In my most recent paintings, colored shapes and stenciled words that name landscape elements and weather phenomena are juxtaposed with close-up views of trees, suggesting that our experience of Nature is mediated by perceptual and mental constructs.

The viewer experiences the contrast between flat pictorial space with minimal overlaps and illusionistic space where tree trunks and branches frame views into depth. Non-narrative and non-poetic, the words parallel formal elements in the way they trigger multiple associations, both individually and when assimilated in varying sequences. Some allude to the issue of global warming.

In other recent work, I combine patterns of large colored rectangles with the close-up views of trees to make paintings that reflect the mediated relationship to Nature that most people experience. The textured color areas break up the “gestalt” of the tree images, providing a visual metaphor for the fragmentation that is an inescapable reality of contemporary existence.

Because they meld the contrasting aesthetics of naturalistic and non-representational painting, the paintings are challenging, and their color relationships and texture make them sensuous and stimulating to the eye. I apply multiple layers of hot-wax encaustic paint and use incising, scraping, collage, and other manipulations unique to encaustic to activate the surface. By combining these two distinct form languages, I express the tension between opposing tendencies: the spontaneous, intuitive, and unrestrained (represented by nature) and the rational, ordered, and disciplined (represented by rectilinear geometry). This duality is also reflected in the tension between the painting’s surface and the illusion of depth, between thick and thin paint, between smooth and rough textures, and between naturalistic and non-naturalistic color. The interruptions of the natural world created by the geometric shapes also suggest the incursions of mankind into the environment.

The tree imagery also forms a link with a series of paintings of an area of deadfall timber in the Sandia mountains near Albuquerque, New Mexico done while in graduate school in the late 1970's. Both the landscape and paintings offer real experiences, important in a world increasingly filled with simulations.

About fifty years ago in an interview with James Schevill, in response to a question regarding the label "Abstract Expressionism," the painter Richard Diebenkorn responded by saying: "All paintings start out of a mood, a relationship with things or people, out of a complete visual impression. To call this impression abstract seems to me to confuse the issue. ... A realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts."

What counts emerges from the medium, the beeswax and pigment that is encaustic, a unique temperature-based paint, unlike any other. What excite me about the paint are the beautiful paint surfaces, the multiple textures and lines, and the juxtapositions of colors.

I also create encaustic monotypes that echo the paintings and I have made a series of encaustic monotype portraits. This unique process involves the transferring of a portrait drawing to the encaustic palette, adding encaustic paint, careful scraping, and finally re-heating and printing.

NOTE: Encaustic painting is an ancient and highly permanent technique in which the vehicle or binder is beeswax. Unlike linseed oil or synthetic resin (e.g. acrylic) binders which dry to harden, the beeswax is heated until molten, mixed with dry pigments to make paint, and, when applied to the painting, cools and hardens instantly. When the painting is completed, the entire surface is reheated to fuse the layers and bond them to the support. This is called burning-in, which is the literal meaning of encaustic.

Although the surface is not as tough as an oil film, encaustic paintings do not darken or yellow with age. Portraits made in the Fayoum district of Egypt as early as the 1st century A.D. are as fresh as if they were painted yesterday. The adhesive qualities of wax also make it an ideal medium for collage.


last update:4/22/09
© Mark Lavatelli