The Third Annual International Encaustic Conference at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA, June 5-7, drew over 200 artists from all over the U.S. (incl.
Puerto Rico) and Canada as well as New Zealand, France, Ireland, and Iceland.
What is truly amazing and indicative of the growing importance of encaustic in contemporary art is the fact that nearly 100 of these participants had not attended the previous two conferences. The conference is bringing in new people.
The growth of encaustic painting is evident not only in the conferences but also in the increasing number of encaustic networks. In addition to the International Encaustic Artists (centered in California), New England Wax, Texas Wax, and New Mexico Wax, there are now networks forming in Chicago, Florida, and the Mid-Atlantic states.
The indefatigable Joanne Mattera put together another unique program of speakers and panelists along with 3 different exhibits, 3 days of encaustic demonstrations and discussions, 3 post-conference days of workshops and critiques, and 6 encaustic-related vendors.
The theme and title of the main exhibit was Beauty and Its Opposites and was held at Montserrat’s gallery. It was juried by Nicholas Capasso, chief curator at the DeCordova Museum . A lovely small exhibit of handmade encaustic books, entitled Wax Libris, was on display at the Montserrat library. A third exhibit was displayed in the hallway outside the vendor and demonstration rooms.
The keynote speaker was critic Barbara O’Brien who spoke of her own aesthetic journey from embracing the intellectualism of Minimalist work to the recognition of the richness and beauty as typified in contemporary encaustic painting.
A panel of conservators from the Brooklyn and Peabody Essex museums and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, discussed the restoration of Fayum mummy portraits and the restoration of John Lafarge’s 19th century encaustic murals in Trinity Church in Boston. The most telling point about the discussion of the ancient encaustics was the fact that much of the restoration required of them had to do with rotting and cracking supports. The wax paint itself had not deteriorated. The slides of the Trinity Church murals show exuberantly brushed, luminous wax imagery set against flat distemper backgrounds. The murals also represent a variant on encaustic in which the wax paint is solvent-based and applied, either warm or cold, to the surface but not fused. The purpose was to give the paint a matte finish reminiscent of fresco painting.
A roundtable discussion entitled "Gender is a Factor," headed by artists Nancy Azara and Darla Bjork, and Monserrat dean Laura Tonelli, brought up the fact that although a large proportion of artists who work in encaustic are men, the conference and the encaustic networks, as well as most encaustic workshops, are attended almost entirely by women. While this phenomenon has been pointed out many times, the fact that encaustic has become a focus of organization among women artists may foretell the development of a political force in the art world that even today is largely dominated by men.
Barbara Moody, who teaches painting and mixed media at Montserrat, demonstrated how she teaches encaustic to her students. It was enlightening to see this because encaustic has yet to be treated seriously as a contemporary medium in most college art classes. No doubt teachers like Moody, Reni Gower at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Marilynn Derwenskus (ret.) from Ball State Univ. are pioneers of what will become a more widespread course offering in the schools.
So much for what went on in this third annual conference. Each year’s conference has been an expansion of activities of the previous one. We look forward with great anticipation to next year’s gathering.