"Art is a simile of creation" - Paul Klee (1879-1940)
As I portray aspects of our urban industrialized landscape, I am reminded of the complexities that creation can present; powerful, majestic, harmonious yet vulnerable, fragmented and broken. These characteristics provide inspiration and become my reality. Working in acrylic, mixed media and encaustic, I am drawn to the later for it's luminous appearance, unpredictable challenges and therapeutic qualities. The process of applying then scrapping back the wax is intriguing, often revealing within the layers unusual striations, patterns and textures.
Concrete forms the foundation for many of my artworks and reclaimed pieces of metal are strategically incorporated. Juxtaposed against these two materials, the tree becomes a metaphor for life signifying the passage of time while geometric shapes and planes represent stability in an every changing climate. Photographs taken of the urban environment become a source of reference and are often manipulated, transferred, and fused between layers of wax. Mappings, surface markings, renderings and text are components that help stimulate the creative process and bring the artistic journey to completion.
Through the integration of diverse elements and characteristics, I hope to restore an equilibrium between nature and industry while striving to maintain a reverence for the relationship between our natural and man-made worlds.
I’d like to start off by saying that Mike and I first met Erna at the Encaustic Conference 2012. She came to the Enkaustikos booth several times during the weekend and we really enjoyed talking with her and getting to know a little bit about her. We were eager to see her art during the Hotel Fair portion of the weekend. Much to Mike’s dismay, she had sold the pieces he was interested in purchasing. Over the course of the summer, we managed to meet up with Erna while traveling to Canada for a store demo and began what I would call a more formal business relationship. Erna then came to Rochester to work with us and receive training to become an Enkaustikos Instructor and Demo Artists. Much to Mike’s delight, Erna brought with her a piece of art she had recently finished and now Enkaustikos is the proud owner of an Erna de Vries original.
Here is an informal interview with Erna.
Erna, I guess we will start at the beginning.
Q.Tell us how you first came to know about the encaustic medium.
A. My exposure to wax came about in a rather unusual manner when in the early 1970s wax was used in treatment after foot surgery. The sensation of placing my foot in a vat of warm liquid wax, allowing the wax to cool and solidify to create a mold, was a fascinating experience and the healing properties of wax was very therapeutic. Years later I was again drawn to wax after studying the paintings of Jasper Johns, and, after seeing some encaustics in a Toronto gallery, decided to experiment for myself, resulting in a love for the encaustic medium.
Q.What is special about working with encaustic for you?
A. The fluidness and spontaneity of the wax enhances artistic creativity since wax seems to have a life of its own. It’s almost as if the wax communicates with me and demands respect before it is willing to co-operate and allow me to work without restraints. The natural origins of wax, the purity of the wax product and its’ luminous qualities are very appealing to me.
Q. Where does your inspiration come from?
A. My inspiration comes from the environment, rock formations, landscape, burlap wrapped trees, architectural elements and more. Creation is powerful yet vulnerable, majestic but fragmented and broken. This reality becomes my canvas and allows me to express and interpret it in personal ways.
Q. How about artists that you specifically admire or one that may have influenced you in some way as an artist?
A. Many artists have inspired me however an artist who has really moved me was Vincent van Gogh whose life long struggle was captured so intensely on his canvases. Vincent’s passion, his artistic vision and his dedication to his art have reaffirmed that art indeed reflects the soul.
The encaustic portraits of Napoleon created by Tony Sherman are very powerful; capturing the essence of the French Revolution through their luminosity and translucent surfaces and I was privileged to have the opportunity to meet and hear Tony speak about his work.
Also, the grid like divisions of Piet Mondrian and the thought provoking colour field paintings of Mark Rothko have influenced my work.
Q. So, when you actually begin your creative process, do you plan things out? Do you just allow for the spontaneous?
A. My mind is filled with images and ideas – the challenge is to allow the concept to become a reality. Drawing is not my forte however doodles, layouts, experiments and photography all become part of my working process. When I don’t plan, time and material is often wasted and I end up scraping the wax back to the initial layer. There are times however, that I devote entirely to experimenting and playing with the encaustic medium, allowing the wax to take the lead and dictate what direction it wants to take, resulting in more spontaneous compositions.
Q. The work of yours that I am familiar with seems to be in a series. Can you speak about some of the concepts, ideas and materials used in your work?
A. Currently, I am working on a series of encaustic pieces that are rooted in landscape with tree imagery; the tree being a metaphor for life and representing the passage of time. Often I incorporate photo transfers using altered photos taken by myself and my husband and I frequently use reclaimed pieces of metal in my work. Each piece is carefully selected for its patina, cut to a predetermined size and nailed to grid like divisions on wooden cradled panels. I like the juxtaposition of metal and wax and added collage elements like handmade paper provide visual interest.
The “Concrete City/Jungle” is another series I am exploring using poured concrete and collage techniques utilizing architectural elements and environmental mappings reflecting the encroachment of our cities into the landscape.
Q. Can you share your color palette with us and explain how the use of color is an important element in your work?
A. I have always been drawn to a neutral, earthy, almost monochromatic colour palette in both my personal surroundings and paintings. This colour palette is derived from the colours observed in rock formations, stone, concrete, earth and metals reflecting my interest in natural materials and my desire for harmony and tranquility.
Traces of colour are selectively added to the painting surfaces or embedded between layers. Colour is used to enhance rather than dominate the composition and provides an element of surprise.
Of the four seasons in nature, the colours found in a Canadian winter inspire me the most.
Q. Do you work in other media?
A. Encaustic is my main medium, however I also like to work in acrylic and mixed media. This allows me to work on a larger scale however storage, studio space and transportation becomes more of a challenge.
Q. How have your years of teaching art at the secondary school level influenced you and your work?
A. Teaching full time, university studies, writing curriculum and a family did limit my personal artistic development. While teaching, it was rewarding to see students progress in the arts, develop confidence in their work and experiment with new ideas. Interacting and dialoging with students about art, stimulated and energized me. I introduced encaustic painting and welding techniques to my senior students and they were immediately hooked on both. Exposing students to a wide variety of media and genres has allowed me to streamline my own interests and pursue work in encaustic, concrete and metal.
Q. How do you share your talents? Do you personally teach any encaustic workshops or lectures?
A. Art is a gift to be shared with others. My love for education allows me time to team teach an art education course at the local university and supervise a teacher candidate. I have conducted various art workshops, judged art for local fairs and fine arts competitions and will become a product demonstrator for Enkaustikos. I plan to offer encaustic workshops in both my home studio and area facilities.
Q. What final words would you like to share about you, you art, your thoughts?
A. My work represents but a small thread in a large tapestry called art. I am humbled when people identify with and appreciate my work recognizing that art is very personal and subjective. It is sometimes difficult for an artist to retain integrity and not conform to public opinion. An artist needs to maintain a vision regardless of other people’s reactions though it is affirming when responses are positive.
Take time to experiment, work hard, and be patient.
As expressed so accurately by Mark Rothko “Art is an adventure into an unknown world which can be explored only by those willing to take the risks.”