Mind Your Beeswax

When I learned that The Museum at California Center for the Arts in Escondido would be presenting an exhibition of encaustic paintings, I recalled my quick-and-small experience with making a work of art with hot beeswax a couple of years ago at the Laguna Design Center in Laguna Niguel, where an encaustic artist had set up an interactive demonstration table.

Generally speaking, you don’t see a lot of encaustic art in museums and galleries, though the practice reaches back to the distant past (as do most forms of art, short of digitally produced work) — to portraits on Egyptian mummy encasements.

I attended the opening reception for the exhibition last Friday. There were no mummies on view — nor did I expect to see any, not only because the exhibition is titled Heated Exchange: Contemporary Encaustics (emphasis added), but also because mummification is frowned upon in these enlightened times (yes, I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek, especially after watching last night’s presidential debate).

I started my tour of the exhibition looking at encaustic works by local artist Jiela Rufeh, who incorporates archival photographs in her paintings. I found something surreal about her landscapes. Moving counterclockwise around the room, the next work that really caught my eye also had an element of surrealism to it, though of an entirely different sort. This was Mocking Desire, a “drapery” painting on wood panel by Kristy Deetz of the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay (Go Packers! [an interjection here meant merely to indulge the legion of Packers fans who are everywhere based on the reactions I’ve gotten when wearing a Packers Super Bowl T-shirt in California]).

The exhibition, which runs through Nov. 13, includes the work of a dozen artists, three of whom are local (Angela Koenig and Josie Rodriguez in addition to Jiela). A companion exhibition is entirely of the surreal genre. All These Answer That May Never Come includes 11 new (2016) paintings by Jon Jaylo.

In the hallway between the exhibition rooms, I lingered long enough to read the text accompanying encaustic works (hung clothesline style) by students at Bear Valley Middle School. Josie had guided them in creating mixed-media self-portraits.

Thirteen-year-old Christina ended the description of her painting with this observation: “While I was making it, I was surprised that my glasses didn’t melt all over my face.” No doubt her parents are glad they didn’t.

Thirteen-year-old Madison wrote, “If I had to change anything about this, it would be the gold in the hair. I wish I could do less, but what can you do?” We can hope Madison does not pursue a career as a hair stylist.

Twelve-year-old Jessica, whose work, Hasty Vision, is shown above, collaged into the lower-left corner a slip of paper from a Panda Express fortune cookie: “Trust others, but still keep your eyes open.” Jessica clearly has a message in juxtaposing the Hasty Vision title with the warning from a Chinese sage (or cook).

The message I took home, however, derives from this comment of 12-year-old James next to his painting titled Describe Me: “I’m surprised this worked out so well because I’m usually bad at art.”

James’ expressed sense of accomplishment left me feeling happy. It’s one thing to delight in something at which you already know you’re good. The real treat is finding out that you have more ability than you thought.

Perhaps I should give hot beeswax another go myself.