Durham News: Community

Brushstrokes: Carrack Art abuzz over new exhibit

Detail photo of a set of two encaustic paintings - cherry blossoms at left, and an abstract rendering of the same cherry blossoms, right, by Durham artist Libby Lynn.
Detail photo of a set of two encaustic paintings - cherry blossoms at left, and an abstract rendering of the same cherry blossoms, right, by Durham artist Libby Lynn. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Durham’s Carrack Modern Art, 111 W. Parrish St., is a beehive of activity.

The gallery opened in June 2011 as a zero-commission, no-cost-to-artists community art space. Every 10 days a selected artist gets the door keys, the help of Carrack supporters, and the freedom to transform the space for this time as he or she wishes.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, when Libby Lynn raises the curtains on her show, the Carrack will be abuzz even more than usual.

Lynn will have more than 70 paintings in the show, created using encaustic medium, the main ingredient of which is beeswax.

“For the duration of the show, there will be a living beehive in the gallery,” Lynn said.

Beekeeper Matthew Yearout is making the beehive installation possible and assured Lynn it would not hurt the bees. Yearout will be give a talk in the gallery on urban beekeeping at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20.

At the exhibit opening from 7 to 10 p.m. Nov. 22, Jude Casseday will perform a soundscape that she composed.

“In August, I placed microphones in two of Matthew’s beehives and recorded the sounds,” Casseday said. “This soundscape includes samplings of Libby’s encaustic process – torches, fusing and the chopping of beeswax as it melts – samplings from the beehive recording, and my own composition.” The soundscape, titled “Hot Wax/Shadowdoubt/BeeSynthony,” will loop in the gallery for the duration of the exhibit.

“You tend to think of encaustic works as creatures since they smell faintly like honey,” Lynn said. “You work so closely with the beeswax as you are hovering over the hot griddle used to melt it. You gain a respect for bees.”

Encaustic medium, which in its simplest explanation is melted beeswax colored with pigment, has been used for millenia but has never been mainstream. When artist Jasper Johns spoke about using it in creating some of his paintings, it emerged from its relative obscurity.

“It is having a huge renaissance right now, and I think it has to do with social media and people having access to information,” Lynn said. “Influential people in the encaustic community really do a great job of promoting their work. When people find out about it, they are fascinated.”

“It is unusual,” she added. “It is not something you grow up learning about.”

It is also not a very easy way to make art.

“When you are working with wax, you are working between a solid and a liquid, and it is very difficult to control.” Lynn said. As she will show in a demo about encaustic painting from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, one of the core principles of encaustic is fusing where each layer of laid-down medium is fused to the layer below in order to secure it. Some of Lynn’s works have up to 40 layers.

“Fusing is difficult. I think it is the hardest thing about encaustic in terms of getting the effect you want,” she said.

Lynn will give an artist’s talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, and the show ends Nov. 30.

Lynn, who creates in many media, including video, got drawn into the encaustic world after she saw three very small pieces by Kate Kretz at Raleigh’s Artspace. “I could not figure out what medium she had made them in,” said Lynn. Once she learned about encaustic, she was inspired to take a class in it at the Penland School of Crafts. Now, Lynn teaches classes in the medium at Happymess and at the Durham Arts Council.

Several of the paintings in Lynn’s exhibit are of a mystery woman who is never far from Lynn’s mind.

“I found a postcard in Haight-Ashbury in 1997 of this woman, a hand-colored image,” Lynn said. “It will be on display at the show. There is a date, 1920, on the card but no other identifying text. There are several things about the image that explains why it appeals to me. A lot of it has to do with the color choices in the hand-coloring. There is a lot of contrast but it works effectively and the composition too. It is a lovely image. The simple aesthetic is very striking.

“Then there is her expression. Depending on how I paint her, it is never the same. She has sort of a Mona Lisa thing going on in the original image. I can’t capture this. I don’t know if I will ever be able to do it.”

In addition to her paintings, the exhibit will have lockets, brooches, rings, bracelets, and earrings that Lynn made using encaustic medium.

All of the pieces are for sale, most at prices that even a child who has a sated piggybank can afford. “I believe that art should be affordable and accessible to as many people as possible,” Lynn said. “Art is important, and I think that we have forgotten that.”

Deborah R. Meyer writes every month about the arts in Durham. She can be reached at writetoeloise@gmail.com