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Group Show at Susan Eley Fine Art

May 11, 2011

Last week, Susan Eley opened a show with work by six American artists. The idea was proposed to her by Amber George, one of the artists, and the curator of the show. The concept was “drawing in painting”. All of the work was excellent with not a single weak piece. Most interesting since Amber did not know all the participants when Susan agreed to the show.

Fortunately, four of the artists were there so we were able to spend quite a lot of time with them. Equally fortunately, three of the artists work in encaustic, a medium that seems to be growing in popularity among artists. Our curiosity was piqued. Being peppered with questions by two of us kept the artists on their toes.

Amber George is a California artist. She received her BA in Fine Art from the University of California. She has been showing professionally since 2004, principally in California but also in New York, Massachusetts and the southwest. The question that started the discussion with Amber was: “why did you choose to work in encaustic?”

Amber told us that she had previously worked in acrylic but, to her mind, something was lacking. She simply wasn’t happy painting and felt that her work was flat, missing a key element. She took a course in encaustic out of curiousity and found that missing ‘something’. Amber’s paintings have two key characteristics: their colors are intense and the painting are exceptionally glossy.

Normal encaustic is a mixture of beeswax and damar varnish. The varnish melts at a higher temperature than the beeswax so it makes the painting more durable and less likely to rot in hot climates. But the mixture has a native milkiness and the shine more satiny than glossy. Amber experimented with different substances until finding carnauba wax, which enhances the clarity of the wax, maintains its hardness and polishes to a glossy shine. Amber likes to layer objects into her paintings. These may be print, may be drawings, may inlude layers and textures, or may be something else altogether. Sometimes she’ll use oil paint, which adheres well to encaustic and is then sealed by additional layers of the wax mixture. She chooses intense and sometimes unusual colors and keeps her images slightly unbalanced for interest level. Amber’s work is excusively abstract, inspired by nature and her grandmother’s sewing styles (spur of the moment and structured. She generates intense emotional connection in her work; individually and collectively, they are energizing, contemplative and commanding. Excellent work.

Maria O’Malley is also a California artist. She received a BFA in Painting and Drawing from California State University at Fullerton. She has been showing professionally since 1996, exclusively within California. The Susan Eley show is herfirst foray outside California.

Maria has developed a technique in which her drawings float within the encaustic medium. She is something of a sculptor as well. First, Maria lays down base layers of encaustic. she then drawns using graphite pencils or conte crayons, a layer of caustic, additional drawing, more encaustic and so forth. In this way, she creates depth. At the same time, she creates texture by carving away layers of wax and coloring material.

Her work is additionally unqie in that Maria uses three tonalities of wax: white, bleached and natural, using their differences in tone to magnify the depth of her images. Maria’s paintings are delicate and most appealing, decidedly drawing and painting combined.

Audrey Phillips is a Florida resident these days. She received a BFA from the University of Florids. She has shown in both galleries and museums in the sotheast , New Mexico and California.

Audrey is an emotional artist, deliberately working quickly and making decisions on feelings as the work develops. She frequently embeds printed material in her work. She’ll also grab a brush, load it with paint and treat it as a crayon, drawing and reacting as she goes.

With an extremely ebullient personality, Audrey’s acrylic paintings reflects this charaacteristic. Her work is spontaneous and highly emotive, eliciting corresponding reactions. We were curious why Audrey didn’t bring any of her encaustic paintings to this show, given the weighting to encaustic. Her answer: “the feelings of these paintings [the ones being shown at Susan Eley] seemed right”. Her feelings were on target.

Lisa Pressman is a New York area artist. She received a BA in Fine Arts from Rutgers University. Originally, she was a sculptor. Realizing her preference for painting, Lisa retrained and was awarded an MFA in Painting from Bard College. Lisa has held workshops in encaustic painting at several venues in New Jersey. She has been showing professionally since 1991.

Pressman works in a variety of media – oil, oil paint stick, and encaustic. In this show, she included encaustic and oil paintings. If working in encaustic, she uses the medium to seal her paint stick drawing, layering medium, printed material and color to create fogginess as well as crispness. Her paintings require time to see the complexity of layering. They are works in time as well as physical dimension. In some, the top layer was taped off and an extra layer of encaustic was added to further the dimensionality. Effectively, Pressman has floated layers of color bursts within a solid.

Pressman’s oils are unmistakably hers, using the same drawing and painting techniques. The difference is the absence of the misty quality of unpigmented encaustic.

Fascinating how three people used the same medium in such different ways: Amber George with her intensity of color and absence of non-color, Maria O’Malley with her gradations of tonality, and Lisa Pressman with her floating layers.

David Kidd and Chase Langford weren’t available for grilling, unfortunately. Kidd’s abstract acrylic paintings are simply wonderful with their textures and colors. Langford’s carefully crafted mosaic-like paintings certainly are appealing. My preference I for Kidd’s strong statements.

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