Artist explores the 'place where music lives' in Columbus Museum exhibit

acarlson@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 18, 2014 

Betsy Eby likes fire — and beeswax.

This is not as strange as it sounds: Eby is an artist and her medium is encaustic, which is essentially a heated wax mixture.

Eby — whose “Painting with Fire” is being exhibited at The Columbus Museum through Feb. 23 — is a Pacific Northwesterner, born in Seaside, Ore.

She studied art history in college and spent her childhood playing classical piano.

In her 20s, Eby taught herself to paint in the basement of an old Victorian in Seattle.

She chose encaustic — whose history Eby said traces back to Greco-Roman Egyptian times — for its particularity. What it alone could convey.

“I’m always finding rhythm and finding my rhythmic language, but in the visual context,” Eby said. “So I think early on I wanted to be able to find a medium and a way of painting that made tangible and made material this place where music lives.”

Not many people work with encaustic, Eby said, and everyone works with it differently. Eby’s method seems conventional, but only if you’re looking at the finished product: large canvas that hangs on a wall.

The reality is more strange than it sounds: Eby paints by pouring and smoothing and fusing the encaustic, using hot pots and sheetrock knives and a blowtorch.

(Every work begins the same way, with a birch panel made by her father in his Oregon wood shop.)

“So what you have is a sense of buried history, you have a sense of a visual depth, like you’re receding back into the canvas,” Eby said.

The works may only be an eighth of an inch thick, but they are very, very dense with the weight of the wax.

“They become these solid, solid objects,” Eby said, “yet solid objects and heavy objects trying to convey weightlessness and things that are actually immaterial.”

Eby said she worked with oils and acryllic before coming to encaustic. She said the process itself is rewarding.

“I think the end result, there’s a toughness and a femininity to it,” Eby said. “The process is sort of tough, but the content I’m addressing is emphemeral and delicate.”

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