Art Seen: Waxing poetic — Medium gives layers of color, meaning


Encaustic work by Marion Nelson is on display at Veronica's Cafe in Kenai.

Encaustic work by Marion Nelson is on display at Veronica’s Cafe in Kenai.

By Zirrus VanDevere,

for the Redoubt Reporter

Being able to attend the First Thursday opening for Marion Nelson at Veronica’s this month was a real joy for me. Not only is she one of my favorite artists on the Kenai Peninsula, but the venue is always an interesting and fulfilling one, whether I am there to look at art, have some tea or a meal, or listen to live music.

These particular activities can, in many instances, be appreciated simultaneously. Having been in upstate New York for the last half a year where there are venues of this kind in abundance, I feel especially thankful to find it in Kenai. Most people know how much these things can satisfy the appetite of a soul.

Nelson’s encaustics are so incredibly satisfying on a very visceral/visual level, and her intelligence is in evidence whether the piece is fully abstract or has elements of a reference to the natural world. The pieces are small, which invite intimacy, and yet they hold up well to distance viewing as a grouping.

Especially exciting for me are the cold wax works, which are not nearly as built up or as shiny as the hot wax works but have a depth of feeling insinuated by bold markings and subtle but well-maneuvered colorings. With the hot wax encaustics, heat is needed to manipulate the media, whereas in the cold wax process, pigment is added to a creamy medium in layers that sets up and becomes workable with tools.

Both processes hint at the intricacies of endeavor/struggle/submission that we find mirrored in our complicated lives, but there is something about the cold wax treatments that Nelson has pulled off that seem to speak of even deeper things. Like a “Heroes Journey” logbook, there is something archetypal about the marks and scrapings and color choices that tell us something about how to live a life. If I were to name the body of work that is developing, I would call it “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained” to honor the obvious amount of work and intense pondering that must have accompanied the completion of many of these pieces.

It’s not easy to grapple with the beast we call “design,” who likes to throw challenges at us that seem insurmountable at times, and it’s not easy to inspect a life with honesty and courage, but if we take the challenge there are places we get to go that otherwise would be entirely unavailable to us.

Working with wax, whether hot or cold, is a difficult task that insists on attentiveness, tenacity and verve.

"Fire in the Belly" by Marion Nelson

“Fire in the Belly” by Marion Nelson

In “Fire in the Belly” the slashing marks that reveal the intense, underlaid color feel very much like the brutal activity of searching deep within our psyches to discover the dragons to be found there, and the warrior stance that has to be held in order to see the mission through. It is that fire in our bellies that urges us onward to find out the elemental truths in our lives that form our experience, whether we admit them to ourselves or not. They are very brave marks, and she is able to portray both a subtlety and subdued sensibility while allowing these intense, sharp jabs at the soft underbelly to which we all must eventually admit our vulnerability.

"Book of Wisdom and Recipes" by Marion Nelson

“Book of Wisdom and Recipes” by Marion Nelson

In “Book of Wisdom and Recipes” we are reminded that a high wisdom needs to accompany the mundane in our lives if we are to find balance. We need to be fed physical food to sustain us, but we also need the wise witch in the woods to add that special magical spice that reminds us that there is always so much more going on than meets the eye. It seems that a column of light pours down from on high, while the book emerges from an earthy bog, reminding us of how connected the two coexistent worlds really are.

"Divets" by Marion Nelson

“Divets” by Marion Nelson

“Divets” could be about the scars we all have from life taking innumerable potshots at us, yet we find we are still standing strong. There are a lot of fleshy colors in these pieces, and in this one especially I detect a body in motion and stories to be told that accompany each of the woundings. Though we may feel pieced together at times, and wonder how we can avoid simply falling apart, if we never venture beyond the castle walls, we will never win the rewards gained by our bravery.

Nelson rises to the challenge here and brings us back some really wonderful tales from her journey, inspiring us to head out on our own conquering missions, and then to share them with the whole of the kingdom.

Zirrus VanDevere is an artist and owner of the former Art Works in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.


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