I have been making things for as long as I can remember. My mother and grandmothers discovered early on that I could be kept busy for hours if crayons, scissors, tape and paper were at the ready. I remember telling my Gran at age four that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Many of us go through multiple incarnations before landing on one. I didn’t realize what I wanted to do until college.
I studied art education in college and later earned an MA with a concentration in ceramics. During my master’s program, I was creating mixed-media work and what looked like mixed-media work using low-fire ceramic materials. What I enjoyed most about working with the clay was the ability to carve and incise line into its surface. After completing the program, I no longer had access to a kiln, so I turned my attention back to mixed-media. I really missed the surface properties that clay offered, and I needed to find a material that would be malleable and could be combined with paper and pigment.
One day, by chance or providence, I stumbled across some old wax in a supply closet at the middle school where I was teaching. It was dark and grungy and probably had been used for fabric dyeing projects in the 1970s. Though the color and opacity didn’t suit my purposes, the material did provide the soft, sculptable surface I was seeking. After many hours of experimentation and research, I learned about the ancient painting process known as encaustic, a term derived from the Greek word for heating or burning. Encaustic paint is purified natural beeswax, mixed with pigment and damar resin, that must be kept in a molten state until it is applied to the canvas. A heat gun or other heat source is then used to fuse the layers together and to create or remove texture. Aside from these basics, however, the resulting work can be as different as the artists who use it.
Though the process is painstaking, encaustic produces very direct and immediate effects. There is no prolonged drying period, just the time needed for the wax to cool. I can use the wax as an adhesive, to seal paper and other collage elements between layers of wax, and as a paint in the manner of an oil or acrylic painter. Depth can be created on the picture plane by building up layer after layer in the way that some artists use resin or acrylic pour paintings with transparent colors.
I tend to fluctuate between creating narrative work and experimenting with formalism. The narrative pieces are based on photographic images that I create or scan from old postcards, photo albums and other ephemera, often found in antique and thrift shops. After scanning, I enlarge the images and punch up the color with digital tools. The images are printed on thin Japanese printmaking papers that become translucent when affixed to the wax surface. From there, the work evolves in the studio with no plan beyond the color scheme. I typically work on multiple pieces simultaneously to create a series. This allows me to stay in the zone, with my “brain apps” running in the background, so I can be more productive while the ideas flow.
I started exploring formalism more recently, after a gallery asked me to create 100 8”x 8” pieces of work that would hang together in a large grid. If the work had contained recognizable images, the viewer's eyes wouldn't find a place to rest. What began as a specific request for a show has now become a new approach to my work. Though I have always appreciated Color Field painters and Op artists, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy making art that doesn’t include discernible imagery.
Themes in my work include: personal growth, the passages of life, the drive for self-determination, the illusion of self-control and the tenuous balance between containment and release.
Beth Guipe Hall, Indianapolis, Indiana 2018