Encaustic painting — the method of heating wax to create layered and captivating works of art — dates back as far as the fifth century B.C.
While the innovative style can be seen in ancient Greek and Roman paintings, creatives today still practice the time-honored method and use metal tools, spatulas and special brushes to mold and shape the medium as it cools — creating pieces that are filled with depth, texture and plenty of intrigue.
“Light Affects: Encaustic Colorado” opened at Loveland Museum last month and features work from four artists that beautifully bring this ancient practice into 2021.
“Painting with wax is like no other medium,” said Greenwood Village-based artist Patricia Aaron, whose work is featured in the group exhibition. “It is wonderfully malleable, textural and responsive to the hot torch used to fuse the layers together.”
Aaron’s love of encaustic painting started when she was pursing her master’s degree at University of Denver’s School of Art and Art History.
While there, she explored the medium by painting wax on concrete, wood and organic materials and printed with wax on paper.
“Experimenting this way during graduate school, I was able to determine the parameters of wax,” Aaron said. “How far could it be pushed, heated, pigmented and combined with other materials? This research enabled me to confidently paint and stretch the boundaries of beeswax.”
Much of Aaron’s work is influenced by her extensive travels.
“I was abroad studying studio art and art history in London and Paris during the early ’80s,” Aaron said. “I knew that experience was a pivotal time in my artistic life. The process of developing my signature style and packing my kit bag to travel, research, observe and work on location began then and continues today.”
From another region’s gorgeous natural terrain to bit of local flavor found in marketplaces, city streets and eateries, many encounters and unexpecting scenes act as muses for her colorful and motion-filled abstracts.
“Two works in the Loveland Museum are quite recent and inspired by travel to Kauai, Hawaii, this past May 2021,” Aaron said. “They are ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Hideaway Cove.’ ‘Joie de Vivre’ — installed in the main gallery — was inspired by travel to Provence, France, in 2019 and the hills of Luberon.”
Aaron also credits music and specifically witnessing musicians share their gifts in person as a powerful influence.
“As the concert scene has changed somewhat during the last year, I have adjusted where I find live music,” Aaron said.
Once again, she has ventured out of Colorado in search of fresh experiences.
“Recently, I had a travel opportunity with a small group inside the Monument Valley — Navajo Nation — in Utah and Arizona where a Navajo woman privately performed original songs in her Navajo language a cappella,” Aaron said. “Last week, I was traveling through New Mexico while on a residency and in Santa Fe, I happened to catch wonderful salsa and jazz evening performances on the plaza. The energy level of the band and the crowd was off the charts.”
Capturing the raw and spontaneous beauty that coincides with a journey away from home, Aaron’s paintings reflect the magic of travel and the people and places that are discovered along the way.
“The work I am now starting in the studio is inspired by the U.S. Southwest landscape, Native American culture, language and personal connections I made,” Aaron said. “This new work is full of energy, stories and vistas.”
Even after her pieces are completed, Aaron usually reflects and decides there is more work to be done.
“When I finish a painting, it has to sit in my studio to cure for two to three weeks before being installed,” Aaron said. “During this time, I make small final edits to the composition, mark making and colors. The cherry on top is sharing my work with patrons in museums, galleries, airports and in corporate and private collections.”
This past year, Aaron was commissioned to paint a number of large 2D and 3D works for private collections.
“This is such an honor and I truly am thrilled when I am invited to work with people who connect with my work,” Aaron said.
More of Aaron’s work can be seen at Naropa University’s Lincoln Gallery starting on Sept. 9.
“I started painting because at the time I thought it would be a more immediate way for me to tell my story,” said Cesark, an Aspen-based artist who has seven pieces in the exhibit. “Encaustic, in hindsight, has just as much process as other mediums, including ceramics.”
Cesark, associate dean of academic and student affairs at Colorado Mountain College, credits her love of art with the exposure and direction she received as a high schooler in Connecticut.
“I was lucky we had a program called project S.O.A.R. that was in collaboration with a local art center that housed studio artists in a wide range of media,” Cesark said.
Interacting with professional artists at a young age and receiving encouragement and feedback from them left an indelible mark.
“This made a huge impact on me,” Cesark said. “I studied ceramics and fibers. I was hooked. I loved being in the study and learning from them.”
She went on to receive her master’s degree and continues to create a diverse array of pieces that manage to highlight the delicate and fleeting nature of life.
“I was drawn to encaustic as it has similarities to ceramic surfaces,” Cesark said. “You can layer information, you can cast it and sculpt it. Currently, I use whatever material best suits the concept or idea that I am narrating. I work across media. I use ceramics, sculpture, encaustic, printmaking, installation and time-based media.”
While Cesark has been known to incorporate many themes and imagery into her paintings, one particular subject seems to surface time and again.
“The house is a recurring image in my work,” Cesark said. “At times, it acts as a stand in for a wide range of natural and human conditions. Each piece has a specific story. There is not one generic narrative.”
In some of her works, the dwelling looks like it is anything but stable — haphazardly placed in a riverbed — encased by rushing water.
For Cesark, some of this subject matter is about depicting the balance between humans and nature.
“The natural world has intense power and demands our respect,” Cesark said. “We need to listen to science, data and observation. This holds us accountable for how we treat the earth.”
Cesark continues to create work that is both highly personal, yet easily has universal appeal.
“Currently, I use whatever material best suits the concept or idea that I am narrating,” Cesark said. “I work across media. I use ceramics, sculpture, encaustic, printmaking, installation and time-based media.”
From a sculptural house made from Egyptian paste to porcelain plates decked out with visually stirring decals, Cesark’s creations remain untethered and ever-evolving.
“I incorporate both a digital and a traditional tool belt and mindset,” Cesark said. “I love how versatile encaustic is. You can build layers of luminosity or cast it to resemble porcelain. It has a rich history dating back to the Fayum funeral portraits in ancient Greece.”
Cesark’s pieces — surreal and dreamlike— take on a number of meanings depending on who is gazing at the enthralling display.
“I hope patrons find their own story in my work,” Cesark said. “I hope it brings them enjoyment, reflection and meditation.”