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BRIEF BIO

Lew GrahamI studied drawing and painting at the Art Students League in New York City and subsequently at the the Ruskin School of Drawing at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. I’ve painted in oil for many years. My principal outlet for showing and selling my work has been in commercial galleries and other exhibition spaces. I’ve worked and shown in England, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York City, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and now, North Carolina.

Although I’ve painted portraits and still lifes, my main focus has always been on landscapes. And since I am an ardent tree lover, the landscapes eventually became just treescapes. First they showed green trees, and then, bare trees. I have always loved the branch patterns of winter trees. It was the play of light and shadow on tree leaves and limbs that shaped my compositions. From the bare branches it was a short step to using actual branches, both as collage elements and as filler for boxes I made to hang on the wall. I see that activity as my scientific pursuit – putting nature into boxes. Making the boxes is an activity that I return to periodically. In fact, I like to do a lot of different things and that’s why my work is so diverse.

Now my work is more abstract but I still employ images and shapes from the natural world. I like to combine these with the grid, a structure that represents the man-made, intellectual component, sort of like the box. It’s fun to combine these two strands of experience.

I have been working with encaustic as well as oil for the past few years. (See below) The medium has permitted me, or almost made it necessary, to address different ways of working out my ideas. These paintings are more abstract than my previous work and they explore qualities of surface and depth in ways that are new to me. I am still using the grid to structure the pieces and they still refer to nature and landscape by means of the collage elements. Some pieces dispense with natural artifacts and simply place panes of color within the grid. And when I’m finished with this body of work I’ll do something different.

STATEMENT

In my most recent paintings, I’ve been using the grid as my formal base. Within that I’ve produced some color block paintings where one basic color is varied from block to block by layers of glazes. These subtle variations produce motion within the piece and they also create an emotional climate. The color lock pieces use an active compositional component which implies both confrontation and interrelationship. The question that I’ve been working with is, how much can I express within this limited compositional form.

The medium I use is encaustic, a beeswax based paint. It lends itself to being applied in layers; each layer is fused by heat to whatever is beneath it. This can produce an actual depth and glow peculiar to this medium. In my latest grids I use layers of wax glazes to build up translucent colors that seem to glow from within.

Other encaustic pieces have combined the grid with other layered images and collage elements. Some also use dense layers of twigs and seeds collaged under wax.

I do oil paintings and assemblage as well as encaustic paintings, but in recent years I’ve concentrated on encaustic. This medium is so versatile that I’m still exploring ways I can use it; it has opened up new expressive possibilities for me that are very exciting.

ENCAUSTIC PAINTING

Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. The liquid is then applied when molten to a surface – usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials are often used. I make wood panels for my supports.

The simplest encaustic mixture can be made from adding pigments to beeswax, but there are several other recipes that can be used — some containing other types of waxes, damar resin, linseed oil, or other ingredients. Pure, powdered pigments can be purchased and used, though some mixtures use oil paints or other forms of pigment. I make my own encaustic medium by mixing beeswax and damar resin, but I purchase the colored paints that I use.

Metal tools and special brushes can be used to shape the paint before it cools, or heated metal tools can be used to manipulate the wax once it has cooled onto the surface. Today, tools such as heat lamps, heat guns, and other methods of applying heat allow artists to extend the amount of time they have to work with the material. Because wax is used as the pigment binder, encaustics can be sculpted as well as painted. Other materials can be encased or collaged into the surface, or layered, using the encaustic medium to adhere it to the surface.

Encaustic is arguable the most ancient of mediums. The Greeks used wax to caulk their ships, and then added color to the wax to paint them. Encaustic was notably used in mummy portraits from Egypt around 100-300 CE and other early icons, as well as in many works of 20th-century American artists. Jasper Johns began the recent interest in the medium, which is becoming increasingly popular with artists because of its beauty and versatility.