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MODERNIZING ANCIENT TECHNIQUES: Liz Hosier talks about the encaustic process and abstract painting

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For 10 years Liz Hosier has been working in encaustics and oil and cold wax—a process that combines layering and texture, a perfect fit to add greater depth to her abstract paintings. Despite  having received an MBA and a BS in Mathematics and working in IT at UNC-Asheville and UNCW for 30 years, her love of art never waned as she studied painting in her 20s. “I definitely am a left brain/right brain person,” Hosier says. “While at UNCW I studied art history and studio art.” When she retired a little more than a decade ago, she started exploring her artistic voice even more. 

Art in Bloom gallery owner Amy Grant saw Hosier’s work in 2018 at ACME Art, where Hosier has studio space. Grant was drawn to the artist’s techniques, especially her encaustic style of working. “When I visited the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, I was impressed with the vivid encaustic portraits on wood from thousands of years ago,” Grant tells. “Liz’s abstract interpretation and use of encaustic techniques reminds me of the beauty and quality of the ancient art I saw in Cairo—different subject matter, but the same feeling of well-made art and vivid images traveling through time.”

Hosier did a group show with Art in Bloom at the beginning of 2019. Her work is on display for the next three months at Platypus and Gnome, a satellite venue that Art in Bloom utilizes to showcase local artists’ works. “Liz’s originality and experimentation jump out at me every time I visit her studio,” Grant says. “Many people who view and purchase Liz’s art have commented on the colors, textures and playfulness of the art.”

encore spoke with the artist, whose work is on display at the downtown restaurant through May 4.

encore (e): What draws you to abstracts?

Liz Hosier (LH): The challenge . . . I find it very rewarding and often frustrating. My abstract work is process-based, which gives me freedom to consider a variety of techniques, colors and materials as the work develops. I evaluate relationships of colors, texture, shapes and line through each step of the process, letting them guide me forward—talking to me, if you will.  I enjoy the possibility of changing directions or trying something new, as the piece speaks to me.

e: Can you tell us how you “see” this style of painting as you’re doing it—or what you “hear”? Perhaps take us through the process.

LH: My cold-wax process is very different from encaustic [which involves hot wax]. Both use layers but are applied differently. I mix cold wax with oil paint to add body and enable the paint to dry faster to facilitate the layering process. It consists of using a variety of tools and media, such as adding and extracting the paint layers, creating texture and mark-making. As the process develops, I consider where and how the colors, marks or texture should be applied, as I listen and watch the painting evolve.

e: What was the current series at Platypus inspired by? Are they all new works?

LH: All the works in the show have been painted in the past nine months, specifically for this show.

Oil/cold wax has been my primary medium for several years, and I have taught this process at Cameron Museum of Art since 2015. Over the last two years, I have returned to the encaustic process, and last summer began working with encaustic monotypes. Each process is unique in how it uses beeswax. I envisioned this show as a way of demonstrating some of the versatility of “beeswax,” thus the name “Ways of Wax.” The cold wax is a beeswax medium that requires the wax and pigments be melted and fused, and has an additive to make it soft and pliable to mix with the oil paints.

Encaustic monotypes [a printmaking technique] is a new process I began using last summer. It uses encaustic pigments for printing and encaustic medium for a final coat.

e: So what is encaustic, exactly?

LH: Encaustic, meaning “to burn in or fuse,” is an ancient painting medium first practiced by Greek artists as far back as the 5th century B.C. The oldest known pigment binder, encaustic combines molten beeswax with dry pigment and tree resin. Since it is impervious to moisture, it was used to seal the bottoms of ships/boats.

Encaustic painting, like the cold-wax process, is very process-based. It requires a heated palette (I use a pancake griddle) with metal cups to melt the encaustic medium (which is filtered beeswax and damar resin crystals) and color pigments. The process involves multiple layers of medium, followed with layers of pigment. Each layer is fused with the previous one, using a heat gun or blow torch. I enjoy the back and forth with the pigments and medium, and the varied effects achievable through texture, color and collaging. I am totally enamored with the finish, which is translucent and shiny. Everyone wants to touch it, and I encourage them to do so.

Encaustic monotypes are a bit different and involve a heat source with an aluminum sheet over it. I draw on the sheet with encaustic color pigments then print on rice paper from sheet. Multiple prints can be made on a single sheet of paper. The paper is then adhered to a paneled board, and encaustic medium layered on top with layers always being fused.

e: How do you know when to walk away from a completed piece?

LH: Wow! This is really a great question, and I am asked this all the time by my students. Although it may not seem that way, abstract painting does adhere to good composition rules. When I get to a stage that I “feel” the piece is done, I assess the painted surface, colors, and composition elements based on an internal checklist. The next step, and [this is] very important, is to take the piece and hang it some place where I can look at it for several days. It allows me to better reflect on the work, something hard when you’re so intimately involved with it. It is amazing the little inconsistencies that suddenly appear.  Some of these small tweaks can often make big differences in the final work.

e: What is next for you: new series, new shows in 2020, new techniques you want to try?

LH: I have a show in August at Citrine Gallery.  I hope to create a totally new series. I am a member of the Diverse Works artist group here in Wilmington. We have an annual ACME show each year; this year it will be in September. It’s always a highlight with such a great group of diverse artists, and it always challenges us create a show harmonious with our various styles. I also have a show in Asheville at Avenue M restaurant with two other artists.  This will be our third show there.

As for new techniques, I definitely plan to work more with encaustics. I feel I have only begun to explore the possibilities.

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