(CD cover art by Janice Rhodes)
One gift that the COVID-19 pandemic granted many people was time. With social activities restricted, it was time to try new things, time to rest or heal and time to rethink life. For encaustic artist Janice Rhodes, it gave her time to perfect her technique. Her work is showcased at Red Chair Gallery during the month of July.
“I had the opportunity to take more time with my work,” Rhodes explains. As a result, she has been creating larger pieces than in the past and experimenting with new color combinations. She has a new encaustic in the gallery that measures 30” x 48” called The Violinist and the bigger size was a challenge because she had to constantly lift the birch board from vertical (for perspective and proportions) to horizontal (for application of the hot wax). She has worked hard to master making her subjects more realistic but also has fun creating a “quirkiness” in her subjects. “There’s a freedom to letting the molten, pigmented wax lead the way,” she says.
Encaustic, sometimes called hot wax painting, is a term derived from the Greek encaustikos, meaning a “burning in.” The oldest surviving encaustic paintings are the Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt dated 100-300 A.D. These were portrait masks of the deceased affixed to their mummies. The Greeks also did encaustic funeral portraits on wooden panels, some of which can be seen in museums today. Encaustic art became popular again in the 20th century as artists such as Jasper Johns and Mark Perlman employed encaustic techniques.
Encaustic painting entails heating beeswax mixed with damar resin to about 200 degrees and then blending it with oil-based pigments. Rhodes heats the wax/resin in a slow cooker and pours it into small cans containing pigment which she keeps heated on a electric griddle. She then brushes the mixture onto a birchwood panel. As she adds more layers of color, she fuses the layers with a heat gun. The viscous nature of the medium gives it more depth and texture than other types of painting. Its thickness and viscosity allow the artist to sculpt it, collage other materials into it, scrape it and carve it with tools such as spatulas or knives. Although it cools immediately, it is reheated and worked again. After she finishes an encaustic, Rhodes buffs the surface with a soft cloth and goes over it with her palm to make the surface shiny.
Although many modern encaustic artists are abstractionists, Rhodes prefers realistic subjects, especially animals and human figures and faces. But she often paints flowers, too. A few months ago, a Red Chair customer bought one of her floral paintings. The man, Mark Millan, a musician from California, thought the image would be the perfect cover for his new CD and album, titled Master Gardener. You can see it pictured here.
Later this year, Rhodes is planning to visit Egypt where she is excited to see some of the original Egyptian encaustic mummy masks housed at the world famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Undoubtedly, they will be an inspiration for her future work.