Saturday, August 16, 2008

Encaustic = Hot Wax Painting

The gallery has been graced with more and more wax works as of late (by the fabulous Liz Tran, Robin Luciano Beaty, Kate Phillips, and Helene Farrar) - and more and more gallery goers are asking me, "What is encaustic!?".

A Brief History of Encaustics:

The ancient Greeks developed encaustic over 2,000 years ago. The word encaustic derives from the Greek word enkaustikos, meaning “to heat” or “to burn”. It is an ancient painting medium that mixes molten wax with dry pigments and resin. Encaustic was used among Greek artists as far back as the 5th century B.C. where it was applied in portraits and panels of mythological painting. Encaustic is impervious to moisture. This main preservation property was instrumental as a way of weatherproofing Greek ships. Later, pigment was added to the wax and encaustic was also used to decorate Greek ships.

In the 1st through 3rd centuries A.D., Greek painters settled in Egypt and adapted the common custom of honoring the dead. It was common to place a portrait of the deceased in the prime of their life or after death over the person’s mummy as a memorial. These mummified portraits, known as the Fayum funeral portraits, are the only surviving encaustic paintings from ancient times. Their fresh color and vibrance attests to the durability and resistance to moisture that wax encompasses.

Encaustic was also used during the Renaissance by Rembrandt, who touted encaustic for portraiture, claiming that it was akin to painting "with liquid flesh." Its fluidity yields an almost animate image, suggesting movement, more living face than mask.

Encaustic has returned from obscurity as modern tools have made the process more practical. Diego Rivera used encaustic in the 1930's on his murals. Jasper Johns is credited with the current renaissance of encaustic fine art with his work that began in the 1950's.