Although it's been done since ancient Greece, the notion of painting with beeswax remains relatively obscure.
Encaustic requires a heated mixture of refined beeswax and damar resin (refined tree sap), which is spread in layers over a prepared surface. Adding color pigments gives you the effect of a luminous and textured painting.
Daisy McConnell has made encaustic the primary medium for Encaustographis: New Works by Daisy McConnell, at the Smokebrush Gallery. McConnell, however, has taken a notably "aggressive" approach, building up layers while scraping others down to create a surface almost like that of a rubber stamp.
"I really respond to texture and sculpture," says McConnell, 33. "I almost consider my encaustic paintings more bas-relief in a lot of ways."
McConnell, who works as a curatorial assistant for the I.D.E.A. Space at Colorado College, her alma mater, learned to use encaustic five years ago, after studying printmaking for her degree. She sees a strong relationship between the two.
"I liken [encaustic] to creating a printmaking plate," she says, "but that ends up being your finished piece."
Coincidentally, the encaustic layering process is similar to the resin process featured at Smokebrush's April show, Breakaway. But encaustic is lighter and much more forgiving; it can always be melted down all over again for a clean slate. The final product, while not crystal clear, still challenges the definitions of 2-D and 3-D art, with its suspended objects and surface far removed from the typical veneer of paint. (This finish may also be currently seen in many works by Carol Ettenger at Cottonwood Center for the Arts.)
McConnell's imagery ranges from abstract designs to anthropomorphic portraits, the latter organized in a series called "Bug Queens," which playfully pays tribute to the literal producers of her medium.
The "queens" are female figures with insect-like features, such as wings. One work, "Hexapod Regina," displays a friendly woman with soft, rose-colored wings and touches of shimmery copper leaf in a halo and at her waist. The bottom half of the two-piece work is dominated by her large skirt, drawn with simple lines that mimic a cage. Part of McConnell's inspiration for the series comes from the resemblance of female clothing and body modification with the natural armor of insects.
"There's a lot of similarities between wearing your external adornments that protect you metaphorically as a woman and the exoskeleton of a hexapod, which is basically anything in the wasp family," she says.
McConnell's abstract designs differ greatly from the Bug Queens, yet the patterns of sinuous lines and divots are equally satisfying. With these designs, McConnell turns her focus away from the fanciful characters, back to the medium itself.
"I'm really exploring line and texture," she says, "and enjoying the surface of the wax."