Friday, June 30, 2017

Welcome to Issue 17 of ProWax Journal

It's not easy being a quarterly publication especially when all of us are working artists with full schedules. We no sooner post one issue than work begins on the next one. What keeps us going? Your positive response to ProWax Journal and our determination to keep raising the bar in encaustic. 

In our Special Section: The Exhibitions of Conference 11
Here, a peek into Between Shadow and Light, curated by Debra Claffey, as part of the Conference Curatorial Program. Foreground: Paula Roland, left; Pat Spainhour, right. In the distance, Spainhour in front of window, with Christine Shannon Aaron on either side
Photo: Debra Claffey

As always we have a full issue. A look at the Table of Contents will show you just how much we've shoehorned into Issue 17. For instance in Essential Questions, Jane Guthridge gets Amy Ellingson to open up about how she prepares for a solo show, while in Art/Community/Education, Milisa Galazzi talks with ProWax members about The Teaching of Art. In Q&A Nancy Natale finishes up the conversation she started last issue with Patricia Miranda. And Deborah Claffey gets Sue Katz and Charyl Weissbach to describe their work succinctly in In Five Words. There's more, which you can discover on your own, including my conversation with artists and paint manufacturers who are working with cold wax.

So here let me tell you about our Special Section, a first for PWJ. Deborah Winiarski, who usually produces a curated feature, presents a visual report on the exhibitions that took place during the 11th International Encaustic Conference, June 2-4, in Provincetown. This is a big job because we had seven exhibitions: Sense of Place, the Conference’s juried show at Castle Hill, selected by Patricia Miranda; two Conference Curatorial projects: Between Shadow and Light, curated by Debra Claffey, and Photosynthesis, curated by Sherrie Posternak and Lia Rothstein; Black Tie (optional), an invitational organized by Marian and Adam Peck for the Adam Peck Gallery; Alternative Wax: Layers of Facts, the Conference’s first political show, juried by Francine D’Olimpio for her gallery, Kobalt; and Cherie Mittenthal’s solo, also at Kobalt, where she is a gallery artist. Cherie and I co-curated Depth Perception for the Cape Cod Museum of Art, and I’ll take you on a curator’s walk-through that. In all at least 150 artists were listed as participating in the various exhibitions. While some artists participated in more than one show, we still had well over 100 individual conferees taking part in the visual feast that accompanied the Conference talks, demos and panels.

As many of you know, I founded the Conference in 2007 and directed it for ten years. This year Truro Center for the Arts assumed ownership with Cherie Mittenthal at the helm. Conferees saw a smooth transition as Cherie putting her imprint on the event. You can get a sense of the excitement and range of activities in the Encaustic Conference Facebook group. If you're not a member, now might be a good time to join. 

We hope you like this issue. As always, we are happy to hear from you via your comments to the articles. We also welcome your financial support. Not only does it take a village to produce a free publication like this it takes money, primarily to support the archive and promote the current site. The Donate button is on the sidebar of this publication. When you click on it, you’ll arrive at my own Pay Pal site (for the Joanne Mattera Art Blog). Just indicate that your donation is for PWJ. I’m no mathematician, but I know enough about numbers to keep the two streams separate.

Did you pick up one of our postcards at the Conference?

Feel free to share ProWax Journal. Tell your friends, colleagues, and students about it. Encaustic belongs in the contemporary art mainstream with practitioners who look beyond the confines of “encaustic art.” ProWax Journal will help it get there.   --Joanne Mattera

A Conversation About Cold Wax

While most of us work in encaustic, which is to say pigmented wax that is applied when molten and then fused to the layers beneath it, there are some artists who have committed in whole or in part to cold wax, a medium that needs no heat to be workable. In the conversation that follows we talk about the two kinds of cold wax available to painters.

Rebecca Crowell, Porturlin, 2016; oil, cold wax, and pigments on panel, 36 x 60 inches

Most of us are familiar with the solvent-based cold wax medium, such as Dorland’s, which is typically used with oil paint to impart texture or mixed on its own with dry pigments to create a wax-based paint. What’s new here is tubed cold wax paint from Evans Encaustics, which combines medium and pigment in a range of colors.

The second type of cold-wax, known to the ancient Fayum painters as punic wax, is an emulsion in which water and beeswax have become a paste by the introduction of an alkaline catalyzing agent. In ancient times the alkali consisted of ash; in the present day it’s ammonia or other similar pH ingredient. Like any emulsion, once the ingredients have been chemically combined they do not uncombine, so the wax-and-water paste is water based. Wax emulsion paints have been produced for the past few years by the Spanish company, Cuní, available through Miles Conrad Encaustics.

I asked  five ProWax members—Miles Conrad, Rebecca Crowell, Hylla Evans, Lora Murphy, and Carol Pelletier—all of whom are deeply involved with cold wax products, to talk about the what and why of cold wax, both what’s commercially available and what they make on their own.                                       
– J.M.

Painting with Solvent-based Cold Wax

The roundtable format here was achieved via conversations on a private Facebook page set up specifically to discuss the topic for this article. Additional questions and answers were carried out via email.

Rebecca Crowell I started using cold wax about 15 years ago (I have never used the encaustic process except to try it a few times). I didn't know much about cold wax medium when I started using it but was attracted to its body as a painting medium. It seemed to work well with my aesthetic goals at the time: building up rich color and texture. In my earliest abstract work I was rendering texture in a deliberate and somewhat forced manner, but with cold wax techniques the surface arises from the process, so there was a satisfying alignment of form and content. 

I also appreciate the freedom that cold wax medium affords when painting with oils. The wax has an equalizing effect on the various oil ratios in paints, so there is no need to be concerned about “fat over lean” rules. And there’s no need to varnish the work. Cold wax dries to a hard, almost brittle surface and requires no special handling in terms of temperature.

I usually label my work oil or oil and mixed media, rather than even mentioning the wax content, since for many people there is a confusion with encaustic. And cold wax really is just a medium; mediums are not typically mentioned in descriptive labels. I do label it as cold wax in certain contexts that are instructional, or aimed at other artists who may be curious about it.

Rebecca Crowell, Java's Wall, 2016; oil, cold wax, and pigment on panel, 36 x 60 inches

JM: Rebecca, would you talk about your use of the materials?

Crowell I’ve used both Dorland’s and Gamblin cold wax mediums; both are excellent products with slightly different properties and ingredients. I’ve been using Gamblin wax exclusively now for a number of years because I find it to be a purer product, made with just beeswax, odorless mineral spirits, and some alkyd resin. I also like its somewhat stiffer body. Dorland’s is a bit softer and has a more complex formula, involving microcrystalline wax and damar resin. It’s very possible to make your own cold wax medium and lots of people do. I choose to buy it because it’s convenient and I’d rather be painting than messing with that process, but also it means the wax will be consistent.

I usually use a combination of about half wax and half oil paint. Because the mixture has quite a bit of body, I apply it with palette knives, squeegees and brayers, only occasionally using a brush. Powdered pigments, powdered marble, and other substances such as sand and dirt can also be mixed in. Pigment sticks, charcoal and other drawing media work well on a semi-dry or dry surface, and even water based substances like inks can be used if you allow them to  dry before proceeding.

I don’t use a huge range of materials myself--mostly just oil paint, dry pigments, marble dust, and soft pastel. Those limits are true of the techniques I use also. I am a pretty straightforward painter. I’d say most people who have a developed practice with the medium are similar in that way--they find what works for what they want to do.  On the other hand, the range of possibilities with the medium is enormous.

Carol Pelletier, April, 2015, oil and cold wax on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Carol Pelletier I started working with cold wax by accident. Pulling some monotypes in the print studio while working at Marshall University in 2000, I ran out of Setswell (a medium that controls tack in etching and monoprinting), which I mixed with oil-based ink. I thought to grab the Dorland’s wax in the cabinet since it had a similar feel. The results were remarkable. The surface held more luminosity and allowed light to travel through it. It was perfect for capturing movement while developing a relationship between time and space within each layer; it was fluid and didn’t require heat. I now use my own blend in my monotypes.

I started using cold wax medium regularly with oil paint and have been working with my own recipe(s) as well as the cold wax mediums created by Gamblin, Michael Harding, and Dorland’s. I look forward to trying Hylla’s version.

JMCarol, how do you use cold wax in your painting?

Pelletier Over the past few years, my work has been about movement and the transitory nature of light and color found near water. Printmaking used to be a jumping off point into my painting, and it was a way of reacting to a surface. Today, I use cold wax medium with oil paint or pigment to build transparent layers on panel.  These multiple layers are held together on the surface and allow for perceptual depth. I use an old 15th century technique called sgraffito, where I add and subtract layers (using fiberglass spreaders and razor blades) revealing the subtle undulations of each application of color. I mostly use transparent colors when using cold wax. The marriage between the two supports is what I am trying to capture. The translucency of cold wax is lost when opaque colors are used, unless minuscule amounts of opaque color are added. Each painting has 10 to 20 extremely thin layers. I often make color studies to see how one color will react to another. These studies help me decide the order of things. I only mix on the palette but will blend color(s) directly on the surface of the painting.  

Above and below: Carol Pelletier, color studies, 2016 

Lora Murphy, Dancing with Henri; encaustic, cold wax, pigments; 100 x 150 cms (app. 40 x 60 inches)

Lora Murphy I have had a wonderful time experimenting with cold wax. I really like the subtle effects I can get and the misty qualities I can achieve. I like it over encaustic, to add another dimension, plus it plays well with Cuní paints. I have used cold wax mostly in mixed-media applications, always as a top layer or layers.

I have made several different cold wax formulations [see one at end of article] and ended up using them all as I couldn’t decide which was best. The only one formula that absolutely didn’t work for me was my attempt to make it with a citrus-based solvent. I don’t know if Citrasolve would work but I cannot get it in Europe. I have also been trying it over some acrylic paintings and it adheres really well.

JM: Lora, when you apply solvent-based cold wax as a final layer, do you use heat to fuse?

I don't fuse the cold wax, but if I apply encaustic to adjacent areas of the painting I use an iron to fuse them, being careful to avoid the cold wax areas.

JM: How do you integrate the water-soluble paints?

I use both Cuní tube paint and a paint I make by combining punic wax (made by Kremer in Germany) with pigments. I really like combining the different paints on one painting, but I use them side by side rather than mixing them and I always use hot encaustic, too. 

Lora Murphy, Beethoven, 2016; encaustic, cold wax, and walnut ink on panel, 40 x 40 cms (app 16 x 16 inches)

JM: Hylla, you have created a solvent-based cold wax medium and line of paints. Tell us about them.

Hylla Evans  My medium has three ingredients: USP [pharmaceutical grade] white beeswax, USP carnauba wax, and odorless mineral spirits. My cold wax is the same as encaustic medium but with the addition of odorless mineral spirits to soften it. So when the mineral spirits evaporate, what's left is identical to encaustic, and it’s archival in the exact same way as encaustic. When you’re working on top of an encaustic print or painting, the solvent in the cold wax paste bonds it to the encaustic surface. No fusing is needed. It's best to save this cold wax paint for the final layer. But experiment! Clear solvent may be used to thin paint to inky consistency for detail work.  Let the odorless solvent evaporate overnight after application. No heat is used.

Evans Encaustics Cold Wax Medium and tubed paint, which can be applied with palette knife or brush

Below: color chart showing a selection of the company's clear colors and the opaque tints that can be achieved

JM: Would you talk a bit about who uses your cold wax paint, and how it is used?

Evans Artists who work with a brush or knife in a painterly fashion, or in painterly printmaking, will find Evans Cold Wax Paints a rapidly drying, comfortable fit. The tubed paint is portable and no flame or heat gun is used. My paint works as do other tube paints, though far faster drying than oils. Some artists use Evans Cold Wax Medium with their oil paints, though this increases drying time because that oil has to oxidize. When working with this paint, there is no oil so a thin layer dries overnight.

No gesso or surface priming is needed when working on absorbent substrate such as paper or wood. It also is excellent as a printing paint—cold-wax monotype, which transfers simply with a baren or brayer.

JM: You say that no gesso or surface priming is necessary, but artists could certainly apply it to a ground of white paper affixed to a panel or to an absorbent ground like encaustic gesso, correct?

Absorbent ground covers it. Acrylic gesso isn't absorbent. While oil painters often work on acrylic gesso, if wax medium is in use, it won't adhere well over time to the acrylic ground.

JMLet’s go back to the issue of solvents. It seems to me that with turpentine you know what you’re working with because you can smell it. With odorless mineral spirits, you really don’t know if it’s evaporated because you can’t smell it.

Odorless mineral spirits smell slightly like chlorine bleach, a fresh-laundry smell. When that's aired out, it's dry with no smell.

JM: So let’s say very clearly that cold wax medium or paints made with a solvent-- whether turp or odorless mineral spirits, and whether artisanal, as yours are or mass produced like Dorland’s—should be ventilated as we do with encaustic and should not be melted or fused.

Painting with Emulsified Wax

Let’s talk a bit now about non-solvent cold wax paint. Miles, you are the exclusive seller of Cuní paints in the United States. Would you talk about what this paint is, how it is used, and how it interacts with other wax paints?  

Miles Conrad  Cuní Water-Soluble Encaustic™ is created through the process of saponification (exposing fatty acids to an alkaline substance) rendering the wax into an emulsion that is water-soluble. This paint adheres to all other paint mediums including oil, acrylic, latex, alkyd, encaustic, watercolor, gouache, and egg tempera. It can be mixed to create thick impastos or thin washes and glazes. It dries faster than oil, slower than acrylic; similar to alkyd. What I like about Cuní Water-Soluble Encaustic is that it requires no toxic solvents, and it’s an easy soap and water cleanup.

JM: Miles, can you give us some general information about paint application and drying time?

For a paste-like impasto texture, the paint can be applied directly from the tube or palette with a stiff brush or palette knife. Full-strength surface patinas can be made by rubbing with a rag or gloved finger. To thin the paint, add Cuní Water Soluble Medium and/or water. Higher mixing ratios of medium result in a full-bodied translucent glaze. Higher mixing ratios of water result in thinner washes.

The dry time depends on various factors: the thickness of the paint film that's applied, atmospheric heat and humidity, plus the use of water, medium, or Cuní Retarder (an additive used to keep the window of workability open longer for wet-on-wet or blending applications). A span of several hours to overnight is generally adequate dry time for typical paint films. For thicker films, dry time can be expedited with additional heat from a hair dryer, or the gentle use of a low-watt heat gun. Torches and high watt heat guns are not recommended for hastening dry time.

Pedro Cuní painting at the International Encaustic Conference with the water-soluble paint made by his family's company

Below: a closeup of the wax emulsion

JM: What about the technical aspects of working with this paint? 

Conrad When dry the paint can be reactivated with water for reworking or blending. You can also heat-set the paint. Heat-setting expedites and completes the curing process so that the paint film does not reactivate with water or hot wax. I would advise heat-setting whenever a permanent layer is desired. Heat setting is achieved at lower temperatures than traditional fusing for hot encaustic techniques, so I recommend a low-voltage heat gun.

In terms of application, you can apply Cuní Water-Soluble Encaustic paint below, between, and on top of layers created with conventional encaustic. I feel it allows for a more fluid, painterly brush stroke than regular hot encaustic painting alone. It also makes an outstanding glaze or patina over wax. When fused during hot encaustic techniques, some thinner Cuní paint films will disperse slightly (similar to oil stick) depending on the intensity and duration of heat. Be gentle with the heat.

Lora Murphy, Last of the Summer Roses, undated; encaustic, cold wax, and Cuní wax emulsion, 80 x 100 cms (app. 32 x 40 inches)

JM: In conversation with me at Conference 10 you talked about the use of water-soluble wax paint outside the context of encaustic. For instance, when you suggested that I consider using it in the same way I use gouache, I became very interested.  

Conrad When mixed with water, the paint behaves similar to a gouache. The use of larger proportions of water produces a paint behaving similar to watercolor. When mixed with small amounts of medium and water, the outcome is a saturated, low-sheen paint typical of egg tempera. Until heat-set, all of these paint films remain re-workable with the reintroduction of water. 

JM: How about cleanup?  

Conrad What I like about Cuní Water-Soluble Encaustic is that it requires no toxic solvents, and it’s an easy soap and water cleanup. Even paint-hardened brushes can be restored by soaking them in soapy water.

JM This seems a good time to say that Kay WalkingStick has painted with what she calls “saponified wax”—that is, emulsified wax of the type made by Cuní—for decades. She has modified a recipe provided by Ralph Mayer in his book, Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques and uses acrylic paint as her colorant (since the emulsion is water based). WalkingStick likes the “organic quality” that the beeswax paste imparts to acrylic paint. I have a WalkingStick painting in my collection and I can tell you that the texture is very much that of conventional encaustic, though it is devoid of the honeyed beeswax aroma.

Kay WalkingStick, Eccentric Lines, 1982, acrylic and wax over double-layered canvas, 36 x 36 inches. Photographed in the June Kelly Gallery booth at The Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory in March 2017, New York City

Below: Detail showing the texture and dimension of WalkingStick's wax emulsion


Recipes for Cold Wax Medium

As with any recipe each maker has a slightly different version. Here are a few recipes used by artists.

Kay WalkingStick’s Wax Emulsion Recipe
The recipe you see below, which I pulled from Page 96 of my book, The Art of Encaustic Painting, is WalkingStick’s recipe after Ralph Mayer. The consistency should be “like cold cream or mayonnaise,” says the artist. (You can see more of WalkingStick’s work in wax emulsion here.)

Lora Murphy’s Cold Wax Recipe
I tried many different variations on the basic recipe, mainly because I was curious to see how they would differ. The combination I liked the most is made as follows: 

2 parts stand oil 
8  parts beeswax
2 parts damar crystals 
1 part turpentine

Stirring is minimal, done outside, as my wax is melted before the solvent goes in. I keep the medium in glass jars. The wax stays beautifully buttery and pure white. The container must be capped. I have found that the medium gets hard and unusable if stored in plastic Tupperware-style containers.

Carol Pelletier’s Cold Wax Recipe
I have multiple recipes for various uses, but I would say my simplest recipe is the following:

2 parts wax
1 part alkali refined linseed oil
1 part safflower oil
1 part odorless mineral spirits

There are various ways to make this recipe but I melt the wax in a glass jar that is held in a double boiler. Once it has melted, I remove the jar from the heat and away from all heated elements.  I then slowly add my three other ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until it cools and becomes more or less like a paste wax.  I cap it and it lasts forever. 

Further Reading

Left, just published: Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations, by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin
Right: The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques, fifth edition revised and updated, which contains some info on encaustic and the wax emulsion recipe used by WalkingStick 

JMRebecca, in closing, I’d like to ask you to talk about your book.

Crowell  In the years since I’d started teaching workshops (my first in 2009) interest in cold wax medium had been growing rapidly, so there was a growing demand for a reference book, and I had not had the time or focus to consider very seriously the idea or writing one. However my co-author, Jerry McLaughlin, was willing to do a lot of the groundwork and research and had an exciting vision for what the book could be. He managed to overcome my resistance to taking on this enormous project.

We agreed from the beginning that we wanted much more than a how-to book, although there is plenty in it in terms of techniques and instruction. The idea that developed was for a book that would include a wide range of artists and applications for the material, including not just numerous approaches to painting, but also 3-D work, printmaking, and other experimental approaches. We also wanted to emphasize the “why” as well as the “how-to” throughout the book. So we have avoided simply presenting techniques—we ask the artist to consider its effects and how that works with their intentions. In our interviews with other artists we tried to bring out why they have made the choices they have for materials and techniques. We also include chapters about personal direction and visual language. The book closes with profiles of a range of professional artists using cold wax medium.

A spread from Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations, by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin

Essential Questions: How Do You Prepare for a Solo Show?

Edited by Jane Guthridge

Does your process differ depending on whether you're showing in an art space or a commercial gallery? Do you think about the audience? I'm not talking about changing the content to satisfy an audience, but rather tweaking the inventory to maximize sales. For instance do you think about a variety of sizes? Do you listen to your dealers when they say their clients "want big" or "love blue"? Do you see your relationship as a business partnership or an opportunity to show exactly what you want? 

  Amy Ellingson, Chopping Wood on the Astral Plane, 2016, solo exhibition with Eli Ridgway|Contemporary Art, at Minnesota Street Project, San Francisco
Photo: John Janca, Artbot Photography

We begin with Amy Ellingson, the San-Francisco-based painter who has had 15 solo shows in the past 20 years along with installations and public commissions.

Ellingson: Nearly all of my work is produced for a specific venue, so I consider the exhibition space well in advance. I take photographs and measurements, and I study the light at different times of day. I try to get a feel for the space, and I diagram how a viewer is likely to move through the space and how the gaze will travel. Of course, I inquire about existing gallery floor plans. Then, I make a model of the space, usually one inch to the foot, which means that the model is rather large. I make the models out of Gator Board. It’s expensive and difficult to cut, but it is really sturdy, and it can hold up to water-based paint. I paint the floor of the model so that it is a pretty accurate representation of the space.  

As far as the work itself, usually I have some ongoing concerns or a direction that I would like to continue with, so the work evolves from there. I make prints of my sketches, also one inch to the foot, and mount them on foam core so that I can place them within the model. This detailed preparation springs from the fact that, even if I am in my studio 60-70 hours a week, I am only able to make around twelve paintings a year. The work is really labor-intensive so, in order to fill a large exhibition space, I need to plan things out with a degree of certainty.  A large exhibition takes at least a year to produce. 

The exhibition begins to take shape, and I continually refer to the model to ascertain what is needed to make a dynamic exhibition, in terms of conceptual consistency, as well as conceptual tension. I think a lot about mood, color balance, and formal elements that move the eye from piece to piece. Of course, all of the works go their separate ways after the exhibition ends. But for a few short weeks they exist together as intended.  

Views above and below of Ellingson's studio mockup for Chopping Wood on the Astral Plane
Photos courtesy the artist

JG: Does your process differ from a museum or art space to a commercial gallery?
Ellingson: Yes. I try to take full advantage of the fact that a non-profit venue provides an opportunity to stretch and to do things that might be considered impractical in a commercial gallery. For example, I had a show a few years ago that consisted of a 28-foot-long painting, a temporary site-specific mural, and an installation of 1700 small sculptural objects. It was a terrific opportunity to expand my practice, with no expectations regarding sales. As such, it was a great way to show my range and ambition, which, I believe, helped in terms of subsequent sales though the years.  Different shows pay off in different ways. At the very least, hopefully we learn something about ourselves and our work.  

JG: Do you think about the audience?

Ellingson: Yes and no. Since I have been showing my work for a long time, I find it interesting to see how really knowledgeable viewers respond to the whole of my output, and to changes and developments along the way. On the other hand, I don’t think it helps to try to second-guess one’s audience. People have their own relationship to my work, just as I do.  

JG: Do you see your gallery relationship as a business partnership or an opportunity to show exactly what you want?

Ellingson: For many years I was very rigid about my output. For example, at the beginning of my career, there was a long period in which I only made paintings that were 36 inches high and 120 inches long. It drove people—galleries as well as potential collectors—crazy. I wouldn’t say it was the best strategy. Now I feel that, although my large-scale paintings are still the main focus of my practice, it is nice to let people in on different levels. I do make smaller paintings, many of which I donate to various causes and fundraisers for museums and non-profits. I started making works on paper about ten years ago. And I do public, corporate and private commissions. I have gotten past seeing these things as “compromises.” Instead, I seem them as challenges. If they are a way to stretch, to expand, to introduce my work to a new audience then, great, they are worth doing. 

As far as business partnerships with galleries, in the best case, we are equal partners with an equal investment in success. I understand the risks a gallerist takes. The higher we go, in terms of price point for the work, the riskier it is for both parties. Ideally, the relationship should be strategic and collaborative, focusing on goals and outcomes, as well as esthetic innovation and growth. I think it’s possible to do both: to focus on the business end while you let the work develop as freely as possible. It requires a bit of compartmentalization but it is possible. I try to see everything as an opportunity: a chance to stretch my limits, or develop a new audience, or keep the ball rolling, or keep things fresh. I also think it’s essential to find gallerists who believe in you and support what you do. So, if you work large, and they want small, perhaps you’re not right for each other. In the end, I do feel that I show exactly what I want, but it happens within the context of a collaborative, communicative relationship.  

More voices

Whether through training, experience, or necessity, artists are in agreement about most aspects of preparing for a solo.

Howard Hersh: My preparation is to know the space, usually asking for a floor plan. That way I can curate the work to be specifically for that venue.

Lynda Ray:  Are there art writers in your area who might come in and write about the work?

Debra Claffey: I approach each solo as a chance to have all the pieces centered on a theme. I make a mockup to scale so I can place the work myself when I can, working with the venue so that there is a rhythm to the color, line, and shape of the sequence of panels. If it's a commercial venue, I will try to have some smaller pieces available. I make a calendar of deadlines, too.

Krista Svalbonas: Yes, totally different approach with a not-for-profit space than a commercial gallery. In not-for-profits I get more freedom and more chances to experiment, so I tend to do more installation-based work, not thinking about sales. Commercial gallery relationships are definitely partnerships based on a give and take. I listen to my dealers and I am sensitive to the fact that they are thinking about sales and not just creating exhibitions (as one would in a non for profit space ).

As far as planning goes I normally do 3D mockups of the space in Photoshop, so I can plan accordingly with how many pieces and what sizes. With the installations I have to do virtual mockups as those are what help denote how the installation is created. As often as possible I try and visit the space and take my own photographs. If that isn't an option then I ask for photos of the space from the venue or at the very least precise measurements to generate a mock up.

Joanne Mattera: I look at a solo show as an opportunity to tell the story of what I've been doing for the past year. I tend to work small (12x12 or 18x18 inches) given the nature of working edge to edge in wax, so I almost always think about creating a grid of paintings on one wall. This is how I view the work in my studio, and I spend a fair amount of time moving the paintings around to create an installation that pleases my eye. Of course there's the not-so-hidden agenda of showing viewers--i.e. potential collectors--how nice the works looks in a grouping and-wouldn't-you-like-to-acquire-several.

Each new group of works tends to have a related palette—it's the nature of having a certain number of paints on the griddle at one time—but thinking about the solo as a commercial venture as well as an aesthetic one, I make sure I hit a number of chromatic notes.

In terms of planning for the show, I keep separate folders—actual and virtual—for every show I’m participating in or preparing for in a particular year, both solo and group. Each folder gets a to-do list:
. When work needs to be completed. The gallery may want to make a studio visit at this time, or request a virtual visit via digital photos of what’s on the wall
. Designated period for post-painting work: trimming, attaching D-rings, making the storage boxes.
. When work will be photographed. (A promotional image may need to be shot before a scheduled photo shoot)
. When updated resume and statement need to be emailed to the gallery. This is also a good time to provide the consignment list with images of all the work
. Date the work needs to be packed and shipped, or hand delivered, or picked up by the gallery
. Hardly anyone does print ads anymore, but online promotion—the gallery’s and mine—needs to be done, and I work those deadlines into my schedule as well. This is true, too, for postcards. The turnaround for printings is fast now, so I can insert these dates into my schedule as necessary.

If you want to do an exhibition catalog you have to plan well ahead. Some galleries will do it for you, but you still have to think about which images, who will write the essay, and when you’ll be able to view and tweak the page proofs and, of course, proofread.

Leslie Neumann: I remember distinctly an experience I had many years ago that colored all my subsequent experiences with one-person shows. I did my homework, insofar as I got a floor plan, and I tried my very best to figure out what would be the best layout for my show. Then I brought the work in to my commercial gallery; the owner had years and years of experience, and she laid out the show completely differently, and it looked beautiful. It was a huge success. So planning ahead is great. Being flexible is really crucial.

Q&A, Part 2: Artist-Run Culture


with Patricia Miranda

By Nancy Natale

In Part 1 of this interview, Patricia Miranda spoke about her investigation into the materials of art and the poetry of translating them to create a new and deeper meaning. Here we begin with Patricia’s cultural influences and expand our conversation to discuss her role in building artist-run culture by sharing her knowledge of materials, culture, and history with other artists. She supports and assists artists by curating, educating, and encouraging artists to develop their own artistic expression and empowered vision.


Aucassin & Nicolette, 2016; vintage book colored with cochineal insect dye, freshwater pearls, 
thread, 8 x 8 x 6 inches

Nancy Natale: How do you see art connecting with the world around us?

Patricia Miranda: The connections in an artwork are an intricate web. The artist’s intent, the materials and their language and history, the collaboration between the artist and those materials, and the context within which that artwork sits, all constitute the world-making space of an artwork. We are never outside of nature, never outside of culture and history. In my own work I am continually exploring this idea of being inside, embedded, rooted with nature and culture as an active participant--a citizen--with all the ethical concerns and responsibilities that come along with that.

NN: Let’s look at one connection for you: the book. What is the role and purpose of books in your work?

PM: Ah, how much can I say about my love of books? I love them both as a reader for their content, and also as an artist for their objectness, their sculptural nature. They are endlessly fascinating, conceptually and physically.  Books are performative, four-dimensional, kinetic, conceptual objects; they have multiple sides, interior and exterior, and language both symbolic and visual. Every time you open or close a book or turn a page, you have a different form, you enter a new place, perceive a different meaning. Books are held in the hand, close to the body; they are intimate in their scale and in how they are used and read. My books are real friends, and I know I am not alone in this feeling. E-books are great, but in important ways they are significantly different beasts.

Florilegium, 2006, vintage book dyed with cochineal, bamboo skewer, 7 x 5 x 13 inches

At a wonderful residency, Weir Farm in Connecticut, I made works using books. Both I-Park [the subject of conversation in Part 1] and Weir Farm are close enough to where I live and work to have made it possible to attend each of these residencies for an entire month, something that is such a privilege but can be enormously difficult to do. Like I-Park, when I went to Weir Farm I had a group of possible projects to work on, not knowing exactly what I might do, but I had  really concentrated studio time day after day, time to experiment, take risks, to daydream, and brainstorm new things into being.

One of the things I brought was a box of de-accessioned Victorian religious books from the Community of St. John Baptist, a historic Episcopal convent in Mendham, New Jersey, where for years I led painting retreats. These castoff books included instructions for the life of religious women, meditations for the liturgical calendar, and exegeses on sacred texts. I began slowly deconstructing the books, pondering their contents, which were often poetic, compassionate, and insightful, and sometimes distressingly dated—especially around the role of women.

I began altering and dying the pages with oak gall, cochineal, and indigo dyes, to reconstruct and re-contextualize them into new forms. I sometimes dyed entire books, or masses of individual pages. With several small books, I sewed freshwater pearls between the dyed pages. I explored the books as fascinating sculptural beings, and as conceptual objects carrying information over time. I began thinking of the ways I could explore their book-ness as a deconstruction, an idea, a totality. It was a great conversation, and ended up both preserving and transforming their form in unexpected ways.

Beginning of Sorrows, 2015, vintage book dyed with oak gall dye, thread, brass plumbobs,
 75 x 75 x 6 inches

Fear & Trembling, 2015, one of 30 vintage book pages, oak gall ink, 7 x 5 inches

NN: Religion as an aspect of culture and history is one of the subjects you have researched and used as a basis for your work. I saw three examples of Virgin Mary projects on your website. What makes her representation so intriguing for you in connection with contemporary society?

PM: Mary remains a potent and complex figure for me. I was raised Catholic and perhaps it seems like a cliché, but it's such an image-based faith that these images can endure through a lifetime. Mary loomed large in my childhood among other potent images.

Mary is an occupied body, a contested and fractured architecture. Centuries of power have been written on her body; she is a reflection of female agency in any given time. The role of women is always measured, always in conflict, always in tension with the powers that be. So, she is enormously complex, and endlessly interesting to me.

Frail Clay, statue of the Virgin Mary covered in layers of graphite and glue, then gold leaf.
A poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Soldier, 1918, was inscribed and then sanded away, leaving the poem's text inscribed on the body of the sculpture. Says the artist: "This represents the language of war as inscribed on women's bodies, in particular the body of the Virgin Mary." [Note that Patricia displays the sculpture upside down to change the perspective and create a different vantage.]

These images represent a few of the many places where Patricia placed Mary statues. The encounter is between the sculpture and the finder. Says the artist: "I returned to the sites of the statues later, often multiple times. All the Marys were gone within hours or days, with one exception, a Mary placed by a friend on a pathway in the woods, where she remains today."

NN: On a different aspect of your practice, how do you engage with other artists to build an artist-run culture?

PM: I believe strongly in artist-run culture, in artists supporting and building community for one another, and for creating new structures that can assist artists in having sustainable practices within or without commercial structures. Art, like education, seems to be increasingly pushed into a transactional framework, you do this to get that, and as much as I understand that one has to function in the world as it is, I don’t believe that either of these flourish under that definition. I think that art is an essential part of culture, part of what makes us human. The job of art is to pose questions of culture, not to answer them.

Part of my work as an artist is to engage with my community, to share my own knowledge and enthusiasm whenever I can. The exchange with artists and with students has become an inspiring and important part of my practice. I teach primarily in the college environment in undergrad and grad programs and also develop curricular-based programming for K-12 and museums.

In my teaching I focus on art as a cognitive process, one that exists as its own form of intelligence (art-making), and also continually engages with other disciplines. Making as a form of cognition means that the hands know things in a different way than the mind, it is a nuance of knowing. When we make, we learn and communicate in a way that is ingrained deep in our bodies, as part of our muscle memory, in places and ways the mind cannot always access. This is an important kind of intelligence. Making art is a continual dialogue, one that engages multiple intelligences, a collaboration between mind, hand, and material.

In addition, I lead professional critique courses for artists in my studio. We spend extended time in rigorous critique and discussion in small groups of artists on a monthly basis, in a rich and deeply thoughtful environment. The critique groups have become amazing communities that are inspiring and invigorating intellectually, artistically, and personally. I am really privileged to work with the incredible artists in those groups.

NN: What is the import of visual and verbal language in developing meaning in art for your students?

PM: I am a stickler for language in my teaching. If we want to have a conversation about abstract ideas, we need to be attentive to language, and that means formally, conceptually, and in our responses. I have sets of rules for how we speak about art in critiques. These are not meant to restrict dialogue but to focus and deepen it—to be productive and push the dialogue to a higher level. Unproductive or subjective critiques or discussions are frustrating; I want the discussion to be fruitful. I also believe in collegial rather than hierarchical relationships, and that we meet where we are, that each person’s work and journey is their own. I don’t privilege one kind of work over another; I support excellence in any form. I can’t empower anyone; empowerment happens when we respect, listen, trust, and challenge.

Artists need strategies for pushing through the natural challenges of artmaking, to think outside the box, consider our work in context, challenge our biases and preferences in what we remain attached to and how we work. This means considering every element of the work—the ideas, the materials, the context and history of each—as having its own language, its own syntax, its own grammar, all of which contribute to making meaning. I am a strong believer in materials bearing content, and that it is necessary to be fluent (the knowing I spoke of earlier) in the various languages that are good communicators for you. If we want to do this “art” thing, we need to be willing to really push hard, to really question, to be creatively uncomfortable.

Screengrab from MAPSpace Facebook page illustrating how Patricia Miranda brings artists together to exhibit, exchange, communicate

NN: How does MAPSpace (Miranda Arts Project Space) in Port Chester, New York, function and fit into your practice?

PM: MAPSpace is a sole proprietorship, not a 501c-3 non-profit organization, meaning I am its owner and founder. We recently became a supported program of Fractured Atlas, a wonderful organization dedicated to offering fiscal sponsorship to artists. This means that Fractured Atlas functions as an umbrella organization, a re-granter of funds to individuals and to smaller organizations such as MAPSpace when funding agencies restrict direct grants solely to registered non-profits. Fractured Atlas’s support will allow us to do things that we might otherwise not be able to do, and I look forward later this year to launching more opportunities for artists.

Having a project space means I can be more nimble, can do things on a shorter time frame, and can also leave space for my own projects elsewhere. Balancing all these things is the challenging part of my practice.

NN: What are the criteria for exhibitions at MAPSpace?

PM: Exhibitions come about in different ways, through artists who come to my attention, through my own ideas about curation, through meeting artists and seeing their work. I am particularly interested in the intersections between art, science, history, technology, and culture. Not all of these aspects factor into each exhibition, of course, but I explore the ways that art and artists interface with ideas.

I am always looking for ways that artists can collaborate. One of these ways is the Collaborative Workspace Residency Program I implemented in 2012 (a new residency deadline will be posted soon). MAPSpace has also exhibited the work of artists in my Professional Critique groups, and of the artist collective, Murmurations, that I belong to with four other women artists. There are also exhibitions that are more formal in material and subject.

Curating is an extension of my practice. Bringing together diverse works in conversation with one another is another kind of meaning-making. Curating means I can work with artists whose work I love, am challenged and/or inspired by, to create and expand a  dialogue between the works that doesn’t otherwise exist. I have curated a wide range of exhibitions, from solo to thematic group exhibitions, on subjects as wide-ranging as art and technology, to environmental art. Curating can be a great thrill and challenge; I love to look at work, to find connections, to bring things together.

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