All of which will make some kind of sense when I have the time to explain it, which I do not have today.
As modern as collage is, encaustic is equally ancient; used by Roman era Egyptians in the first few centuries A.D. to create funerary portraits that they would then fix to an enshrouded mummy. These are three examples of many that have been found (images taken from the British Museum), the beeswax and resin used in the process provided their remarkable longevity. If you don’t expose encaustic artwork to excessive heat or freezing temperatures, they’re reasonably indestructible.
Encaustic is not a popular contemporary fine art technique, though it is enjoying (I read somewhere) something of a revival. A famous example is Jasper John’s mid 20th century iconic Flag (above), or his equally famous, and I think supremely unsettling, White Flag (below).
I’ve never seen either in person, but I would very much like to, so that I can see for myself the collaged pieces of newspaper and other quotidian detritus he used as background before painting on the wax.
Here it is in closer detail. I love that. Though I suspect if a female artist had done it, it would have been categorised as craft rather than art, but I’m just a little bitter because 44 years of living as a said female does that to you on some days. It’s a fabulous piece of art. I believe it is also a more fragile one than the ancient encaustic examples because Jasper did not mix resin into his beeswax, oops.
I like that as a technique it was developed to enshrine portraits of the dead, and I like that it will leave me with my own set of reasonably permanent research relics that my children will then have to decide what to do with after I am gone; their inheritance a story of other people’s ghosts.
Apropos of nothing, I have set myself a task of reading half a novel tomorrow. Over the course of my Psychology studies I’ve lost something of the concentration span needed to enjoy novels, especially the more literate ones, and it’s to my regretful loss – Kerry once asked me if I read everything, and my current reply would be that I used to. I did make the rookie mistake of asking my much more literate friends for a recommendation, however, and now have an enormous book mountain sitting next to my bed. Bummer that I also have a new semester about to start.
These lean more toward encaustic photography than encaustic collage in general, which would work too. The key, for me, is the shadowed, ghostly layer the encaustic process adds. You could get it with digital effects, but it wouldn’t have the same textural quality, the same feeling of both time and memory layered over the original moment, or object, or relationship.
I’m signed up to a 2 day workshop in August to learn the process. Also this coursera course, courtesy of Kerry (say that ten times fast), and I now have (did I say?) the bare bones of the first article I need to write sketched down. It will be about this process, about creating method rather than imposing it, and not just a theoretical argument on why that’s important, or at least useful, but also how that can work at a pragmatic level.
In my imagination, a rather messy and disturbingly random little place, there lives a shadowy idea of how to represent shadow objects visually. It requires found objects, and photocopies of photographs, and beeswax, and painting, and it ends up looking something like this:
It’s perfect. It’s a type of collage, which relates it to my earlier thesis work and to all the implications collage had as a form of visual communication there, but it also has a ghostly opaqueness and a greater material physicality that speaks more to this specific thesis. It’s a highly flexible medium, and, I think, a highly storied one.
Also I get to paint a little bit…
I see a series of encaustic collages grouped together on a wall in an exhibition as a type of visual essay, with perhaps other sensory memories included; a scent, or a song for instance, and again, only where it is an important part of the story. I am keen to add in sensory memories if/when I can, because reasons; and no, the zines are not forgotten, and yes, it will all work together, but more on all of that later – right now I have to drive two children to work. Again.
The standard kind of progress – I’ve read and taken notes on Objects of the Dead* and Loneliness and Longing** – and the Megan kind of progress, where some nebulous kind of idea about the final exhibition is beginning to form in my nebulous kind of head. I see a lot of cross-disciplinary ideas around geography and story, material culture, art and the senses, beginning to emerge and don’t ask me to explain further because I can’t.
The senses are interesting, though, aren’t they? How much of memory and longing is interpreted, remembered, through the senses? Visually, a lot of course – it took me 16 years after my father died to stop seeing his face on random people in the street – but what of touch, and taste, and smell, and sound? Margaret Gibson talks briefly of transitional objects, an item of clothing perhaps, that retains the scent of the deceased that people sometimes keep around to hold the memory close as they move through the intensity of their grief. I remember the specific smell of my father’s top drawer in his bedside table, a singular scent of laundered handkerchief and tobacco. I would go in there sometimes to specifically sniff that scent, and I know I wasn’t the only offspring to do so. Odd. I don’t miss the smell, it isn’t a shadow in that sense, there is no loss or longing involved, but it is a specific and enduring sense memory.
Sense memories could be a kind of abstract shadow object though, if those words are even a thing at all. I need better descriptors, but it’s Monday and I’m already tired, so that will have to do. I’m thinking of the mother of one of my son’s friends, a young man who died recently, not yet twenty, just too sad at what he believed is the state of this world to want to live in it. Some videos of him playing computer games with his friends were posted on his Facebook page, and his mother wrote a not thanking the young man who put them there. She said her greatest sorrow was that she would not hear her son’s voice anymore, and now she could listen to it whenever she needed to. A voice forever caught in that moment in time, but nevertheless. His voice.
I don’t know where I’m going here, I’m just thought jamming. Thought jamming is definitely a thing at all.
*I really wanted to like this book, but I didn’t. Broad ideas drawn too readily, I think, and a great deal more thematic than theoretical, with too many ideas being squished in. Good books are like a good meal; sure, you could show off by throwing in all the flavours, but the dish will be much the better for selecting a few complimentary ones.
I don’t know if good books are like that at all, I just made it up.
**Mostly written from a psychoanalytic point of view, which is not one I much subscribe to, but some interesting points made in a few essays. The subsuming of longing under the broad umbrellas of depression or anxiety was one of them, and there was something written by an English Professor that was worth the read, if only for the break from over-indulgent academic writing. You know lots of big psychoanalytic words, I get it, but dear authors, do you know how to communicate what they mean?
***Not entirely arbitrary portraits; I am thinking of using photographs of the deceased as part of the doctoral exhibition artwork and have been looking through my own archive for ideas. I seemed to have stopped taking a lot of ‘proper’ photographs around 3 years ago, I couldn’t tell you why.