For the last twenty years, encaustic has been my primary medium. Encaustic is characterized as pigmented wax, heated and liquefied or synthetic, natural, or clarified beeswax without pigment. I have used pigmented and heated encaustic to develop ideas about drawing, painting, and sculpture as the medium suggests all three. A single stroke of encaustic paint has body, texture, line, and form. This complex medium has another seductive quality: instant drying time. With encaustic, drying is a simple matter of cooling. Once a layer of encaustic is laid down, it is immediately a sculpture in relief. When multiple layers are added, one can detect what lies underneath and the visible history of the painting is apparent. In this way, encaustic painting can be compared to drawing media and techniques, where erasures leave traces and lines that are not quite eliminated, laying bare decisions, exposing changes.
Shadow is pervasive in all of the encaustic works that invariably result in surfaces of literal chiaroscuro. In 1996 I started out making single-layer works, then double, then multilayered works in grid formations, in an attempt to empty out the content of earlier work. First working only in black and white, and then moving through color, I turned to flinging paint with a loaded brush, then to building up surfaces in various ways and directions. The analogy to growth and nature came early, occurring as successive layers accumulated or "grew.” Without my attempting to depict nature, forms emerged that suggested nature in built-up petals that evoke plant life, blossoms, and bark, or in multiplied accretions that elicit associations with rocks and minerals, with stalagmites. The reminder that the medium was once liquid, then transformed into solid matter, is seen in drips and pours, swirls and pools that allude to water, as well as to the terrestrial and celestial. Veins of wax hint at connections to the human body and circulatory systems.
When I cast several paintings in bronze and stainless steel, I discovered that when I poured through the back of these canvases in order to—out of necessity—thicken them to ensure a successful cast, organic patterns and textures emerged. Over several years, I found ways to manipulate the line and surface effects with a nearly invisible touch of the hand. This pouring from behind led to the white Tabula Rasa series, examples of which are included in this exhibition. Varying the temperatures of the wax and density of the white pigment, in combination with a range of weights, weaves, and colors of linen canvas, resulted in subtle reliefs. The blank slate is filled and we each bring to it our mental content.
In the Not Art But Work series incorporating naval World War II canvas hammocks, we are reminded that the American artist Thomas Eakins wanted “to convince his conscience that painting was work.” American distrust, suspicion, and unease about art implied that painting lacked the moral standing of physical work. The idea that artists don’t really work, either because there is—or can be—play, pleasure, or even love in the making of a work of art, persists to the present. The hammocks oppose an object symbolic of relaxation and leisure with the busy wax surface I superimpose upon them. Bees work constantly for their survival, spiders make webs to capture prey, and birds build nests for protection and procreation. They cannot stop working or let down their guard, or they might perish. Humans aren’t quite the same but to our existence add the moral and ethical questions that often cannot be answered satisfactorily. There you have the dilemma of being human.
Martin Kline, 2016
Gone Fishin', 2015, encaustic, beeswax, fishing lures and net on hammock and panel, 243.8 x 121.9 x 11.4 cm
Age of Anxiety (I), 2013, encaustic on hammock and panel, 243.8 x 121.9 x 11.4 cm
Broken Compass, 2015, encaustic and graphite on hammock and panel, 243.8 x 121.9 x 11.4 cm