Melissa McGill‘s encaustic paintings from her series ‘Choices’ redefine the possibilities of this ancient technique, a process that was first used in the 1st Century BC in Egypt, and give us a new way of looking at the present.
Many of the encaustic paintings I have seen in the course of my career have been traditional portraits, more akin to craft than fine art, however McGill brings it in very much into the 21st Century. These pictures maybe be rooted in graphic art with their pop art aesthetic but it’s her use of the encaustic technique that gives her space to explore the more abstract qualities of painting and expression.
Encaustic painting requires the artist to heat up wax after which coloured pigments are added. The paste is then applied to a surface — usually prepared wood – and then moved, manipulated and shaped with metal tools and special brushes before cooling down to create a texture that adds depth and a luminous texture to the image. And it’s this quality along with her use of archival photographs, type, image transfers and bold splashes of colour that McGill utilises to create these wonderful mixed media paintings.
Playing with advertising motifs, icons, illustrations and other elements of documentation McGill builds up a dialogue with the viewer, the layers coaxing a narrative out of juxtaposition and collision, a collage of sorts, an energetic deconstruction of familiar cultural images that, when given a new lease of life, turn their original meaning into a new narrative that expresses the concerns of a generation that are subsumed in consumer culture.
This play on the universality of material culture and the personal expression of the artist are what give McGill’s images their quiet power, strange beauty and unsettling reality. It’s the work of an artist who has found a groove, a process that allows her room to open up and explore the commercial world she had been part of for over 15 years. Here’s what she has to say about her paintings:
My work is my attempt to communicate the way I see the world, through the subtle shift of colour and form created by changing light. Both filter through brush, into composition in ways I’m sometimes unaware of until a piece is finished.
Exploring the elusive boundaries we use to define ourselves, encaustic is integral. Layering images and colour, not unlike the series of moments in our lives, which combine, and blend together to inform who we are. Imagery develops a different significance and reveals something new, layered and juxtaposed among other cultural remnants.
Using wax, I like to examine societal roles which when clearly defined, are revealed as restrictive, suppressive and sometimes absurd. These roles make us uncomfortable when examined. Yet, we see them subliminally represented daily in our advertising and culture. Used as a comfortable bridge toward the unfamiliar.
I build up my paintings in a very organic way. Using familiar visual signs, I move between different styles, combining abstraction with figuration, to create a stream of consciousness narrative, hinting at the layers under the surface of our decisions and actions.