November 13th, 2013 · No Comments · By

Artist Julia Sharpe is a good friend who recently had a show at Chroma Arts Laboratory called “Dark Matter” showcasing her innovative techniques in the encaustic medium and beyond. We sat down to talk about her process, both technical and philosophical.

what is encaustic painting?

it is using the encaustic medium, which is a mixture of damar crystals and raw beeswax. i use raw beeswax, some people use bleached beeswax. i’ve used both actually.

how do you get the coloring in the wax? is that from the crystals?

that is from oil, or from the pigment that i use from the oil. i desaturate the pigment out of the oil paint, then mix a very tiny amount of the pigment into the medium. and that’s where the color comes from

if it was exposed to heat would it melt?

this is the interesting thing about these. they will melt if they are exposed to very high temperatures, say 200 degrees. it would have to be intentional. it wouldn’t happen naturally.  the reason why you mix the beeswax with the damar crystals is to make it a more permanent medium. the damar crystals help it set over time and keep it hardened.

that’s not to say that, in fifty years or a hundred years, these paintings won’t experience a shift. in that way they are alive because they’ll never be totally stable.

there seems to be a transition in the visual layout of the show, from the encaustic drawings to these prints…

these are variations of drawings. my method for this is slightly different but similar in that each of the paintings are started with line drawings. i call them cellular marks because they’re very repetitive and very small and i do those initially without little of an idea of a form or shape. they arise out of the process.

this set of monotypes [above] began with a drawing which is then scanned in, then printed out on paper or vellum, and then printed multiple times on that page–depending on what i want or what i find interesting.

this is more about the drawing than the encaustic medium?

it’s about both. it’s about the drawing being a sort of growth that comes out of it, but it’s also about how that growth is revealed through the encaustic medium. in this one, it’s about the drawing but then the encaustic medium provides a surface for me to carve back into, it’s another layer.

what was the development in your method?

i bought a heat gun and i was being told by various people various things such as, ‘let’s dig into it’ and ‘dig into the encaustic.’ i was really just trying to come up with more ways to create more layers and create something that you have to really look at in order to see what’s going on because i want people to have to look hard, i don’t want them to be easy.

easily understood?

easily seen, which can be the same thing as being understood.

i think with these, seeing in a way is understanding them because they’re so much about form and shape. about the intricacies of the patterns and what’s happened. if you’re not looking hard enough you’ll miss something that’s there. you’ll miss a small shape or a line and in that way you’re not seeing it. if you’re not really looking at it, then you’ll miss it and you won’t understand it fully.

it also seems as though there’s a lot of advance technique behind them as well, with the scanning and printing and encaustic medium, how do you negotiate that?

i’m still figuring out the relationship between process and subject matter. with these, i think process is subject matter. but, also, i’m trying to reach for more developed things so that you’re not just constantly thinking, ‘well how did she do that?’ so that it does become more of ‘what’s that form?’ or ‘what’s that shape?’ rather than ‘how?’

a means to an end rather than being, ‘isn’t that a weird technique?’

i think it’s both, at least now.

in your mind, is there something that you want represented? you want it to represent? or is it more of an abstract notion you’re trying to get to?

the drawings are really the root of all of this and i started making the drawings in 2010. i was doing them during a time when i was hanging out with people a lot and having a lot of community-driven things going on. there was a lot of staying up until eight in the morning and talking. i started making these drawings while those conversations were going on.

fast forward, about five or six months, i’m in london and i’m by myself. i’m trying to work through a lot of stuff so i’m making these drawings again. they’re becoming more developed and more intricate. fast forward another five or six months and my mother’s got cancer and i’m still making these drawings. now they’re cancer and then they’re black body radiation. they’re all these others things.

i think of them as a space where very cellular things going on in the body will also collide with these celestial events happening. they’re as much black body radiation as they are cancer cells multiplying as they are thoughts being processed or conversations being had

where’s the line for you between those two things, the physical and metaphysical? the cellular and radiology to abstract thoughts?

i don’t think there is much of a line. i think that in the space of these, that line is definitely blurred. these even may presuppose those things are all one and the same.

i’m thinking a lot about basic units of reality, basic units of the body, basic units of matter and basic matters of speech and thought process. all of that for me comes down to these cellular units or atoms, so these are renderings of all of those things following basic patterns of growth or development.

and it also seems as though some of it is guided by subconscious stuff..some you know maybe more, some you might say ‘i don’t know what that is exactly’?

i think that in some of these it’s like okay, this looks a little bit like a lung, these look figurative and deformed people and these look way more extraterrestrial. so they do lean toward certain things but they all reference one and other with that basic, mechanical, repetitive process.

i can also understand where the drawing comes in as far as being able to lend to that very changing, malleable sense of reality and the building block. how does the encaustic medium complement that idea or add to that idea?

when we were talking about how the encaustic medium can change over time, i see it as an ether that things can sit in and be placed into. it’s almost as though i see, in this piece for example [above], the encaustic opening up so it’s like a layer of reality opening up into it. i think of the encaustic as a way to both acknowledge the layer of reality and peeling it back and opening it up. because the cells have to exist in some sort of a space and that space is the encaustic.

it sounds as though you’ve got a handle on the technical process, but maybe you’re still trying to get your hands on the interpretive element of it. can you talk about that?

i told you at the beginning of the conversation that i want to get to a place where the process isn’t as important, but that’s not really true [laughs] i see the process of the creation of these as parallel to the process of any sort of cellular growth. that’s what i’m trying to philosophically push with these works. i think that comes down to an idea that we all are from some primordial atom, the whole universe comes from this very small place. it makes me think of edgar allen poe’s ‘eureka’. in that, he proposes to disprove the supposed axiomatic truth that a thing cannot be both the thing and not the thing. he spends a lot of time in the piece opposing that argument as a form of western logical thought. he pushes up against it. i think that the idea with these works is similar: that they propose to be both a thing and not the thing. they are both cellular masses in the body and black body radiation, they’re both extraterrestrial figures and humans. they’re both ‘this’ and ‘that.’

what do you find appealling about that?

i think that western form of logic is something i’ve pushed up against for a while. when i was working on reading roberto bolaño’s texts, i found that is really a central ingredient of his work, that things are both dead and alive. things are both human and not human, things are black and white and white and black, everything is itself and not itself all at once. i called this show ‘dark matter’ because i also see them not as visible organisms and not as things that already exist. i see them as imaginative speculations into what’s surrounding us that we can’t see.

a séance in a way? like conjuring up these things that you are grappling with that aren’t available to be seen, like calling them into being?

yes, i like that phrase. there can be millions of things in front of us we’re not seeing so i do see these as calling something into being. or giving form to no form. the reason bolaño came to me just now is because it’s very important for him to call things into being, or call them into voice, or call them into a sort of action. it’s very important for him to write about things that are not given a voice. i think this is tied to that as well.

it’s interesting because it seems as though you are an artistic scientist, by calling the show ‘dark matter’. there’s a lot of biochemical stuff, and cellular stuff you’re referencing, with an extremely subjective and very non-material work..what do you make of that? what do you think of that?

i think they’re imaginative speculations. i do see them as science and i see the science in them. that’s very purposeful. i think  science is very important right now, especially physics and chemistry.

important how?

important because i think science is at a time when it and philosophy can complement one another. where you can believe in a philosophy and an understanding of the world that is backed by science. or you can believe in a science and that’s your philosophy. for me, that’s really what these are, they’re my science and my philosophy. at a very young stage.

it’s as though you’ve decided to take an abstract visual aesthetic and treat it as though it were a scientific field.

and that’s what’s fun about these, they’re so experimental they are like investigations. they’re investigations into what can be called into being.


Julia Sharpe’s website is

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