Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Message Is The Medium

"Cloud Quilt"
Kathryn Bevier,  Encaustic Art 
Geisel Gallery, January 2016 

Encaustic painting as a medium has been with us for a few thousand years.  In fact the early Fayum portraits were created with this mixture of pigment and hot wax centuries ago, and those paintings still look great.  Today, there has been a renewed interest in the use of encaustic paints, and Kathryn Bevier knows a thing or two about this as she demonstrates in her new exhibition at the Geisel Gallery in downtown Rochester, New York.  I also know that she travels to demonstrate Enkaustikos
paints made right here in Rochester.

The Hum of the Horizon
by Kathryn Bevier

You may have seen examples of encaustic used in painting if you have been to a museum show of Jasper Johns - because it is one of his preferred mediums.  Years ago, artists would have to make their own paints by mixing some pigment with a clarified wax over a hot plate to keep the medium in a fluid state.  You would use some special brushes that you didn't mind taking a chance with ( because of the heat and the clotting factor of the encaustic ), and I have had demonstrations of these paints in my class at R.I.T.  Except for the occasional opportunity in a workshop to use these materials, I have not employed them in my artwork, but after seeing Kathryn Bevier's artwork, I might have to change my mind...!

"The Horizontal Line Series"

Really interesting use of textures is one facet of what you can achieve with these paints.  There is something at once velvety but also translucent when the paint is applied in thick layers.  The textures in a work like: "The Hum of the Horizon" are so tactile that they almost have a fleshy appearance.  I could imagine a painting class for the blind, where at the end of the day you just have to touch the surfaces of these paintings because they are so inviting.

Talking about horizons, if you enter the gallery and start to look over the show on the left hand wall there is a suite of paintings that are all about a horizontal plane and how using it creates an opportunity for landscape, or at the least a division between earth and sky.  These simple paintings are also about atmosphere, color, and the suggestion of distance.  The compositions are reductive, and remind me of early Brice Marden compositions turned sideways.

Cast Shadows on a Summer Lawn
at Geisel Gallery

I guess I like Ms. Bevier's more abstract paintings.  Some of the ones in her "Unfiltered" series are a bit flat and illustrative.  There is subject matter at the heart of the work, but then there is the sheer enjoyment of color and composition with each painting, like the one above.  We can feel how she enjoys working out her ideas like the little shadow paintings or a pair of paintings called "Me", and "Me, Too".

"Me, Too", and "Me" by Kathryn Bevier
at Geisel Gallery

I enjoyed her summer series, and it was nice to be reminded of that time of year, as I stepped out into a cold, snowy city on a quiet day in January.

"Architecture of a Quilt"
Encaustic Artwork by Kathryn Bevier