One of the great things about our visiting artist workshop program is the opportunity to acquaint other artists with unique approaches to encaustic painting.
Francisco Benitez, from Santa Fe, taught a class on encaustic portraiture June 2nd thru 4th here at R&F. Switching from oils to encaustics a number of years ago prompted him to pursue his long time fascination with the encaustic Fayum funeral portraits of ancient Egypt and explore the techniques that produced them.
Using metal tools and heated tips that he had designed to duplicate the ancient bronze spatulas used by the Fayum painters, Francisco demonstrated how direct manipulation of the encaustic can create very controlled and at the same time rich impressionistic effects. This is largely due to the sensitive flexibility that give the tools the feel of being an extension of the fingers. These tools, by the way, are being manufactured for R&F by Sculpture House, and will be available in August.
Another feature of Francisco’s technique is the recreation of the four-color palette. Developed around the 5th century BC, the four color system, known as tetrachromy, utilizes black, white, red ochre, and yellow ochre (equivalent to mars red and yellow). When skillfully mixed, they can create a full color range that is both harmonious and elegant in its economy of color. Following the Greek tradition of portraiture, the painting is begun on a dark ground and the layers of color progress from dark to light in a process that is like bringing the face from out of the shadows.
Compare Benitez’ method in one of his demonstration pieces below with a Fayum portrait from the 1st Century AD.
In conjunction with Francisco’s workshop he also has a solo exhibition at R&F entitled Ancient Voices through Modern Eyes: Encaustic Figurative Paintings by Francisco Benitez on view through July 24th, 2010.