Wax on

Joan Sullivan
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Jillian Waite brings encaustic texture to The Leyton's annual summer show

Not so much a theme exhibit as a collective display of the gallery, "Our Annual Summer Show" at The Leyton Gallery includes paintings, prints, drawings and multi-media works from 17 artists. Among them, Jillian Waite has some encaustics, fairly small works whose properties give them a visual heft and lustre. Waite often portrays objects, like china or teapots, which are not only compelling in their own lines and forms, but also deeply imbued with personal histories and associations. Her palette, too, often of thick and creamy ivories and russets, is deliberately personal. A few days before the exhibition opened, Waite dropped by the gallery to discuss her work.

Encaustic (a kind of painting with hot coloured wax) can be tricky, but those who use the method seem devoted to it, both for its own technical practices and for its sometimes capricious results. "Whatever image I start with is never the same at the end," said Waite. The wax temperature helps determine the colour, for example, so a lesser or greater degree of heat will affect the tone. To Waite, this is not something fickle or overdemanding, but a chance to "play."

"Lula," by Jillian Waite encaustic on panel. Submitted photo

Not so much a theme exhibit as a collective display of the gallery, "Our Annual Summer Show" at The Leyton Gallery includes paintings, prints, drawings and multi-media works from 17 artists. Among them, Jillian Waite has some encaustics, fairly small works whose properties give them a visual heft and lustre. Waite often portrays objects, like china or teapots, which are not only compelling in their own lines and forms, but also deeply imbued with personal histories and associations. Her palette, too, often of thick and creamy ivories and russets, is deliberately personal. A few days before the exhibition opened, Waite dropped by the gallery to discuss her work.

Encaustic (a kind of painting with hot coloured wax) can be tricky, but those who use the method seem devoted to it, both for its own technical practices and for its sometimes capricious results. "Whatever image I start with is never the same at the end," said Waite. The wax temperature helps determine the colour, for example, so a lesser or greater degree of heat will affect the tone. To Waite, this is not something fickle or overdemanding, but a chance to "play."

She also says she came to encaustic because "I'm not a painter." She had tried oil and acrylic, but found them not for her. Instead, "I did a lot of sculpture and fabric work, I enjoy the three-dimensional." Then, "just by chance," during a few classes during her last year at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College (she graduated in 2007) she had a couple of sessions with encaustic. "And I loved it."

Like sculpting or textiles, encaustic is very tactile. There is a certain weight and width to the tools. Waite's working process is to take a lot of wax and also paper, often found bits with a surface or motif that caught her eye. Wallpaper patterns can also be used to add life and rhythm. These become incorporated with the wax, applied to birch panels.

This choice of "canvas" also comes from Waite's tactic of keeping her eye open for promising material. She has used different types of found wood but decided birch seemed the easiest and most receptive. She also seeks out items for impressing the wax, like a pen tray she saw in an antique shop, which she picked up for its decorative scroll edging.

One of Waite's works in the show is "Lula," a bright city scene of a cluster of houses under a sunny sky. The neat, primary-coloured geometry of the architecture nicely contrasts with the windblown blue, yellow and green mottling overhead. "This is one of the new things I'm doing, cityscapes instead of objects and found collectibles," Waite explained.

The source is Facebook, where Waite's friends were posting photos of themselves in the exotic locales they had visited. Waite found herself more and more intrigued by the backgrounds, though these were often a very small aspect of the picture. For "Lula," the cross section she worked from was only 1" x 1." And, with that in front of her, she sketched on the board, filled in the colour, added paper, and enhanced the fine lines. She found her colours getting increasingly vibrant, while the dynamism of the sky "is layering, lots and lots of layers. I keep building them up. The last couple of layers almost a dry brush."

"Lula" does not obviously stem from a personal connection to Waite - it's not titled "My Friends on Their Honeymoon" or anything, for example - but that link is there, just as it is in Waite's still lifes. She has presented arrangements of apothecary jars, old keys and sewing machines, all of which are collected by either her mother or her grandmother. And the tonal scale she uses with these objects incorporates colours she associates with these people, too. "They represent them." This is something she will continue to explore - "working with the collectibles people close to me collect" - along with pursuing more cityscapes.

Also in the "Summer Show," there are paintings by Phil Simms, deftly articulated in brown and gold; Michael Pittman's work is somehow suggestive of illustration, with characters like a red bear featured under a green sky or nearby a white geodesic dome; and among the many other works there is a striking cow portrait from Sarah Hillock, and Louise Sutton's gently compelling four-panel "Robin."

"Summer Show" continues until Aug. 22. Michael Connolly's "Close to Home," a solo show of lithographs and drawings of a detailed, observant naturalism, opens concurrently but closes July 25.

Summer work

Organizations: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Leyton

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