In the 20th century many contemporary artists have rediscovered the exquisite beauty of the surfaces that can be achieved with this medium. I love encaustic painting because the process is very physical and direct. Its fluidity makes it possible to achieve a tremendous variety of surfaces, from a smooth skin-like membrane to very rough textures. Its evocative nature is very suited to my interests in the encapsulation of the past in the present, and cultural history, memory, and archaeology. The melting process can be unpredictable though, and sometimes strange results can occur. This forces me to be flexible and to remain open to the myriad possibilities that this medium allows.
Encaustic paints are made by combining refined beeswax, powdered pigment and damar resin, a hardening agent. The encaustics are melted on a hot plate and applied with a brush or spatula. They are then reheated with a blow-torch or heat gun to fuse it on to the support and to each subsequent layer. The word “encaustic” comes from the Greek word “enkaustikos” which means “to burn in”, referring to this process of fusing the paint between layers. The practice of encaustic painting goes back to the paintings made by the Greco-Roman artists living in Egypt during the Roman Empire. The most famous of these are the Fayum portraits made in the first and second centuries A.D. These now-legendary images were originally attached to mummy cases, which were excavated in the early 19th century in the Fayum region outside Cairo. Some fine examples of these paintings can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.