Earlier this month, Pamela Blum, and I attended the International Encaustic Artists retreat and conference in Carmel, CA.
The conference/retreat was held in the intimate setting of the Hidden Valley Music Seminars Institute . It was a vibrant program, exceptionally well put together by Cari Hernandez . Over 60 encaustic artists were there, coming from California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Texas, Arizona, Nebraska, Michigan, British Columbia and Ontario.
I gave a talk on the history of ancient Greek painters and how the development of naturalism during the Classical and Hellenistic periods of Greek art led to the flourishing of encaustic painting, reaching its apex during the Greco-Roman period with the masterful life-likeness of the Fayum funeral portraits.
Pamela’s interactive demonstration of working encaustic on 3-D surfaces was based on a series of work she did on curved blocks of wood. She showed fusing, scraping, and inlaying techniques and discussed how her use of encaustic applied to her themes of permanence and fragility.
Toronto-based Tony Scherman , was the keynote speaker. His large scale encaustic portraits based on historical personages and philosophical concepts are widely known in Canada and Europe. He has been a major representative of encaustic painting there for nearly 30 years. Although less known in the U.S., his reputation here has grown greatly in recent years.
Left: Tony Sherman speaking at the retreat Right: "About 1789: Albert Speer,” encaustic/canvas
Scherman’s presentation was a lively talk that went deep into the influences and aesthetic choices in his paintings. His preference for encaustic developed in his early years from his desire to achieve a watercolor like lucidity in his paint. For him encaustic leaves an openness in the pictorial representation as opposed to a sense of finality that he finds in other less-luminous paints.
A panel discussion moderated by Cari included art consultants Josetta Sbeglia and Helene Brown along with Tony, Pamela, and me. The diversity of opinions resulted in some sparkling exchanges on definitions. Tony’s technique differs from more commonly used methods of encaustic so the question of what is encaustic came up. Another was the relationship of the artist to her/his work.
A number of IEA members gave short demonstrations of their techniques. It’s amazing, no matter how many times you see someone’s process, there’s always something new that you never thought of. To name a few – Linda Womack’s use of shellac and encaustic, Gretchen Papka ’s use of parchment for image transfer, and Kimberly Kent’s portable encaustic palette.
On Saturday night there was an art exchange of work that each person had brought. This was truly impressive because much of the work went beyond mere technique and showed the mature mastering of the medium on a much broader basis that is coming to represent encaustic painting today.
It’s hard to believe that even 10 years ago, an encaustic event was a rare thing. Now there are conferences like this on the West Coast and the Annual Encaustic Painting Conference at Monserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA. Classes are being taught everywhere, and a growing number of encaustic networks – Tucson, Florida, Atlanta, and Chicago have recently formed – are bringing artists together to share ideas and collaborate on work. A good example is the Diptych Project between IEA and New England Wax that was exhibited at the 2008 Montserrat Conference. The project had artists on one coast send one part of a diptych to a randomly selected artist on another coast to complete the work. This year IEA has upped the ante by announcing a Triptych Project.
The inventiveness seems endless.