“I paint large scaled, nature-based abstractions in wax, with a blow torch.”
As a classically trained pianist music is an integral part of the life of American lyrical abstract painter Betsy Eby and as such informs her work to a major extent.
As she told The Paris Review’s Liz Arnold “When you start playing music at the age of five, it’s just all in you. It’s the way that you move through the world and perceive it—you see rhythms everywhere. You see what you look for—the phrase—and what you become steeped in; that shapes the lens through which you see the world. So certainly the music is in me. It’s in me inherently.”
However Eby found her artistic voice not in music, but in encaustic painting; the century’s old method involving beeswax, damar resin and pigment applied in translucent layers that are fused together by heat which in Eby’s case is supplied by a blow torch.
Eby came to this ancient art form that dates back to the 4th Century BC through her study of history. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History from the University of Oregon with the emphasis being in Greek, Roman and Asian antiquities. An interest also informed by music, as she has explained “I think my study of antiquities grew out of my primary study of classical piano, perhaps, because that’s a nod back to ancient composers.”
Essential self-taught, Eby experimented with oils and acrylics before settling on encaustic painting. As she told the Ledger – Enquirer “They become these solid, solid objects, yet solid objects and heavy objects trying to convey weightlessness and things that are actually immaterial…The process is sort of tough, but the content I’m addressing is ephemeral and delicate.”
With her paintings having been described as being “more of a verb than a noun” her visual voice resonates with a musical ambiance. As she has said “I wanted to give a voice to the unsayable. What is it about a resonating musical line that sends you into nostalgia or melancholy? That’s that world of the unsayable. That sense of ambiguity, of trying to create something that isn’t absorbed just at first pass—I think that taps the quality of musical sound.”
Eby’s museum touring exhibition Painting with Fire is currently on show at the University of New Orleans’ Ogden Museum of Southern Art until the 25th of October.