What is encaustic painting?
Encaustic painting, the ancient hot wax process, combines molten beeswax and dry colored pigments. The work is done on a glue prepared gesso panel, using paints consisting of beeswax, dammar crystals, and dry pigments. Paint is applied hot, and manipulated in any variety of methods. The final image is subjected to a heat treatment of the entire surface, known as “burning-in.” Each layer should be fused to the layer previously applied for sound technique. The burning-in process makes encaustic unique from simply adding a waxy ingredient to oil paint. The paint film is a microcrystal in structure that never dries so it cannot darken, yellow, crack or fade. Finished works are among the most permanent of all ancient painting media.
Encaustic is a Greek method of painting with the root word “caustic” (to burn in) key to its understanding since the paint has to be literally burned in to produce the final paint film. Roman Fayum portraits of the deceased made to adorn ancient sarcophagus were often carried out with encaustic. Examples over 3500 years old can be seen in museums throughout the world. Remarkably they look as though they were painted yesterday, without a crack or diminution of color and vibrancy. Throughout art history, the encaustic method has been investigated and revived most notably in the work of Diego Riviera, Carl Zerbe and most recently Jasper Johns. Currently there is a vibrant incarnation of the process and, with widely available materials and tools, many artists are experimenting with the medium.
My Studio Practice
True classic encaustic, the procedure dating from Roman times, is the medium I currently use to carry out my major investigations in paint. During the past thirty plus years, I have experimented with various paint formulations and methods of application. The thermoplastic nature of the paint and translucence of the medium are two of the rare, intrinsic qualities which I find fascinating. Given the variables of pigment composition, they will often exhibit spontaneous effects, unattainable with any other medium. The paint has a very physical quality, capable of an exciting range of applications. The practice of encaustic has become an extension of my own vision, to the point where technique and aesthetic have fused like the paintings themselves. The materials and method of true encaustic require studio preparation, making studies, notes and drawing a necessity. The remote nature of the process, subject to its own challenges, allows for internal changes and reactions to the observable world. Finished artwork needs no special care, but can be polished periodically to remove dust and bring up a luster.
The Encaustic paintings, drawings and works in other media reproduced in this website are evidence of a continual dialogue with the visible world around us. I have often been moved by the uniqueness of a place seen in a given light, condition or season.
The visual arts, more specifically drawing and painting, have always been my primary means of interacting with the visible world. The particulars of shape, color, and texture combined with the profound emotional impact of spatial and compositional concerns, are elements of grammar painters use as they labor to communicate.
In our visual albeit hurried culture, it is the aim of many artists to shock the viewer into stillness... a stillness necesasary to contemplate the moment, ideas, and emotion the artist has worked to create. In the din of clamor for our attention, the visual epithets cast before our eyes, the whisper of a beautiful moment becomes a quiet shock to our system.
I have given over the better part of my life to searching for the visable truths as I perceive them, and sharing those discoveries through the disciplines of drawing and painting.
Dale Roberts Encaustic