Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Encaustic

I recently read an article by Morgan Meis relating to "No Regrets" an exhibition by Jasper Johns at MoMA, New York. As well as getting me thinking about a number of artistic issues, it also got me to thinking about encaustic painting. Jasper Johns was the main artist whose work I looked at in the 80s for guidance on this medium. Johns flag paintings from the 1950s, inspired by a dream, encapsulate the visceral tendency of pure paint: with encaustic painting the immediacy of each brushstoke is preserved.


On my first trip to New York while at art school in the early 80s, I would have come across Johns's work at either the MoMA or Whitney and fallen in love with the painterliness.


I was also interested in Johns's use of newsprint layers providing extra surface texture on the canvas.


I found out that encaustic is a mixture of beeswax, oil paint and turpentine melted and mixed together and I began my own experiments with the medium. The mixture is applied while melted and therefore still warm. Although I did a few paintings on canvas they do not exist any more, nor did I photograph them. The only thing I have left to show that I ever painted in encaustic is a photograph of a large triptych on paper. This hung on the walls of several of my apartments in Toronto, until, with all my moving around, it totally fell apart.


Last year, while participating in The Big Egg Hunt Dublin (fundraiser for the Jack and Jill Foundation) I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Niamh O'Connor, whose encaustic egg I had admired. On meeting me, I remember that Niamh was surprised to meet another artist who was familiar with encaustic. She might have found it amusing to see me delightedly sniffing the heady beeswax and oil smell of her giant yellow egg, reminiscing with myself about this wonderful medium.