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Posts Tagged ‘Victor Brauner’

Cover of Encaustic Materials and Methods: A facsimile edition.

Encaustic Materials and Methods is finally here! Long-time followers of this blog may remember that I’ve been talking about bringing the 1949 text of Francis Pratt and Becca Fizell’s influential but nearly impossible to find book back to life. And after three long years, the book went live on Amazon a couple of weeks ago. Here’s a link to Encaustic Materials and Methods on Amazon.

This is a facsimile edition, which means that each page of the original book was carefully scanned so that the new version maintains the look and feel of the original. Some images were reproduced, though not all. Special thanks to the late Esther Geller for allowing us to include a new photo of her encaustic masterpiece, Oriental Musician (late 1940s). Additionally, we thank the Menil Collection for the rights to reproduce Fleur de Sang (1943) by Victor Brauner, Bryn Mawr College for the rights to reproduce Young Christ Disputing with the Doctors (1945) by David Aronson, the Whitney Museum of American Art for Karl Zerbe’s Harlequin (1944), and of course the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the use of Portrait of a young woman with a gilded wreath (A.D. 120-140).

This book would not have been the labor of love that it is without the assistance of Hannah M. G. Shapero, daughter of Esther Geller, and Ben Aronson, son of David Aronson. They provided insight into the artistic practices of their parents, and it will surprise no one to learn that both are wonderful artists themselves.  Visit Hannah M. G. Shapero’s web site here and Ben Aronson’s web site here. Sadly, both Esther Geller and David Aronson passed away this year.

And finally, a special shout-out goes to Virginia Howard, great-niece of Francis Pratt, who generously shared information about her aunt, including the loan of important archival documents. She also wrote the brief bio of Francis that appears in the book. Thanks, Virginia!

Caution: Yes, Victor Brauner supposedly used gasoline in his encaustic process. But Victor was a Jewish communist hiding out in the mountains during WWII. He had nothing, he could go nowhere and yet he still made art. I love Fleur de Sang for exactly those reasons. Here’s a link to an earlier fan-girl post I did about Victor.

Artists familiar with art materials (flake white, anyone?) knows that most of these things will kill you, one way or another. So please, exercise caution even when using your commercial encaustic products.

And maybe it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway: keep your gas in your tank.

Last word: Looking at the recipes and formulas in Encaustic Materials and Methods is to witness the birth of modern encaustic art. We wouldn’t be who we are now without the genius of these mid-20th century artists, most of whom are gone now.

Here's a cute photo of Esther Geller standing in front of Oriental Musician. Photo from the Boston Globe.

Here’s a cute photo of Esther Geller standing in front of Oriental Musician. Photo from the Boston Globe.

Free stuff
I loaded a pdf of sample pages of Encaustic Materials and Methods in the Free Box, the top box in the right-hand column of this page. Take a look.

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I finally learned something about intarsia. For those of you who don’t know, intarsia is a basic encaustic technique (and one I should have figured out ages ago). Essentially, intarsia is an inlay process, where you carve out a channel of wax and backfill with wax of a different color. Then you scrape off the excess and perfecto—there’s your inlay of wax.

Intarsia is a beautiful effect because you can achieve both a clean line and a smooth surface. The two different colored waxes also seem to absorb one another’s colors optically rather than by actually mixing.

It sounds simple. Cut a channel, backfill, remove excess. But in my hands, I might have been excavating Troy—scrape, scrape, scrape and whoa! Where’d that design go to?

My problem was that the wax I backfilled with always hardened too quickly. Even working an inch at a time, the new wax bonded to the under layer so completely that I couldn’t scrape off the excess without gouging. While I like a little random order, this unpredictability was too much. So here’s what I did. When I made the second color for the inlay, I mixed my dry pigment with some linseed oil before adding it to the wax.

I placed a teaspoon of dry pigment in a clean shallow bowl, added half a teaspoon of linseed oil and mashed it up with a cotton swab. The swab is a new tool for me. Though it may shed a few filaments, it mashes the oil into the pigment, and you can use the swab as a one-time brush to test your color or add a sample of the new color to your color chart. And simply throw it away.

Anyway, the pigment-linseed oil mixture should be a smooth paste. If you need to add more oil, don’t hesitate. The oil actually helps the pigment blend with the wax and stay in suspension a little longer so your color remains consistent.

Add the pigment to the wax and adjust the color to suit your project. Here’s the interesting part: when you add the enriched wax to your painting, it will feel softer. You may wonder if it will ever set up. It does—linseed oil is a drying oil. It develops a thick permanent film or skin as it dries. It will do this in your wax, becoming just as hard and permanent as the surrounding matrix.

But for ten minutes or so, you can scrape it off very easily. The scrapings tools I’ve been using are great too. Here are stock photos of two new tool sets:

Steel sculpting set

Steel sculpting set

Mini ribbon set

Mini-ribbon set

The first image is a steel sculpting set. They are about like surgical tools–small and precise and sharp. They were about $11 and a good investment. The next image is a mini-ribbon tool set for clay. Larger ribbon tools haven’t worked for me–too much flex in the ribbon. These tools are small and much more rigid. The only downside is that the metal ribbon gets worn out too quickly, I’m working on my third set of these tools. It wouldn’t be difficult to design a small ribbon tool with a thicker gauge of wire, but so far I haven’t found it. For now, these remain my all-time favorite hand tools.

Here are some images of new work using a lot of intarsia. They aren’t perfectly clean because I tend like imperfections, but you can see that overall, the intarsia is smooth:

Red Waves (2013). Encaustic on linen. This is a piece of wax-soaked linen. It makes a nice rigid board. The design is inspired by Turkish Kilim carpets. All the imperfections are intentional, I swear!

Red Waves (2013). Encaustic on linen. This is a piece of wax-soaked linen I made a la Victor Brauner–you can even see the fringe on the bottom edge. The design is inspired by Turkish Kilim carpets. All the imperfections are intentional, I swear!

On the Floor (2013). Here I layered clear wax over alternating strips of intarsia. Again I was inspired by traditional tapestry designs.

On the Floor (2013). Here I layered clear wax over alternating strips of intarsia. Again I was inspired by traditional tapestry designs. All the little dark speckles which look sloppy in the scan are actually wonderful in real life. This is a nice piece to touch.

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For today’s post I’m going to devote the entire page to an artist statement written by Victor Brauner. On the Fantastic was published in the 1943/44 edition of VVV. This was a magazine published briefly in New York by the Surrealists displaced by the war in Europe. I haven’t had a chance to check Abe Books to see how much a copy of this issue might be. Can’t be much more than the entire GDP of, say, Portugal.

As you might expect, dear readers, this gem was brought to light by The Theory. Since I just had to write an artist statement myself (where I fell back on words like “memory” and “luminance”) I had no idea an artist statement could be like this. But why not? Maybe we can, like Victor, break away from the terror and boredom of our awful artist statements!

This is a reduced image file I cobbled together from the pdf sent me by The Theory. If you want the original pdf, which also contains a blurry, black and white reproduction of one of  Victor's paintings, let me know in the comments below.

This is a reduced image file I cobbled together from the pdf sent me by The Theory. If you want the original pdf, which also contains a blurry, black and white reproduction of one of Victor’s paintings, let me know in the comments below.

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The Hive Encaustic is going to be quiet this week while I get my life together.

Every morning I drag myself out of bed earlier than nature intended to assemble blog posts and other bon mots of the writerly sort. Then I’m off to work to suffer in a whole ‘nother field of endeavor. This week I’m using my writing time to assemble my notes on glazes and cold wax paint. The recipes are all over my desk on index cards, it’s a mess.

Next week I’ll be back with a cold wax paint apologia (mineral spirits, ptooey!), but in the meantime I leave you in the hands of a true master of the encaustic, the quite good-looking Surrealist painter (at least until he lost his eye in a bar fight) Victor Brauner. These images come from an exhibition catalog called Surrealism: New Worlds by Mary Ann Caws (2011) for the Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco.

Victor Brauner (1949) A L'Ami. Encaustic on card, 8 1/2" x 6 1/2".

Victor Brauner (1949) A L’Ami. Encaustic on card, 8 1/2″ x 6 1/2″.

Victor Brauner (1959) Le Specialiste du vide- Petites annonces. Oil, newspaper and wax collage on paper. 15 3/4" x 19 3/4".

Victor Brauner (1959) Le Specialiste du vide- Petites annonces. Oil, newspaper and wax collage on paper. 15 3/4″ x 19 3/4″.

And finally, Victor himself.

Victor Brauner (June 15, 1903 – March 12, 1966). Taken sometime before he lost his eye. He's wearing some kind of strappy overalls here, I think.

Victor Brauner (June 15, 1903 – March 12, 1966). Taken sometime before he lost his eye. He’s wearing some kind of strappy overalls here, I think.

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I can’t believe it—I found the holy grail of twentieth century encaustic books: Encaustic Materials and Methods by Frances Pratt and Becca Fizell. Ever since I first read about it in Joanne Mattera’s book The Art of Encaustic Painting, the words “out of print” have haunted me. I mean, how hard can it be to find this book?

Cover of Encaustic Materials and Methods by Frances Pratt and Becca Fizell.

Cover of Encaustic Materials and Methods by Frances Pratt and Becca Fizell.

As it turns out, harder than I thought. Encaustic Materials and Methods was published in 1949 by Lear Publishers. It was never re-issued. There are only 131 copies in libraries around the country. The Theory learned there weren’t any in Oregon. Abe Books didn’t have it, or eBay. And Amazon Used Books didn’t usually have it. Until one day….

And there is was. When I saw the listing on Amazon, I bought it immediately without blinking an eye at the cost. What’s money, asks the broke person. This little book is chock full of actual wax medium and paint recipes created long before the commercial encaustic paint market was even a twinkle. It’s a DIY dream come true. I’ll post recipes later but for now here’s my quickie synopsis:

Pratt, Frances and Becca Fizell. Encaustic Materials and Methods. New York: Lear Publishers, Inc. 1949. This rare, out of print book was written when American art was first ascending the world stage, and artists were seeking out new ideas and non-traditional materials. Though neither new nor non-traditional, wax emulsion and encaustic were enjoying a kind of renaissance made possible by electric heating sources. Encaustic Materials and Methods presents a functional history of encaustic, focusing on composition and methodology. It is at its best in the chapters focusing on contemporary (to the authors) artists. Each artist describes their supports, their recipes and how they adapted the medium to their ideas and styles. Artists featured include Karl Zerbe, Victor Brauner and Fred Conway, among others, at least a third of which are women. Some are traditional, actually working out Pliny the Elder’s seawater and potassium carbonate formula. Others add everything they can to the wax to create compounds that behave much more like oil paint.

Update: Frances Pratt Art web site launched December 17, 2012… researched, assembled and coded by The Theory. Read about the life of Ms. Pratt, and check back as The Theory squeezes more data from the stones and bones of history.

My favorite story from Encaustic Materials and Methods is about Victor Brauner, a Romanian surrealist who spent World War II isolated in the mountains, thinning his paints with gasoline. Here’s an image of his work:

Victor Brauner. Consciousness of Shock.

Victor Brauner. Consciousness of Shock. Encaustic. Photo courtesy of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

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