Saturday, March 31, 2018

Welcome to Issue 20 of ProWax Journal


Installation view of Catherine Nash's solo exhibition, An Inner Astronomy, which took place recently in Oracle, Arizona 


One of the great things about publishing our own journal is that we include a range of topics and images to represent our creatively diverse membership. Through ProWax Journal we share our publication not only with one another but with a larger public: you. 



In her Q&A feature this month, Nancy Natale interviews Binnie Birstein, an expressive painter who has never shied away from working large. This is a special feature, hard wrought by both interviewer and interviewee, because Binnie is battling a serious illness and every interview session took an enormous amount of energy. Nancy, her longtime friend, delivered an article that will serve as a legacy to an exhibiting artist who is just hitting her stride professionally. Brava to both for the effort, with our deepest wishes of love and comfort to Binnie, our friend and colleague.

Nancy and Binnie at the Whitney, 2015


Leslie Neumann was featured in Creative Pinellas, a magazine published in the Florida county in which she lives. We liked the article so much we’ve reproduced it here. Leslie's studio in the town of Aripeka overlooks breathtaking waterfront scenery, some of which makes its way into her luminous work. Did you know Leslie was buddies with her neighbor, the painter James Rosenquist?

Leslie in the studio



Deborah Winiarski has curated a feature that focuses on artists who integrate wax and fiber, noting that these artists are materially redefining the parameters of painting and sculpture.

Lisa Zukowski, Bundle Series



Our regular columns feature a wealth of ideas and images. Jane Guthridge asks the question, Who’s Afraid of Beauty? Debra Claffey features two artists in In Five Words: artist and gallerist, Michael David, and artist in multiple mediums, Lia Rothstein. Paula Fava visits Debra in her New Hampshire studio, a former horse barn, which is large enough to accommodate a wood stove and a swing. Debra is not only a fine painter, she’s a damn good carpenter as well. She turned a ramshackle structure into the perfect place to work


In Studio Visit, Paula Fava shows us Debra Claffey's New Hampshire studio


In In Residence Heidi F. Beal writes about her quest for the perfect residency and looks at others who have done one or more of those live/work experiences. In Open Call, Lorrie Fredette writes about her science-based sculpture in an article originally published in the Brooklyn Rail. 

And in something new this issue, we make cyber visits to exhibitions by six of our artists—plus one who’s not a member but is having a blockbuster show at The Broad in Los Angeles right now. It’s worth noting that several of these artists are working in whole or in part with materials other than encaustic. This is one of the (many) reasons we don’t call ourselves “encaustic artists.” It’s limiting, and art isn’t. 




Howard Hersh had the unique experience of completing a residency in Oakland, California, that led directly to an exhibition at Duval Contemporary in San Francisco


I contributed a bylined editorial in which I talk about artists who are teaching way too soon after being introduced to encaustic. And I did something I don’t normally do: I put my own work in this issue’s header.

There's more to the issue. I’ve just scratched the surface with this introduction. Dig in.

Q&A







 with Binnie Birstein

  By Nancy Natale




Binnie Birstein, September 2009, in Ancient Medium, N.E.W. Terrain, the Art Complex
Museum, Duxbury, Massachusetts.  Her painting is The Fence, 2008, diptych, encaustic
on panels, 48 x 58 inches


I met Binnie Birstein about a dozen years ago at a New England Wax meeting in Boston's South End. NEW was founded by a group of artists who painted with encaustic and wanted to network, share information, and organize shows of our work. Many, if not most, of us were practicing artists who were new to the medium. Binnie and I became friends although we lived a couple of hours away from each other.


In those pre-Facebook, pre-Conference days networking was difficult. Other than workshops run by R&F Paints, there were few opportunities to learn more and see how other artists were using encaustic. Binnie and I were both at that first conference in Beverly and continued to attend for 11 consecutive years through 2017. Once the conference moved to Provincetown in 2011, we were roommates in a Breakwater room at the Provincetown Inn each year until 2015, when we began renting a suite with Susan Lasch Krevitt. We jokingly called ourselves The Three Queens.

NN and BB on a very bright day at the Whitney Museum, 2015


Together and sometimes with a couple of other friends, Binnie and I made numerous trips to New York City for what we called "arting," visiting as many galleries, museums, and exhibitions as possible in a limited time. Binnie was relentless in completing the list that I had drawn up, despite weather, exhaustion, or my tantrums. She generously put me up at "Hotel Binnie," her home in Connecticut whenever I visited. Those were great adventures with lots of laughs, good food, and art investigations.

Binnie with a Leonardo Drew work at Sikkema Jenkins Gallery in Chelsea, 2010. On this arting trip we braved 17 inches of snow that had fallen that morning on Manhattan


Our arting trips came to an end when Binnie was diagnosed last August with inoperable pancreatic cancer. She began four months of chemotherapy that weakened her but did not shrink the tumor. The severity of treatment caused pain, exhaustion, and drastic weight loss so that she has been mostly confined to bed. She has been supported through her illness by her daughter, Sam Yarmis, who is scheduled to graduate from medical school in May 2018, and by a large group of friends—mostly women who are artists—who have been care sitting with her at home so that she has never been alone. (Binnie's son, Ben Yarmis, who lives in Texas, has been able to work from Connecticut for several weeks at a time to be with his mother.)

Binnie Birstein, Compound II, 2018; joint compound, gesso, encaustic, oil, silkscreen on washi; 36 x 24 inches  
Photo: Elisa Keogh


Despite her ill health, Binnie was determined to complete a second large painting to submit for Organic to Geometric, curated by Carol Pelletier and scheduled for this summer at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Although only one painting could be chosen for inclusion in the show, Binnie's finished painting, Compound II, is shown here and in the dedication to Binnie that closes the exhibition catalog.

I interviewed Binnie at her home in Norwalk at the end of December and asked her about her life as an artist.



















Binnie speaking about her work at the Westport Arts Center, Westport, Connecticut, in January 2017
Photo: Jen Greely


NN: Did you always want to be an artist?

BB: When I grew up, I knew you could be a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary. I didn't want to be a nurse. I also didn't want to be a secretary because my mother was one and always came home hating her job.  But I didn't know that you could be an artist. This was just at the cusp of the women's movement--not that I was active--but the liberation ideas were just beginning to be discussed. I graduated early from high school in 1970. I was looking at all the art schools and applied to some, but I thought that I needed to be able to do something that I could "fall back on," so I became an art teacher.

NN: What school did you go to in undergrad?

BB: I went away to the University of the Americas in Mexico City. I was there for spring quarter. I had a great time but knew it wasn't where I should be spending four years, so I left. That summer I worked as a counselor at a sleep-away camp, and then I got a job working at the color print shop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They used to have books of Italian prints and sold art prints. It was great to be able to work there when the museum was not open to the public. I was able to walk through the museum with no one there. I found it very exciting! I worked there for two and a half years, first full time and then part time.

Continuing with my education, I got accepted to Pratt, part scholarship and part tuition. I was petrified by the amount of money I or my father would have to pay for tuition, so instead of Pratt I went to City College of New York (CCNY) in Manhattan for free and was an art education/psychology major. I was going to do art therapy. 













Left: Orbit, 2011; encaustic, ink, oilstick on panel, 20 x 20 inches
Right: Nightclub Flyers, 2011; encaustic, ink on panel, 15 x 15 inches


I was there for four years and although I was concentrating on learning what I needed to become a teacher, I became known as the "art star," without my awareness. At graduation there was an awards ceremony and no one told me in advance that I was going to get the top prize—maybe $500 or some cash award like that. It was an honor, but those things don't pay the rent! [Note: Binnie graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.]

NN: What was next?

BB: I didn't have a problem getting a job teaching at the K-12 level and worked toward my Master's part time. I got married right after graduation to my first husband and got a job in Lexington, South Carolina. He was going to grad school in microbiology there, and I was supporting the two of us. It was supposed to be two years, but it ended up being three. I was the only Jewish person. I asked the school superintendent, "What are we going to do about the high holidays coming up?" and I showed him on the calendar when they were.' He said, "I don't rightly know. You're the only one we've got."' I don't know if this experience made me a better artist, but it sure gave me a lot of material!

My husband got a job in Rochester, New York, and we moved there. I got a teaching job pretty easily. I enjoyed teaching although it was exhausting. I found great joy in sharing my passion in painting and drawing. I've always liked teaching and have continued with that by teaching workshops to adults. I was there 12 years. We got divorced somewhere during that time but we didn't have children. I stayed on afterwards because my friends and connections were there.


Above: Tangle, 2010, encaustic on panel, 20 x 30 inches
Below: Unfathomable, 2010, encaustic on panel, 20 x 30 inches



NN: What took you away from Rochester?

BB: Love. I met Jonathan, my second husband. His stepmother and my mother were really good friends and had been trying to put us together for years. I told him I wanted to stay home and have babies without trying to impress him. He liked that idea.

He had a great job and traveled all over. I was able to go with him because we were just renting an apartment. We moved to Connecticut—Norwalk first, then Fairfield, and then Weston. We were married in 1989 and Ben, my first child, was born in 1991. Sam, my daughter, came in 1994. We were married more than 20 years before divorcing.



What Lies Beneath: Pool, 2012; encaustic, ink, graphite on panel, 48 x 36 inches


NN: Did you work at home when you had the kids?

BB: When we bought a house, I had a studio in it. I had to give up oil because I was having a reaction to solvents. I started painting in acrylic on canvas. I always worked out of my house in an extra bedroom or an attic.

NN: What about when the kids came?

BB: I had what I thought of as an open studio for the kids. They painted or played while I was in the studio and my husband helped with them on the weekends. Once they were in nursery school and kindergarten, I had a lot of free time.
















Left: Save the Party, 1988-89, acrylic with Caran d'Arce on canvas, 18 x 18 inches
Right: Up/Down, 2014 encaustic, monotype on panel, 8 x 10 inches


NN: What is the object of this composition? (I am looking at Save The Party in Binnie's dining room)

BB: Apparently it's "my shape." It's an off-angle that might be floating or falling or that could be seen as being protective. The off-angle relates to the edges of the painting—where the lines hit the edges—rather than making a shape. I've been doing those lines for a very long time, going back to 1987 or '88 or '89.

NN: Are you thinking of that shape as part of a rectangle or as space?

BB: Yes! In some places it's a shape and in other places it could just be linear or it could be a tabletop or you could be looking off into the distance. I like the ambivalence.

When you're painting, you're not particularly thinking of intention per se, like space or an object.
The box/grid thing is the organization but also represents me, personally, being put into a box. The gridlines—I would do them differently and then play off with more gestural marks. It was all about working in response to a grid, so I was thinking about a lot of limitations or categories for myself, like "just a mom" or something.

NN: And that's where the off-angle came from?

BB: From not fitting in, out of a large level of discomfort. It's that angle where the door is not quite closed, something is not right. That has been in my work for a long time. I read it as a line or as a shape, but I never thought about it like that before today. I realize it stems from a feeling I have, but that's not what I'm thinking about when I'm painting. It just seems to belong there and I recognize that angle in other peoples' work. I only saw it consciously when I saw a lot of my work together.

NN: You're relating it to you personally?

BB: Yes, but not that specifically as referring to a particular event or memory.



Abandoned, 2010, encaustic on panel, 20 x 30 inches



NN: When did you begin working with encaustic?

BB: Sam was probably in kindergarten—about 1999. I had just been introduced to the Center for Contemporary Printmaking (CCP) in Norwalk and was working with oil-based monotypes. You can work out a lot of ideas with those.

I did the Monothon at CCP and then signed up for classes. Laura Moriarty was substitute teaching for a class I was taking there, and then she taught a class in encaustic. I wound up taking encaustic painting with her twice, in 1999 or 2000. I loved the layers in encaustic and that I didn't have to wait for drying time. I loved its translucency.

The difference between painting with encaustic or acrylic was what I really liked. I think good work always has energy. It doesn't have to be dependent on the medium.

NN: You also continued to do printmaking throughout the years and got into encaustic collagraph, correct?

BB: You get a lot of bang for your buck in printmaking. When I'm doing printmaking, I'm thinking the same way as in painting. I had seen encaustic collagraph online but I figured out how to make it work. I can get that painterly line with collagraph but the images are repetitive. I started printing with oil and then switched to water-based Akua ink with collagraph.


Binnie with silkscreen and encaustic work, early 2017
Photo: Jen Greely


NN: Is the newest element in your work silk screening on encaustic?

BB: I don't know that it's an element. It's another tool. I took that silk screening workshop with Jeff Hirst at CCP. It was the best!

I realize that if you look at my work from the '80s until now, it's the same painting. It is and it isn't. That structure is really important to me. I took the silkscreen class because I knew I was painting the same thing over and over. I thought, why don't I find a way to repeat it? It's not a complicated technique, but it offers me more options in how I'm going to do my painting. Layers are important to me--like layers in a day or something like that.

I don't think the pool is the swimming pool. It's the cesspool, the steno pool, the gene pool, the whole thing. I'm not thinking structure or energy. I'm thinking of my other word games.

NN: What about the dichotomy in your work, the way it can be interpreted in various ways? In your statement you describe "the feeling of dichotomy and a dreamlike dissonance with a sense of mystery."




Binnie at A Wrinkle In Time, her solo show at ArtPlace, Fairfield, Connecticut, 2010


BB: My series with the flying/falling figures made it more literal. That disturbed a lot of people. The show I did with that series, A Wrinkle in Time, was a really good show. I had those paintings and the prickly balls, with asphalt from the driveway, barbed wire, and netting.

The Menace/Rescue paintings could be interpreted either way depending on your perspective. How to interpret that figure above? When I did that work, it was before Trump but that feeling…



Intrepid from the Menace/Rescue Series, 2008, 48 x 58 inches


NN: Do you consider yourself successful as an artist?

BB: Yeah, I do. Even though I don't sell a lot. People think that you're successful if you have a studio, you teach, you sell your work. There are all different ways to define "successful." Some people think you're only successful if you sell your work, others if you show it, others if you get commissions.

NN: What about keeping at it, continuing to work? What makes you go to the studio and make another painting?

BB: That's how I communicate. I hate writing. I don't talk a lot—despite what my friends say!
If I was looking at me, not knowing me, it looks like I'm successful and I just had all these shows.
I'm not out of ideas, I'm still painting, I need the time. I've got the ideas. I'm not afraid of staring at a blank panel. I think it's important not to listen to too many people. You can't look enough, but when you start looking and you don't edit or anything….

NN: Now I have to ask you the last questions. What happened when your career was cut short by your illness?

BB: Things were going well for me last summer with several shows and interest in my work, but then everything got short circuited. I wasn’t feeling well so I put things off, waiting until I had more energy, but the energy never came. Now my energy depends on the day and the time of day. I want to get to the studio again but I just have to do it when I can.

NN: Do you think you are leaving a legacy?

BB: I don't think anyone sets out to leave a legacy. It's not something that you seek to leave behind because you are concentrating on going forward. I can't quantify any of this because I had no idea any of it was coming.

I always thought my work would be my legacy, but when I think about it more deeply, I realize that my children are my greatest legacy--and my students. I have always been passionate about making art and I wanted to pass on that passion and energy to my students. Lately I've been getting notes and letters from former students saying how much my teaching meant to them, even students that I taught in high school. That's something I didn't expect. 







Binnie in her studio, December 2017, surrounded by her work
Photo: Jen Greely

In Five Words: Michael David

Curated by Debra Claffey


In Five Words is a regular feature of ProWax Journal in which we go literal, lyrical, and poetic. Visual art does not exist in a vacuum; it sings along with poetry and prose, music and rhythm. Each issue we ask our feature artists to comment on one of their works with five single words, chosen to add meaning and highlight intent.



St. Francis in the Wilderness, 2015-17, encaustic and mixed media on wooden panel, 24 x 22 inches

allegorical
violent
fragile
gentle
fierce


Michael David is a New York based visual artist and musician. His work is currently on display at the Jewish Museum in New York City in Scenes From the Collection and will be the subject of a solo show at John Davis Gallery in the Spring of 2019. He will lead master classes this year at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill and at the Edinburgh International/Fringe Festival.

www.michaeldavidpainter.com 

Fabrication

Curated Feature
By Deborah Winiarski

During the past century, artists working with fiber have pushed the boundaries of what can be considered a textile, as well as how textiles are represented within the context of contemporary painting and sculpture – challenging long held distinctions between textile, craft, and fine art. The artists whose work is shown here continue this new tradition, combining wax and encaustic with a variety of fabric, fiber, and mixed media materials to create statements uniquely their own.



Sandi Miot    
      

 Sandi Miot, Red Biome, 2016; encaustic, fiber, yarn, felt, fabric, paper, lace, dried plants, seeds, pods, 
pastels; 15 x 18 x 4 inches


Biome is a dialogue, influenced by our vanishing coral reefs, a visual investigation into texture and color. It is a testimony to the amazing, astounding variety of organisms that live on this planet.”


_______________________________________________


Lorraine Glessner
  

Lorraine Glessner, Soon, Soon, We Will Dance on the Moon 1, 2014; encaustic, collage, pyrography on screen printed silk on wood; 24 x 24 inches


“Utilizing processes such as burning, rusting, decomposition, burying, or weather exposure, layers of fabric are collaged with encaustic, images and found materials. Through pattern and collaged images, narratives interact with and contextualize the markings as well as speak to our wants, needs, temptations and desires as a culture.”


_______________________________________________


Jane Nodine


 Jane Nodine, Selected Offerings, 2016; iron oxidation, muslin, cotton, sisal, wax, 
graphite; 54 x 4 x 2.5 inches


Selected Offerings uses textiles to create as a single bound unit of cotton batting repeated again and again to develop a pod-like strand formation that is suspended and hangs freely to be observed from all sides.”


_______________________________________________
  

Lisa Zukowski

Lisa Zukowski, Bundle Series, 2016; encaustic monoprint on fabric, burlap, old clothes, embroidery, 
string; 6 x 3 x 2 inches



"The works in the Bundle Series are vessels, reliquaries of a sort, that symbolically and sometimes literally hold and protect that to which I have attached deep meaning and have difficulty discarding. They are filled with shredded ephemera and are made up of bits of old clothes, coffee bags, encaustic monotypes, and fabrics."


_______________________________________________
        

Deborah Winiarski
  

 Deborah Winiarski, Dover Beach, 2016; fabric, graphite, oil, encaustic on panel; 
31 x 36 x 4 inches


“Color, form and line expand beyond the painting surface in my recent mixed-media paintings. Fabric strips accrue to create raised and textured surfaces that weave, twist, mingle, and intertwine creating visual fugues that literally break out of the picture plane. The torn and folded strips provide form, dimension, and color; their edges, line.”

_______________________________________________
          

Susan Lasch Krevitt


 Susan Lasch Krevitt, The Gathering IV, 2017; textiles, rubber, encaustic; 
26 x 13 x 13 inches


“My work explores themes of structure and connection. Nature’s cycles of growth and decay are referenced through the deconstruction of manufactured objects used to build abstract forms. In this way, direct engagement with materials begins the dialogue that shapes form and surface.”

_______________________________________________


Dawna Bemis
  

Dawna Bemis, Kaleidoscope II, 2015; encaustic monotypes, newsprint, machine and hand stitching on panel; 
18 x 18 inches. Photo: Jay York


“In my most recent series, I draw upon quilts as a metaphor for the loss of generational knowledge transfer. With this work I explore issues of identity, gender, and family history. As I develop these pieces, I connect with the many hands that have worked these geometric patterns over time.” 

_______________________________________________


Cat Crotchett


Cat Crotchett, Ghosting 2, 2017, encaustic and mixed media on panel, 12.5 x 12.5 inches
Photo: Aoi Fukuyama


"I've always been interested in pattern and fragments of information and how our brains processe parts of things when placed next to one another, without physically seeing the greater whole. In this piece I have focused on the interrelationships between patterns and the new identities that are formed when patterns are layered and juxtaposed." 
  

Essential Questions: Who's Afraid of Beauty?

Edited by Jane Guthridge

Jeri Eisenberg, Autumn Ash, No. 5, 2014, pigment ink on Japanese Kozo with encaustic medium, 36 x 34 inches


For much of the history of Western art, physical beauty was the expression of an ideal and by the Renaissance, beauty and divinity became intertwined. As abstraction developed, formalist ideas, which had their own elegance, became paramount, but by the era of Abstract Expressionism beauty in art was something to be scorned. Now the pendulum is slowly swinging back.  



Deborah Kapoor I’ve been grappling with this one in my own work of late. My undergraduate experience was one that disdained beauty, so I have that awareness in my own history. I think part of the concern is over-sentimentalizing things. But I am compelled in this era to seek beauty as an escapist relief from our times. Is that over sentimentalizing? Maybe, but right now it feels like emotional and even intellectual survival.

Jeri Eisenberg I spent a significant portion of my MFA thesis addressing the 'beauty dilemma'. Given the work I was—and still am—producing, I had to. I felt then, and still feel, as if I am flying in the face of strong winds with regard to the extent to which my work seeks beauty. As a child of my times, I have long accepted the truism that art need not be beautiful, as much as I accepted the truism that not everything beautiful is art. I have chafed, however, at the contemporary notion that something could no longer be art if it were beautiful. Or at least it could not be 'good art' or 'meaningful art' or 'important art'.

After reading and writing on philosophers, critics, and theorists addressing the notion of beauty, I concluded that for me beauty plays an essential and vital role in life, and that to banish it from art for political or other reasons would only leave us poorer. I found myself most in sync with the theories of Elaine Scarry, a Harvard aesthetician, who proposes that the value of beauty is that it produces a "radical decentering." You are no longer the center of your universe. Beauty acts "like small tears in the surface of the world that pulls us through to some vaster space . . . Beauty quickens. It adrenalizes. It makes the heart beat faster. It makes life more vivid, animated, living, worth living."

I believe these effects justify the seeking of beauty in art. Beauty consoles, and that serves to place suffering in a philosophical perspective. It allows us to go on, even in face of suffering, injustice and other social ills, precisely what you have to do to fight the battle the next day. This seems like reason enough for beauty to me.


Paula Roland, Language of Beauty VI, 2011, encaustic monotype on shikoku paper, 39 x 25 inches 


Joanne Mattera Reflecting on Jeri’s comments, particularly "the notion that something could no longer be art if it were beautiful," I will share a bit of the lead to the essay I wrote in 2007, for Luxe, Calme et Volupté: A Meditation on Visual Pleasure, which I curated for the Marcia Wood Gallery:

“Earlier this year, after a day of studio visits and an evening of gallery openings in Chelsea, I took a short taxi ride up Eighth Avenue with Marcia Wood and the editor of a New York-based art magazine. The back-seat conversation was, of course, about art. Marcia mentioned that I was curating a summer show for her gallery, and because we were nearing our destination, I described it simply as ‘a meditation on visual pleasure.’

“’Ah, beauty,” said the editor. ‘Isn’t it nice that we can talk about it again?’”

Christine Shannon Aaron I want beauty to be part of my work, but not beauty alone. Perhaps beauty draws the viewer in, but the more the viewer is engaged the more unsettling, bittersweet, uncomfortable, intimate, powerful, ugly, uncertain, or evocative the work becomes. I want there to be reasons and questions that urge the viewer to come back again.

What I find most interesting in my critique groups is this: Someone hangs his or her work. Usually there are a couple of pieces we sigh or ooh and ahh about initially. They are the ones that are most conventionally beautiful or accessible. Interestingly, after moments it is usually not the one that we engage with most fully. We end up talking about and being most engaged with the more difficult, less easily definable work, the work that digs deeper and has more to say and reveal. I think people can use the medium of encaustic (and other mediums too) in the same way. While it can be a surface attraction without much beneath, it also has the possibility of being a material that allows an artist to create work that speaks to the artist's voice and concept and authentic expression.

Debra Claffey Beauty, not attractiveness, prettiness, and/or symmetrically appealing, is our glimpse into the nature of the universe (which is, of course, love). It can be ugly like decomposing, destructive like fire, fractal and self similar, simple elegance, but it's all the life force (chi). The best art taps into this, no matter the surface appearance or subject.

Heidi F. Beal My personal definition of beauty is that which epitomizes absolute truth and authenticity. It often provokes a sense of Godliness. When this truth and authenticity is edited and composed with artistic precision, it becomes more beautiful. But for me, beauty can also be painful, uncomfortably emotional, or what the conventional would consider repulsive. One of the most beautiful moments of my life was the day my father passed. My mind is still filled with beautiful truthful images of that hospice room.

Anna Wagner-Ott When I paint I tend to disrupt the image if I see too much sweetness or prettiness. My personality comes through my work; it is not my intent to achieve a beautiful painting. Having said that, I find that as I am getting older I am longing for the peace, quiet, and simplicity, staying away from the busy, over-painted surface. I think looking for the beautiful is in the eye of the beholder, and often what is beautiful for one viewer/maker is not beautiful for another.


Anna Wagner-Ott, Some Like It Hot, 2918, encaustic on canvas-wrapped panel, 20 x 24 inches


Joanne Mattera Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but there are acknowledged aesthetic elements that comprise formal ideas of beauty: harmony of order, pattern, shape, texture and color put together in ways that evoke feelings of pleasure, maybe feelings of the spiritual as well.

Jeri Eisenberg I think one of the biggest traps in the debate about beauty is the demand that it be definable. I am troubled little by the fact that what is deemed to be beautiful may vary so from era to era, and from culture to culture. What is critical to me is not beauty's theory, but beauty's impact. And perhaps that is the point: Beauty defies theory. It refuses to be placed within intellectual categorizations because it is a phenomenon that does not speak to the intellect. And yet this is certainly not to suggest that beauty's effect is not real and knowable.

In the words of Peter Schjeldahl: "Beauty will be what it always has been and, despite everything, is now in furtive and inarticulate ways: an irrepressible, anarchic, healing human response without which life is a mistake."

Amy Weil Confucius said of beauty, "Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it." I think it is experiential rather than intellectual and therefore difficult to say why something is beautiful. You can talk about composition, color and line, but in the end it is my physical and emotional reaction to the work that determines whether something is truly beautiful to me. Yes, wax is seductive, but it must transcend its materiality in order for the work to hit me on that level. I believe intention has to be present, otherwise it is just decorative.

Paula Roland I have wrestled with the beauty issue for ages. I think the conflict is with beauty versus decoration. Beauty can have depth and meaning, whereas decoration does not.

In 2012, after fighting (and winning!) against a dastardly disease, I decided that I wanted my next work to be less intellectualized. I only wanted to see beauty, but wanted to find what was essential in it for me. I titled the series Beauty's Language and wrote this as a prelude to my statement: “Charting the resonance of personal meaning, of fluctuating networks, fluid and layered, and how and where they take me. An experience and a form of knowing, beauty’s language, is something that I must experience to understand myself.”

Deborah Martin When I was in graduate school beauty was definitely frowned upon, considered unimportant and frivolous work. My paintings and drawings were considered out of touch with important issues of the time because of my commitment to the beautiful. I still am committed to beauty and my job as an artist is to create something worthy and beautiful. In a world today where there is so much ugliness and despair beauty is more important than ever a tonic for our souls.

Lorraine Glessner 
There is nothing wrong with beauty! Adding beauty to the world is one of the most important reasons for being an artist.

Lorraine Glessner, Flowers of Laughter, 2017; encaustic, collage, pyrography on panel; 24 x 24 inches

. . . . .


Further reading

Books recommended by Deborah Kapoor
. The Sense of Beauty  by George Santayana
. A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

Recommended by Jeri Eisenberg
. On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry
. The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty by Dave Hickey
. The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetic and the Concept of Art by Arthur Danto
. Essays by Peter Schjeldahl, including Notes on Beauty


A Visit with Leslie Neumann

With a splendid article reproduced here, an upcoming solo show, and a home and studio set into a breathtaking corner of the world, ProWax member Leslie Neumann is living the life.



"The Last Dog Standing in Arepika"
By Julie Garisto
Reprinted from Creative Pinellas, a publication serving the arts community in Pinellas County, Florida

Leslie Neumann stands on an embankment outside her home in Aripeka, Florida
Photo by Daniel Veintimilla

The Celebrated Landscape Painter and Conservationist Chats Up Her Days With Rosenquist and Love of Beeswax


A stitched panorama of the view from Leslie Neumann’s balcony
Photo by Daniel Veintimilla


Leslie Neumann wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world — easy to understand as we gazed at an amazing panorama of coastal marsh from her home-studio balcony in Aripeka.

We took multiple shots with the Canon and stitched photos in an attempt to capture the swath of tall skinny palm trees fortifying the horizon. They surrounded a wavy carpet of seagrass, mangroves and the deep-blue brackish water in Hammock Creek. A flock of Ibis whooshed by as an Anhinga vogued with her back to us, flaunting an elegant wingspan as she dried her feathers.

Neumann in her home studio next to one of her transitional works that combine dramatic earth and cosmos. Photo by Daniel Veintimilla


Taking it all in, we understood a little better the magical serenity and mystery evoked in Neumann’s encaustic/oil paintings — and the natural grandeur that inspired the lifelong artist to become a conservationist.
“I love where I live so much that I don’t go out as often as I should,” Neumann confessed. “Yesterday I was debating going to an event, and an osprey landed on my balcony with a fish in its mouth. I took it as a sign that I shouldn’t leave.”

Neumann has lived in New York and California but found her perfect little corner of the world in the Florida town of just around 500 residents, 22 miles north of Tarpon Springs. When she started building her house in 1989, a coterie of high-profile artists also called Aripeka home — James Rosenquistwho died less than a year ago in New YorkTony Caparello, Arline Erdrich, Dan Stack and Steve McCallum. McCallum, Stack and Neumann are the lone survivors. McCallum has relocated to Ohio, and Stack lives in St. Petersburg.
“I’m the last dog standing in Aripeka,” she quipped.

In the ’90s, the Aripeka artists gathered for “hootenannies” and lounged on the decks of each other’s boats. Rosenquist, according to Neumann, was a gregarious and down-to-earth neighbor who didn’t like to be alone. He enjoyed tinkering and entertaining and popped in from time to time with a six-pack of beer.

Neumann and Rosenquist (back to camera) at her wedding with Dan Stack in 1984. Photo courtesy of Leslie Neumann

“Jim brought the beer but moved onto to the hard stuff pretty quick,” she clarified. “He liked to moon us!” she added with a hearty laugh.

Rosenquist indirectly lured Neumann to Aripeka. The renowned pop art pioneer and contemporary of Warhol worked in residence at University of South Florida’s Graphicstudio, where other major figures such as Robert Rauschenberg taught workshops and contributed prints still in the studio’s permanent collection. While there he met Stack, who became his studio assistant for 10 years during the ’70s and ’80s. Rosenquist fixed Stack up with Neumann and they got married. The spell of Aripeka had eventually overcome Neumann, who worked as an art teacher in Queens and split her time between Florida and New York.

Neumann’s neighbors glide by in a kayak during our interview
Photo: Daniel Veintimilla


Her career improved exponentially in Florida. While she endured the loss of friends and her mother and a divorce, she enjoyed a string of successes, showing inClayton Galleries, the Gulf Coast Museum of Art and the Morean Arts Center, where she’s now on the Board of Trustees.

Neumann conceals feelings of loss with humor and moxie. She riffs on adulting. As situations arise with chores and paperwork involved, she shouts, “More homework!” and laughs. Yet, a visit to her immaculate, custom-built home with natural light, high ceilings and a third-floor studio seems to betray this notion. Meticulous portfolios on one side; pastel color-coded files with neat handwriting on another. All the while, wall-to-wall windows surround us with that amazing, distracting view.


The painter with her work, Rolling In, showing how a window of a detail can become another painting. Photo: Daniel Veintimilla


Her assistant, Evelyn Pazmino, helps with day-to-day business. Neumann, who doesn’t have children or go overboard on social media, gushed about Pazmino graduating from Pasco-Hernando Community College with honors on Facebook.

Neumann indeed values a solid artistic education and says artists should have a foundation of learned skills before attempting to find their own technique. Born in Plainfield, N.J., she received a BFA from the California College of Arts in Oakland and a Master’s in painting from New York University in Manhattan, followed by a fellowship from the New York State Foundation for the Arts, an Individual Artist Fellowship from the State of Florida, and an Artist Enhancement Grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. In 2005, the Vero Beach Art Museum honored her with a 15-year retrospective of her work.

A meticulous arrangement of paints, wax, brushes and other accessories
Photo: Daniel Veintimilla


She says her dreamlike hot-wax abstractions came about quite serendipitously. “In New York, I had a lot of artist friends. One said to me: ‘I painted on this board and I hate it. Do you want it?’ I said, sure. Another friend said a few days later: ‘I painted with this wax and I hate it. Do you want it? I said, ‘Sure!’ ( laughs) I needed the board to the paint with the wax, and I thought, ‘Okay, I got what I need.’”

Neumann’s encaustic paintings show the poise and control of a master with elements of unpredictability. She writes in her artist statement that she’s inspired by the natural forces found in cosmic and terrestrial landscapes. Neumann uses oil paint and applies the wax with a brush while it’s still hot. After it congeals, she scrapes through to reveal another layer of color; she then engraves pictographs, words and marks into the molten wax.

Neumann prepares to demonstrate her process. Partner Michael Binford observes in the background
Photo: Daniel Veintimilla


“It’s not because I don’t plan ahead … my planning doesn’t seem to matter,” she said during a demonstration. “My paintings have a life of their own. They evolve and I follow them wherever they go.”

She jokes about her perceived inability to multitask. A perfectionist who spends hours painting, Neumann says she likes to keep life as simple and stress-free as possible. At 68, she’s vibrant, slender and healthy, crediting yoga and meditation as her lifesavers.
We ask her questions while she works and she doesn’t mind the interruptions — not too much anyway.

The demo featured Leslie Neumann’s Reflections 52 (Sea Fog), 24 x 52, in progress
Photo: Daniel Veintimilla


“This will drive you crazy, but the longer you know me, you know I can only do one thing at a time … okay, I can do two things at once (laughs). I can tell you this without breaking my concentration: The wax is of made of beeswax, powdered pigment, what gives it its color, and a little bit of Damar Resin, which is a binder. … I also paint with oil paint. Those pigment sticks are oil paint in stick form. So, the oil paint and the wax are compatible with each other. You actually don’t mix them together. That’s verboten. You’ll see while I paint that I apply a layer of wax, a layer of oil paint and a layer of wax. It’s truly an amazing process.”

Wellspring 44×36, Fiery Marsh 36×44, Blazing Heart 45×32. All part of Wetlands series. Photo: Daniel Veintimilla


Neumann starts with an “underpainting” or sketches in oil paint to get an overall idea, then she starts to apply wax, layering, and then a shift occurs when it starts to look like something. “That’s when the reluctant and disciplined editor must appear,” she says. “I don’t try to replicate what I see, but what I feel about what I see.” Neumann’s tools include a heat gun, iron and palette knife. 

Michael Binford and Leslie Neumann share a toast on Neumann’s balcony
Photo: Daniel Veintimilla


During our visit, she transforms a treeline to a dreamlike scene with golden sunbursts that becomes more and more otherworldly as she refines it.

Michael Binford, Neumann’s life partner for the past two years, chats up Neumann’s cosmic paintings. I ask if NASA images inspired them. Neumann says no; they’re from her imagination. Binford commented that he noticed remarkable similarities when photos were released after certain works were completed. A geography professor at the University of Florida, Binford is a kindred spirit who’s studied and cherishes Florida’s primitive landscape.
“We’re very similar in where we are in our careers,” she said. “He’s very passionate about what he does, and I’m passionate, and we love to recreate together.”

Neumann is still passionate about conservation. She belongs to the Gulf Coast Conservancy, a 501C3 not-for-profit land trust, started in 1992. “I had never done land conservation work prior to moving here,” Neumann said, “but I was raised in a family that was very egalitarian and very involved in civic matters. We liked to think that we could have a positive impact on the world if we were just active and committed, so I had a long history of activism.”

The efforts of Neumann and others in the Conservancy helped rescue 14,000 acres of coastal wilderness. “Our founding member, the now deceased artist Arline Erdrich, must be credited with the idea that we could either fight each injustice, fire by fire, or we could have a much more broad and comprehensive manner of preserving land, which is what we choose to do,” she explained. “So, with the help of other more established land conservation groups, such as the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society and the Alachua Conservation Trust, we put together an ambitious plan of creating wildlife and nature corridors along the Gulf Coast in Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties.”

Work in progress for an upcoming exhibition 


For the past several weeks, Neumann has been channeling her love of nature and concerns into large-scale works for her next solo show, Leslie Neumann: Manna from Heaven…and Earth, at the Morean Arts Center this spring. She’ll be showing new works in tandem with a group show,  Water over the Bridge: Contemporary Seascapes. Show dates are May 11 thru June 23. “I’m using dramatic stormscapes; to express our current political conditions,” she explained.

While Neumann has an undeniable activist streak, the joy and the magic of being close to nature will always drive her muse most.

“I had an experience this morning that would you would have really loved,” she shared via email. “I walked up to the bridge at dawn and saw the eclipse of the moon as it sank in the west — and because it’s a supermoon, the tide was super low.  So there were hundreds and hundreds of wading birds enjoying being able to fish in the mud flats.

"Ah, Aripeka.

"Is there any wonder I choose to stay here?”

. . . . .

Creative Pinellas highlights the best in Pinellas County’s visual and performing arts. "Our multimedia coverage of this dynamic cultural scene includes timely features, event previews, and perspectives from casual to critical, focused on the arts in all genres."



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