A Different Kind of Wax Art
By Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor
COLD WAX MEDIUM: TECHNIQUES, CONCEPTS & CONVERSATIONS by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin (Squeegee Press, 2017). 320pp, $42.
Until now, there has not been a comprehensive resource specifically dedicated to Cold Wax Medium. This beautiful and informative book is the state-of-the-art reference source that fills that void.
Historians document the earliest application of wax as an artistic tool back to Ancient Greece and Egypt. It spread to Rome, weathered a decline in the Middle Ages, and enjoyed a brief revival in mid-eighteenth-century Europe and twentieth-century America.
American contemporary artists began to experiment with oil and wax, and in 1955 Jasper Johns painted “White Flag,” in oil, with the addition of newspaper, and charcoal, but also encaustics. By 1990, educational outreach began to expand the popularity and interest in various forms of wax as a contemporary artistic medium. New York museums and galleries began to exhibit work by encaustic artists, and in 1999 the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey held the first museum exhibition entirely devoted to encaustic, “Waxing Poetic: Encaustic Art in America.”
The explosion of the internet made it easier for artists to access technical information relevant to working with wax and sharing that information. Incorrectly, the word encaustic became a generic description for working with wax. Technically, encaustic refers to any heat-based method of making art with wax. Cold Wax Medium (CWM) is a semisolid paste at room temperature and requires no heat to apply and no fusing of layers. In combination with oil paints, or tinted directly with a wide variety of pigments, it can be combined with particulates for textural applications. This medium does not make the traditional rules of working with oils obsolete, as the cover flap implies. Rather, it is yet another tool in the artist’s toolbox that can enhance luminosity, speed drying, and add body to the paint that expands the definition of painting. It is also relevant to collage artists, encaustic artists, print makers, and sculptors.
Cold Wax Medium includes specifics as to the choosing tools and materials, making cold wax medium, and setting up a safe and functional studio. Rebecca Crowell writes in her introduction, “A reader may use this book in whatever way is most useful—as a reference, a visual treat, or as a step-by-step instruction. Just as the creative process is rarely a straight line from beginning to end, we don’t expect everyone to start on page one and move methodically through.”
Beyond the technical data and the how-to examples, of particular interest are the sections “The Artists and Their Work,” and “Conversations: Insights from Featured Artists,” where over forty artists working with cold wax share their techniques and insights into their creative processes. While it is true that artists do have an intimate relationship with their materials, the proof of the pudding is in the final creation that must conceptually stand alone, regardless of the technique used to get there. These sections profile how artists employ cold wax medium to achieve stunning results.
The overall book is profusely illustrated, with high-quality color images of more than one hundred artists from around the world who embrace this technique, in styles ranging from abstraction to representational. It is a must for artists interested in working with wax as well as enjoyment for the art enthusiast.
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