Our Interview with Jan Clayton Pagratis...
Q: How did you first learn about encaustic painting and how long have you been working with this medium?
A: Although I had been exposed to Jasper John’s encaustic works ‘Flags & Targets’ while in school, I was first awe struck by the work of artist Michael David after viewing an exhibition at the Lowe Gallery in Atlanta featuring his large encrusted wax paintings. That exhibition was eight years ago and for several years I yearned for the opportunity to work with this amazing medium. Finally, I purchased my first supplies and began slowly learning different approaches to handling the wax.
Q: What do you enjoy most about this medium?
A: That the medium is process oriented and filled with unpredictable turns & shifts. Often, I will play along with the wax, “you know, not fight back,” to see what happens. Other times, I demand that the medium yields to my vision.
Q:What do you like least about this medium?
A:I least like that I am tied to the studio because of the need for electricity. I’m still seeking a hot plein-air palette, not a Bunsen burner.
Q: How would you describe your encaustic artwork?
A: My work tends to be process oriented and the images develop while I’m working on a piece.
Q: Where do your ideas come from for your pieces? Do you have a vision before you start painting or does it develop as you work?
A: I usually will work on several series over long periods of time. This seems to work for me because I can go with one idea for months and then go back to a different series with a spark of new energy and thoughts. Each medium I use or series I work with inspires and pushes forward the other series. For instance, I have a series of paint chip pieces that incorporate found objects and debris from old buildings and the streets of Savannah. These pieces inspired me to use found debris in some of my encaustic works. I usually work with ideas that revolve around living in the Southeast. Another series, I’m working with is a group of landscapes that are inspired by the numerous hurricanes and weather phenomenon. Here in southeastern coastal region of Georgia, the landscape is very flat (this is the low-country) and I am always looking up to see if those weather patterns are going to affect us. The wax is perfect for this series; it’s a little unpredictable as are the storms.
Q: Is there one specific tool or brush that you use in encaustic that you feel is a must-have for all encaustic artists?
A: Besides the standard hot pad and heat gun, I love all my clay tools, especially the scrappers.
Q: Do you have a favorite encaustic technique that you find yourself doing often in your pieces?
A: I have a tendency to want to mix it up a bit. If I do one thing for too long, I get bored and I believe the work suffers. At the same time, I know that in depth work often takes years to develop. In part, this is another reason I like to have several series ongoing.
Q: I noticed you also work in oils and other media as well, how does working in encaustic compare?
A: Often I find overlap between the different mediums. With oils and encaustic this overlap can be very direct; i.e., sometimes I will add oil paint to the wax. At other times, it may an image that developed in oil or collage that inspires a wax piece. I believe a major difference between encaustic and other mediums is the need for electrical equipment (at least in the way I work). I have a friend who uses a torch but still needs a hot palette.
Q: What do you want people to walk away with when they see your pieces?
A: I want people to see beyond the medium and envision the environment in which they were created. I hope they are able to understand a little about life in the coastal southeast, with its historic spaces, daily concerns, and future expectations.
Q: In your opinion, how do you think galleries are responding to encaustic work?
A: Many gallery directors are unfamiliar with encaustic works and how to handle them. However, once they understand the parameters, the response is usually favorable because they are excited to see a new medium. As a gallery owner myself, I’m very pleased with the response from the public.
Q: Can you think of a favorite encaustic show or exhibit that you may have enjoyed and why? (This can include exhibits shown at The Chroma Gallery as well!)
A: My favorite exhibition of encaustic work was the show I mentioned earlier of Michael David at the Lowe Gallery. In Savannah GA, the Chroma Gallery carries the work of several encaustic artists of which I happen to be one.
Q: Do you personally teach any encaustic workshops or lectures? If so, is there any coming up soon that artists can sign up for?
A: I have taught a couple of workshops but don’t have any new ones scheduled at this time. If someone is interested, they can forward their name and contact information for a list I maintain specifically for workshops.
Q: Are there any historical or contemporary artists that you specifically admire or that may have influenced you in some way as an artist?
A: Artists such as William De Kooning, Milton Resnick, and Joan Mitchell along with others of the abstract expressionist movement are some of my favorites. However, one of my professors from the George Washington University, Arthur Smith is probably the person who helped me to become the artist that I am today.Through Arthur’s eyes each student was worth the time, effort, and drain of his energy that we required to progress. I am truly a better artist and person for having worked with him.
Q: If you were encouraging someone to try encaustic painting, what would you say to attract them to the medium?
A: The luminosity of the paint layers is unparalleled in painting.
Q: With that in mind, do you also have any advice for artists who are just starting in encaustic?
A: Mostly, that one should experiment with as many techniques as they can. The more one understands the medium, the better they will be able to create their own vision.