In the 1920’s, the phrase "the bee's knees,” meant "the height of excellence." That’s how I feel about encaustic art. I love that encaustic painting is an organic art form, and beauty can be created with natural substances. Encaustic medium is made by blending bees wax and Damar resin, two substances found in nature. Damar resin is crystallized sap of a family of trees in the east Indies. The resin is harvested without harming the trees by slashing their trunks and collecting the sticky sap that oozes out, similar to gathering sap for maple syrup. The result is an ancient medium used for fine art.
No other art form provides this kind of translucency, almost a mysterious quality — a sense of physical depth and distance in time — to the final product.
I’m not quite sure I know when I first became aware of encaustic painting. Since it’s an “old art,” it seems I should have been aware long ago, especially visiting museums throughout the world. But the first time I saw Jasper John’s Flag, I realized I had missed an education in encaustic art.
“Flag is covered with a lush array of drips and fleshy brushstrokes, initially confirming Johns’s kinship with mid-century American painting. Yet Johns’s motif and technique tell a different story – one of endings and beginnings, and the passage that comes in between. Begun in the fashionable medium of oil-based enamel paint, Flag was completed using the anachronistic medium of encaustic in which pigment is mixed with hot wax and, in Flag’s case, strips of newspaper and fabric to which the colored encaustic adhered. As Johns explained it, encaustic allowed him to be more efficient and, at the same time, more deliberate in his gestures. In other words, because pigmented wax sets quickly, Johns could add another mark or strip of saturated paper or cloth with the assurance that any previously laid marks would remain unaffected. In this way, each discrete trace was preserved, effectively embalmed.”
“Flag was a beginning in this adventure, and I am still learning about the history and techniques of encaustic art. Working in this art form provides me with the satisfaction participating in an historic art form, yet creating contemporary art on a daily basis.