Meet Encaustic Artist Wo Schiffman Who Combines Science and Nature in Her Art
There are numerous mediums an artist can work with, and it's even more incredible to see how they use these forms to bring their vision to life. Take it from Wo Schiffman, an encaustic artist whose process involves the heating of natural beeswax, tree resin, and powdered pigments into a liquid state. This allows her to paint and fuse these materials together on thin washi paper, wood, stone and other porous surfaces.
“The interaction of extreme heat/cold, the fusing of various elements and the continuous flux between liquid, gaseous and solid states are all part of the process that creates organic and inorganic elements in our universe. In this sense, the creation of an encaustic work is an interactive process similar to processes at work in the natural world,” stated Schiffman.
This philosophy can be seen throughout her work as well as in her current exhibition, Journey: An Encaustic Exhibition at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, which serves a personal narrative and ode to nature. Read on to learn more about her in our latest interview:
How did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Growing up in a house filled with art and science projects (both my parents were scientists), there was never a time when I wasn’t involved in some sort of art project. My mother was an artist who worked as a scientist by day, but spent all of her spare time painting. If you got in trouble for something in my home, you might be relegated to a time out in the art room – so I’ve always felt more comfortable communicating through visual art rather than words.
Early in my life I learned that I could work through uncomfortable life issues by painting so as my life experience expanded, the process of creating art intertwined with my inner process of making sense of the world.
What has the journey been like for you?
The journey of creating art has deepened my connection to the tools and materials that I use. The most unexpected aspect of my lifelong art journey is realizing how much I love the process of creating art. I think when I was younger and taking art classes and learning from other artists I was very focused on the outcome.
At some point, as I began making my own pigments and deepening my connection with all of the materials and tools of encaustic painting, the journey of creating each piece of art became as much about allowing myself to be a participant rather than a driver only focused on reaching the destination. This has profoundly affected my life journey.
Tell us about working with science and art in your work.
Encaustic painting includes heating natural beeswax, tree resin (damar trees) and powdered pigments to about 200 F and painting with it on thin washi paper, wood, stone or other porous surfaces. Besides working with these heated elements, I have incorporated the use of ice and handmade inks into my process.
The preparation and process of creating one of my paintings takes me on a journey which is similar to natural processes that occur throughout the universe: the creation of planets, the changing surfaces of our own systems on Earth and the changes in microbiological environments.
I am constantly interacting with elements that are shifting from liquid to gaseous to solid and back again. The images of other galaxies, distant stars and planets and the microscopic world inspire my work. I believe we, as artists, have an opportunity to share the landscapes of the cosmos and the microscopic world much like artists from the past have shared landscapes of new continents on earth.
Tell us what we can expect from your new exhibitions?
My next exhibition is Conversations in Color, based on a process I conceived of for two artists to have a conversation without words, based solely on sharing original pieces of art. I’ve been developing this body of work with a colleague, Annick Bouvron-Gromek at the Seacoast Artists Association in Exeter, NH.
Our opening reception will be December 15 at the Blue Moon Gallery, 8 Clifford Street, Exeter. The show will hang from December 15-February 20, 2020. The exhibition is based on our conversations through our monotypes. Annick works in ink on Washi paper and I work in encaustic monotypes on Washi paper. Though Annick primarily focuses on botanicals, our exhibition ranges into pure abstraction some using botanicals as the basis for shape and some exploring color without reference to objects. The process and exhibition has inspired an art book, designed by Pratt Professor, David Whitcraft. An additional, expanded version of the exhibition will be showing in New York later in 2020 at the Atlantic Gallery.
What is the artistic process like for you?
As I move through each day I am engaged in a portion of my artistic process. I am fortunate to live in a rural area of New Hampshire surrounded by old growth forest and abutting the Winnicut River and wetlands near Portsmouth. The walks throughout this region expose me to not only the changing seasons and the various plants and animals who live here, but the process of new life and decay.
When I work on a body of work in my studio, the journey of color, light and form in my paintings is not that different from the sensory experiences of my walks along the river or my hours of watching the night sky. Each layer of the painting, each new texture and shift in color reflects my experiences of life. As a participant in the process of translating the landscapes of space or nature into encaustic paintings on wood, paper or stone, I am distilling the essence of my life into my art.