a (very) brief encaustic history

collage ancient encaustic

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.

flag

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).

white flag

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.

flag detail

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.

some more examples

collage encaustic 2

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.

encaustic collage

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:

IMG_2679-1009x1024
Alanna Sparanese

 

leah mcdonald
Leah MacDonald

 

subterranean
Lisa Kiros
ingrid blixt
Ingrid Blixt

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.