When talking about encaustic painting, Margaret Bertrand can wax poetic.
As the sole Central Coast artist with work in the encaustic exhibit at the Morro Bay Art Center, Bertrand wasn't bothered that she didn’t win any awards. Rather, she was elated that three of her wax paintings were accepted in this international juried show. “Consequential Fusion: Messages in Wax” features 43 artists from California to Massachusetts, from Alaska to Thailand, and more than 100 works of art.
Before showing her own entries to a visitor, Bertrand nearly caressed the first-place entry, running her hand an inch from its waxy surface.
“You might wonder why this piece took first place,” she said of “Entropy,” by Susan Delgavis of Anchorage, Alaska. The square of white plastered birch and wax with pen-and-ink dots and lines resembles a chart of a reversed night sky. Bertrand praised its smoothness, clarity and transparency. “You can see the design below interplay with the top design,” she said. “I'm sure that's what attracted the judges to it.”
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Exhibit jurors and judges were Cal Poly art instructor Michael Barton Miller of Los Osos, Daniella Woolf of Santa Cruz, and Dane Goodman of Santa Barbara.
The range of styles, techniques and themes in the exhibit is immense. Most are abstract, some still lives of fruit, a few animals, landscapes and figurative work. Artists incorporated printed material, photographs, wire, found objects, even pistachio shells.
Encaustic's popularity is on the rise, after waxing and waning since ancient times. An art form involving bees wax from the Middle Ages to the 18th Century, encaustic was replaced by less difficult paints, then returned for a few decades. Pop artist Jasper Johns initiated its resurgence in the 1930s.
Bertrand has been working in encaustic for four years, since taking a class with husband Robert Dodge, and Flo Bartell, Morro Bay Art Association president and show coordinator.
Although Bertrand, a Los Osos resident for eight years, has worked in acrylic, papermaking and print-making, encaustic offers her new ways to create art.
“The beauty of encaustic is you can do collage with it, you can carve on it, you can do layers of wax on it,” she said.
Bertrand is showing three waterfalls in a broad spectrum of colors. “I use colors that are already mixed,” she said, to avoid the toxic resin needed along with pigment. One company's brochure shows nearly 100 choices in its color chart.
Bertrand's pieces are titled “Waterfall 7, 8, and 9,” and the series continues to flow from her brushes. “I'm on 22 now.”
Her theme was inspired by Suzuki Roshi, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, who compared waterfalls to life's journey. Bertrand paraphrased Roshi: “You're connected before life ... life is like a 100-foot drop. You spray out and then you're connected again.”
The metaphor could apply to the array and cohesiveness of the exhibit.