written by Erika L. Block
Clare Jorgensen is a Milwaukee-based encaustic artist with a studio located inside Material Studios + Gallery in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward, a collective that houses the workspaces of about fifteen artists, the Frank Juarez Gallery, and two arts organizations. The space as a whole is predominantly open to the public, where art enthusiasts are able to walk through and speak to the artists as they work. “That’s a lot of art, artists, and inspiration. I appreciate the collegiality of everyone being under the same roof. I feel fortunate to be in the space I create in.”
Clare’s primary medium is encaustic, which consists of beeswax, dammar resin (crystallized tree sap), and pigments. Encaustic painting is an ancient technique derived from the Greek word enkaustikos, meaning to heat or burn in. Heat is used throughout the process, from melting the beeswax to fusing the layers of wax. Occasionally Clare also works in cold wax medium, which is also beeswax and resin, but with the addition of a solvent. Prior to discovering and immersing herself in encaustics, Clare practiced papermaking, fiber art and surface design. “I chose the medium after I saw several pieces in an exhibition a few years ago. There was such a luminosity and a glow that I had never seen before. I was familiar with the use of wax as a resist in textile and fiber art, but this use of it was a revelation to me. Such simple and natural elements: wax from bees and resin from trees, with an ancient history that could be used with modern tools – it was irresistible to me!” The 20th century has seen a significant rebirth of encaustic work. It is an irony of the modern age, with its emphasis on advanced technology, that a technique so ancient, labor-intensive, and unpredictable should regain such popularity.
Layers are integral to encaustic work. Each piece is built through layers that contrast in ways that are both subtle and obvious. It relays a history and a transition. When beginning a new piece, Clare begins by writing and mark making, setting the stage for the layers to follow. An appealing aspect to the layered nature of encaustic work is that often the artist is the only one who knows the history underneath, and the many iterations that have taken place before the final product. “If someone asks I tell them – but otherwise, it is my secret.” Layering. Concealing. Revealing. Along the way, early elements recede from the surface but are still present, serving as a quiet yet significant foundation for the new elements taking shape above it.
“The evolution in my work began with rudimentary technical skills and the mistaken belief that I could control the process from beginning to end, and therefore the result. I could not have been more wrong and more humbled by the medium. What I have learned, through my own study and research, and through the wisdom of other accomplished artists and teachers, is that there is no ultimate control of the outcome. When you combine fire and beeswax and resin and pigment, you need to allow things to come to you without forcing an outcome. This can be a difficult lesson, but certainly very worth the trouble. I now only hope to control temperature and air movement and the quality of my materials and my technique. The rest happens in spite of me! I am not disappointed to learn this lesson. It keeps me humble.”
Clare hopes her work will momentarily transport the viewer into the work and make them feel something that resonates with them, whether familiar or unfamiliar. “It delights me when viewers tell me about experiencing wonder and curiosity viewing my work. It is gratifying to share my visual thoughts and emotions with others through the work.” Looking toward the future, Clare Jorgensen hopes to be able to build on the use of both encaustic and cold wax medium as an expressive means of storytelling, to work larger, and to explore sculptural forms that advance the richness of the work.
To learn more about Clare Jorgensen and her work, please visit:
Erika L. Block is a professional writer and designer working exclusively with the art, music, publishing, film and fashion industries. She is also a contemporary mixed media artist.
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