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What is wax encaustic?
It is a mixture of pigmented waxes (NOT candlewax) and resins, which are painted with while molten. Each
layer is fused to the preceding one using a blow torch, heat gun or heat lamp.
Is it a new medium?
No, it’s a very ancient one. Exquisite funerary portraits were painted on mummy cases in Fayum, Egypt from
200BC. Famous contemporary artists who use it include Diego Riviera, Jasper Johns and Tony Scherman.
Will it melt?
Not under normal circumstances. The waxes used have a melting temperature of over 65 Deg C. If it melts
in your house, you’ve got a bigger problem, it means your house is on fire! Exhibiting it behind glass in the
direct sun is not a good idea, but no artwork of any medium should be exposed to that. Leaving it in the
boot of a car parked in the sun on a hot day for a couple of hours will also do damage. Prolonged
exposure to extreme cold, i.e. below freezing, is also not good.
Treated with the reasonable care for any other artwork, wax encaustic may well outlast oil or even acrylic.
The Fayum portraits are as vibrant today as they were over 2 000 years ago, with none of the cracking that
oils are prone to.
Wax encaustic paintings are also impervious to damp, even when used on paper, so are far more robust
How do I look after a wax encaustic painting?
Be careful not to scratch the surface, and perhaps buff gently once a year with a silk scarf.
Why do you work in so many media?
Mainly because I love them all, and find it very hard to choose a favourite. I also find that switching
between media keeps my work fresh.
I love the challenge of mixed media, and constantly experiment with new combinations of traditional
materials. I am fascinated by the idea of different layers of reality and perception and try to express that
with a mixture of transparent, translucent and opaque media each one influencing the other, covering some
parts and revealing others. I use one, and sometimes two surfaces, as in my paintings on top of Perspex
bonded to an underpainting on masonite. The idea of the image itself dictates whether I work on paper,
canvas, or masonite and Perspex, with pastels, both oil and chalk, watercolour, acrylic, oils, resin or wax
encaustic. In a way, the medium itself becomes a metaphor for the idea I’m working with.
How long does it take to complete a painting?
It varies tremendously. I never work directly from life, unless of course I’m doing a portrait, so a lot of time
is spent just thinking, writing and doodling around an idea. I can spend a month seemingly doing nothing,
and the following month, create a series of perhaps 15 paintings. Some paintings have taken years to bring
to a successful conclusion, others, a day. I always have some half finished work in my studio where I’ve lost
the plot and don’t know how to proceed. Technically, the most time consuming are the Perspex paintings
which take an average of a month to complete.
Which artists have influenced you?
In some subtle way, every artist whose work I see influences me. Sometimes I see work that I dislike so
much that it pushes my work in a diametrically opposed direction. Different artists have been favourites in
different periods of my life. Enduring loves are the German Expressionists, as well as Paul Klee, Jean
Dubuffet, Richard Diebenkorn, Rothko, and the wonderfully romantic Marc Chagall. I am also enduringly
fascinated by African artifacts, especially the sculptures and masks.
How do you choose your colours?
I have assigned personal meaning to the colours I use for certain work, otherwise they are used purely
instinctively, depending on the mood I’m in, or the feeling I want to express. I like practicing synaesthesia,
assigning sounds to colours or vice versa., i.e. imagining what sound a particular colour or painting would
make, or otherwise taking a favourite piece of music and imagining it as a painting. That is normally how I
work with abstract images.
Do you ever struggle for inspiration?
Not really. I keep copious visual diaries of ideas, quotes, newspaper clippings, thumbnail sketches and
paintings as well as anything else I can think of. All the books and pages are numbered so they can be
cross-referenced according to different themes. If ever I’m stuck, I just have to start paging through, and
normally find more than enough to set me off on a new series. My notebooks form a huge mindmap which
just gets deeper, broader and more interesting over the years.
Is there a theme to your work?
On the surface the artworks may seem to range from highly realistic/figurative to abstract, but beneath that,
they are all concerned with recording my explorations of an ever changing perception of reality – physical,
emotional, mental, spiritual and of course mythical.
There are a couple of interconnected themes that I’ve been obsessed with for most of my life. The one
mentioned above, concerning layers of reality and perception, and the other which can be encapsulated in
the following quote –
“What is Man without the Beasts?
If all the Beasts were gone
Man would die from a great loneliness of Spirit.
For whatever happens to the Beast
Also happens to the Man.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the Earth
Befalls the Sons of the Earth”
Chief Seathl 1855
I love myths, and have created one of my own, a complex, evolving alternate universe where the Elephant
King rules. I plan, at some later stage, to publish an illustrated book of his story.
Sometimes a series of paintings will appear that can only have to do with my belief that its never too late to
have a happy childhood ……..