In Praise of Waxy Build-Up: Encaustic on The Cape 2014
October 28, 2014
With increasing buzz around mixed media makers – and as a fan of encaustic materials and techniques – I was keen to attend the 8th International Encaustic Conference in picturesque Provincetown, Massachusetts (June 6-8, 2014).
This annual Cape Cod arts event was founded by inexhaustible encaustic advocate, art blogger, and Surface Design Journal contributor Joanne Mattera. It draws together an interdisciplinary community of artists, gallerists, curators, critics and collectors around the media of wax, encaustic, printmaking – and the textile arts – plus the latest in professional practices.
Mattera produces the conference programming in collaboration with the energy and expertise of local artist Cherie Mittenthal, executive director for the nearby Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill where all pre- and post-conference workshops are held.
Castle Hill also hosts 2 encaustic exhibitions each June which are enjoyed by over 200 attendees from around the globe. Several related shows are presented in the picturesque (and LGBT-friendly) downtown area, a pleasant 20-minute walk from Provincetown Inn. Art aside, the Inn’s idyllic beachfront locale is only a few feet from the harbor’s famous stone breakwater and tidal flats.
After catching the red eye from Portland, Oregon to Boston, with a dawn puddle jumper trip to the hotel, I was greeted with strong coffee and a riveting lecture by artist (and SDA member) Lorraine Glessner. Her talk “Mix Masters: Materials, Methods and Process” featured several works of experimental contemporary art new to me, including the unwoven and rewoven textiles of Japanese artist Aiko Tezuka, who will be featured in the upcoming Winter 2015 Warp Speed issue of SDA Journal.
About working with wax, Glessner observes, “I fell in love with encaustic because of its smell, its luminosity and tactile qualities that I couldn’t find with any other medium. Since beginning to work with it, I’ve never looked back. There is a definite process to working in encaustic; applying the paint, fusing the layers, then adding more or scraping back. It’s like a dance or a poem, as the creation and meaning of each step or verse hinges on the one before it. My work is not about the act of painting, but rather to develop a deep engagement with my materials, to perfect my technique and support my content at the same time. I find that no matter what material I combine with encaustic – hair, found wood, fabric or paper – the materials and my ideas come alive.“
Later that day, SDA Member Nancy Natale expanded my mixed-media research even further with her talk “Mix Masters: Bricolage.” She defined bricolage as “dimensional materials or objects that are repurposed, deconstructed or manipulated to transform into a new identity as part of a constructed work or art”; distinctly different from the more familiar methods of collage and assemblage.
When asked about her love of encaustic and this annual conference (she is already signed up for 2015) Natale replied “I love working with all kinds of materials—I’m just a process type, I guess—and encaustic really bridges the materiality gap between paint and something with more substance such as textiles, paper, fiber and so on. The dimension that can be achieved with wax alone is pretty remarkable, but the lusciously soft surface that has such a skin-like appearance is unlike any other paint. Is it any wonder that so many people fall in love with encaustic?”
A handful of the many encaustic demos on the weekend schedule had fiber-centric appeal, including “Mix Masters: Creating Texture & Dimension with Textiles” lead by SDA member Susan Lasch Krevitt. An ardently self-motivated artist and educator, Krevitt shared her reasons for making the annual pilgrimage to Provincetown: “The truth is, I continue to return to the conference year after year not only for growth as an artist, but for personal growth. I’ve learned a lot from being in the presence of strong women. Joanne [Mattera] is a role model in many ways.”
After a lunch buffet, Cat Crotchett provided an introduction to wood block printing on several surfaces in “Mix Masters: Batik Tools & Encaustic Painting.” Concurrently, encaustic aficionado and SDA member Paula Roland revealed some tactile tricks of the trade with “Mix Masters: Secrets of Working with Graphite.” (Find out more about Roland’s contributions to the art of encaustic in a recent SDA NewsBlog Shop Talk story entitled How Encaustic Heat & Wax Transformed My Creative Process.)
The intensive 3-hour Saturday morning panel discussion, moderated by Joanne Mattera, thoroughly explored The Roots of Contemporary Art. A small but carefully curated vendor fair area offered a vibrant range of high quality encaustic supplies, tools, panels and handmade papers from around the globe. Miles Conrad Encaustics is show above. (Captions and attributions pop up as tags when photos are moused over – except on mobile devices. -Ed.)
Buoyed by the increased focus on wax + fiber this year, SDA chose to host a publications table at the conference. I was thrilled when Susan Lasch Krevitt agreed to be our SDA poster girl with her visceral stitched piece Looking Ahead. It got more than a few double takes of desire from the contingent of fiber lovers who attended (shown below).
Book signings throughout the late afternoon allowed me to tempt those who passed by the SDA table with high-touch swatches from one of SDA’s fabulous Swatch Collections. A slide show of 2013 SDA Members’ exhibition playing in the background combined with plenty of Spring 2014 Journals on hand made for a very strong presentation of SDA talent and resources.
With over 20 years experience as a curator and arts advisor, the Saturday evening keynote speaker Kenise Barnes offered invaluable insights on the contemporary art scene from her perspective as owner of Kenise Barnes Fine Arts in Larchmont, New York.
Sunday madness started early with Going Postal 3: Postcard Show. This popular conference fundraiser stretches a line through the hotel lobby where affordable small scale works by dozens of artists are hung, anonymously, until after purchases are complete. I felt clever recognizing—but resisted reaching for—several cards by encaustic experts in the group until I eventually snagged an alluring abstract minimalist piece by Ruth Hiller.
The Hotel Art Fair featured dozens of rooms brimming with recent works by an international line-up of conference attendees – and with buyers lured by the great prices!
My encaustic adventure came to a refreshing close with a visit to Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill to see the exhibition Material Consequences (curated by Susan Lasch Krevitt and Nancy Natale) and Subliminal (juried by Chicago-based artist/gallerist Dan Addington). It was my sincere pleasure to serve as interviewer for a well-attended conversation with several of the artists featured in these shows.
Next year’s waxy build-up, creatively speaking, is already well under way. The 9th International Encaustic Conference will convene June 5-7, 2015 – with registration open now. New York City gallery owner Pavel Zoubok will be 2015 keynote speaker and a terrific range of pre- and post-conference workshops are available.
Among the many thought-provoking talks, demos and seminars on the roster, yours truly will be on hand to represent SDA by teaching a pre-conference critique workshop and participating in the Saturday morning panel discussion.
See you on the boardwalk in P-town next June! You couldn’t pick a sweeter spot for plugging into what’s hot about wax and encaustic.
SDA Journal Call for Submissions: We’ve decided to dedicate the Summer 2015 issue to the theme of “Wax & Fiber.” So attention all artists, writers or anyone enamored of work made with this intriguing mix of seductive materials. Contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest artists, article ideas, trends or creative processes to include in this mixed-media edition. Don’t be shy! If you’re not familiar with the range of opportunities for exposure the journal provides, sample or buy back issues here.
Marci Rae McDade is editor of Surface Design Journal and former editor of FiberArts magazine.
She received an MFA in Fiber and Material Studies from School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BA in film and video production from Columbia College Chicago.
She is also a mentor and instructor with the MFA Applied Craft + Design program (cosponsored by Oregon College of Art & Craft and Pacific Northwest College of Art) in her hometown of Portland, Oregon.
You can find her on Facebook.