Kind of a Surprise: New Encaustic Piece

"Happy Together" Encaustic and rice paper on Baltic birch  10" x 10" x 1.75" deep  © 2009 Marilyn Fenn

“Happy Together”
Encaustic and rice paper on Baltic birch
10″ x 10″ x 1.75″ deep
© 2009
Marilyn Fenn

Painting in Encaustic: Liberation and Challenge

For about the past year-and-a-half, I have been in a bit of despair over how to continue working in encaustic. I started using encaustic paints in 2006. Encaustic paint is pigment suspended in a mixture of beeswax and damar resin that the artist heats and paints with while in a melted state (the paint, not the artist 😉 ) – you can read more about encaustic here.

My first attempts were simply thick coatings of clear wax covering small pastel drawings of tornadoes.  Then I began painting the tornadoes using the hot wax.  As paradoxical as it may sound, I found the demands of the encaustic medium really liberated me from my former work that was too tight or too representational for my own satisfaction.  One cannot be tight when painting in encaustic AND achieve a smooth surface, and I fell in love with the smooth surface and the unpredictability of what happens to colors melted in wax when you blow them around with hot air.

For the next year or so, I was thrilled to continue working in hot wax. I began a series of nuclear bomb paintings in encaustic, intending to paint about 100 of them, but my idea was too daunting for a subject matter that was so frightening. Having grown up in the days of duck-and-cover, I decided I couldn’t really live with that fright through the creation of 100 paintings, so I quit after completing only five nuclear bomb paintings.

I then did a political piece consisting of nine iconic images that I digitally manipulated, printed and then encased in hot wax: my “What Have We Become?” piece.  However, for most of my painting history, I have been primarily concerned with the formal qualities of art — just the beauty of the stuff on the canvas — and I always meant to avoid political statements, so this piece has (so far) stood as kind of a one-off.

Then I tried animating some encaustic paintings, but my physical set-up made that a very difficult process, so I have also put that aside for the time being.

After trying all of the above, I had a flash of inspiration and painted my set of poppy paintings (the four paintings starting with this one).  Simultaneously, I moved on to painting abstract works in encaustic.  You can see all of those pieces on my Encaustic gallery page.

In the beginning of 2008, I moved back to painting in oil again — which feels so much like home to me — and I also tried acrylic, which has now found a place in my work (when I want to work both large and fast).

But after that, I kind of hit a dead end with encaustic.  The rest of my work was becoming organic, but my next attempts at encaustic took on a design-y kind of rigid structure.  I did about 6-8 paintings like that this past summer at a workshop, and have been really unsatisfied with most of that work.  In fact, I have removed all but two of them from my Encaustic gallery page, though you can view them in the tiny thumbnail gallery below. I’ve also tried working in ways that I see many other encaustic artists work — collaging paper and fabrics into the hot wax, scraping and carving, and embedding objects in the wax — but so far, for me, these have mostly been dismal failures.

Meanwhile, back at the easel, my latest work was taking on quite an organic shape (see the organic series on the Works on Paper page), so I thought I’d try this imagery in encaustic as well as oil and acrylic; after three partial days of messing around with this piece, I am pretty happy with the outcome.  I’m preparing several more panels to continue my explorations in this direction. This one, Happy Together, is just the first of my encaustic pieces for my new Organics series, and I do anticipate that I will be quite happy with subsequent pieces.

What do you think?

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Look for echoes. Sometimes the same shape or direction will echo through the picture.

— Robert Henri
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  • Bright yellow stands for happiness…and the rays going through the whole painting make this happiness beam outward.
Gallery of Recent Paintings
Flame Kiss - Oil painting by Marilyn Fenn Small Color Painting 2014-015 - Oil painting by Marilyn Fenn Untitled 2015-029 - Oil on Canvas - 10 x 10 - © 2015 Marilyn Fenn Untitled 2015-026 - Oil on Canvas - 10 x 10 - © 2015 Marilyn Fenn