterns wrought with layers of meaning, Bemis says she feels as though she joins them for a time.
Gerkin embraces a dramatically different form of encaustic expres- sion in “Monolith #5,” composed of encaustic, oil and silver leaf on a panel that’s nearly two feet high and offers a complex layering of tones, textures and geometrics. She said the use of rocks and mountains, rocky coasts and the natural world as its metaphor reflects the paradox of constancy/change, static/ shifting ground and the unrelenting message of the passage of time.
Her degrees in art as well as in horti- culture influence the expression of Debra Claffey’s work. “There is no way to make a painting without transformation,” she said. “The expression of feeling, time, place and sensation needs to be made visible.” Using wax and pigment, her emotions and memories, she transforms materials into a tracing of experience. “Theory of Revision Two” conveys the impression of plant life that blends opacity and translucence, subtly robust with thick surfaces and pale washes. She explained that the process is one of deconstructing vision into pattern and
rhythm, color and form, only to reform it — transform it — into a personal and unique expression of her day.
Mesmerized by the changing nature of architectural elements and the buildings they comprise, Heather Leigh Douglas is drawn to the beauty of aged wood, stone and metal altered by time and weather. Exposure to the climate creates surfaces rich in texture and atmosphere. Her “East Harlem Doorman” shows how surfaces are transformed over time, leaving a unique patina and the weathered structures imbued with character.
Other artists, such as Pamela Dorris DeJong and Kellie Weeks, don’t stop merely at transforming the materials — they also explore the healing properties in physical, psychological and relational concepts through the process of artmaking.
DeJong’s work, “Healing Striations,” is representative of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual healing at a cellular level, she said. “It transforms the injured part of oneself to become whole and functional at a high level again.” The intricately layered, powerful colors and engaging texture of this work communicates on many levels.
Weeks’ richly emotional and colorful “Circumstance” also involves the viewer on a tactile level. The incisions that penetrate the surface speak of darker aspects of “circumstances” as they’re juxtaposed against a vibrant red and yellow background interspersed with fragments of white — a metaphor for life, indeed.
Consistently, we learn to use what life has given us and that becomes part of our transformation. Lelia Stokes Weinstein was raised as a Quaker and embraces the concepts of the denomination’s themes of joy, hope and peace. Combining that with her work as a landscape designer and artist, she has created “Beech Shoes,” shoes made of dried leaves of American beech trees, wax and paper-shoe molds. Cloth is made from a beech product called modal; Weinstein said she dreams of a day when sandals can be made from modal and not petrochemicals.
Other artists’ works are also noteworthy. Catherine Weber transforms ordinary tiles into another medium and, combined with encaustic, gives the materials new meaning, while Kay Hartung explores the transforma- tion and transitions that occur at the intersection of art and science.
Pamala Crabb was caught in time after visiting her aunt, who had a doily that had been made by her grandmother on the back of a chair. She transformed the doily design to an object she could display on the wall in her “Nana’s Doilies” series.
Dietlind Vander Schaaf transforms disparate materials into elegantly simple compositions of pattern and grace. My favorite was “Vespers,” a vertical arrangement of old guitar strings.
Additional participating artists include Corina Alvarezdelugo, Angel Dean, Soosen Dunholter, Sue Katz, Ruth Sack, Donna Hamil Talman, Willa Vennema, Julie Vohs and Charyl Weissbach.
“The pool of work transforms into a fine art exhibit, without a precon- ceived encaustic label — or label of any sort; a fine art exhibit that can be seen as an exhibit of oil painting, sculpture or any other of equal caliber for all to relate,” noted the juror for this exhibition, artscope publisher Kaveh Mojtabai. “In a complicated, confusing cultural world, it’s an approach where each person — artist, juror, curator, viewer — works in a new compas- sionate spirit, creating, in its very namesake, ‘Transformations.’”
Yes, indeed — the final transformation occurs in the viewer.