March 4, 2010

Racine Arts Council unveils encaustic wax art show Saturday

Racine's newest art show is based on one of the world's oldest art forms.

The Racine Arts Council is unveiling an encaustic wax art show on Saturday featuring four local artists who use melted wax to create paintings and sculptures. Artists Maggie Venn, Nirmal Raja, Jay Mollerskov and Kathleen Laybourn have pieces in the show, which has an opening reception Saturday from 6-9 p.m. at the Arts Council, 316 Sixth St.

Encaustic comes form the Greek word "enkaustikos," which means "to burn in." Encaustic painting consists of pigment mixed with beeswax and then applied with heat, which explains the title of the Arts Council's show, "Burn, Baby, Burn!" (Right: Urban Landscape by Maggie Venn.)

Mollerskov, curator of the show, said the four contributing artists show off encaustic painting's wide variety of uses. While he uses wax to create paintings that he literally sets on fire, Venn and Raja use wax to embellish collage and sculptures. Laybourn pours melted wax over life-sized dresses to create elaborate sculptures that will hang in the Arts Council gallery.

"Everyone approaches it differently," Mollerskov said. "Rather than have thematic content for the show, the medium itself is the theme."

"The pieces complement each other," he added, "but there's a nice variety."

Mollerskov said one of the surprises he discovered in putting the show together was the large number of artists between Kenosha and Milwaukee who work with encaustics. That fits with a national trend, which has seen encaustics gain in popularity after a lull dating back to the 1960s when Jasper Johns was creating his famous target paintings.

That's not to say encaustics are trendy. Some of the oldest paintings in the world were created with wax on the tombs of Egyptian mummies nearly 2,000 years ago.

"Burn, Baby, Burn!" will be at the Arts Council through the end of April. The gallery is open most days from noon to 4 p.m., or by appointment if you call the gallery at (262) 635-0261.

(Left: Encaustic painting by Jay Mollerskov)


  1. It's a shame that they don't have any replicas or photos of the Egyptian encaustic portraits. They tend to date from the Roman occupation of Egypt. By and large, the Egyptian encaustic portraits from that period are extremely lifelike and exquisitely detailed. Indeed, the jewelry and coiffures are so well depicted that examining those features can help art historians determine when the encaustic portraits were made.

  2. Furthermore, the Coptic Christians and the Byzantines produced encaustic icons. I rejoice that encaustic art is back in style.

  3. Thanks for the nice article Dustin! We're all excited about the show.

    Here's a link to the Fayum mummy portraits mentioned above:

    and this link shows a photo of one of the encaustic icons:

  4. Dear Jaymo, Many, many thanks!