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WAXING ON

Karen Zibert: the artist has to make the wax happy

Pulling together for Rokoko show

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Karen Zibert began her artwork with inks and watercolors, but something caught her attention four years ago while living in Albuquerque when she happened upon an exhibit at the Encaustic Art Institute in Santa Fe.

“Gee, that looks interesting,” Zibert thought, so she began investigating.

Zibert and a friend traveled to the Encaustic Art Institute for a day-long introductory class on wax. It wasn’t an instant love affair, but she did “get lucky” when her first piece was accepted into a show in Albuquerque.

Zibert’s encaustic work is featured through Oct. 26 at Rokoko Art Gallery in Mesilla along with the work of Carrie Green for a show called “She Waxes.” The reception is Saturday, Sept. 14. 

The practice of encaustic wax dates at least to biblical days, when the ancients painted death-mask portraits of people.

“It’s just one of those things you just have to try it and make all the mistakes and a mess and all that stuff,” Zibert said. “And that’s what I did. I also learned most of my things from YouTube – watching other people and trying to soak everything up. Picking out the things I don’t like and things I do like and trying them myself.”

Learning that the artform uses beeswax, Zibert said her husband, Jack, thought it would melt with the heat. But encaustic is a term for heating and fusing the wax, so it is mixed with a hardening medium, Damar resin. It does not melt easily.

Karen buys beeswax sheets from a friend in Albuquerque who raises bees and mixes the resin in. This results in a yellowish substance which she colors with pigments, or crayon. She often replicates her own original artwork from earlier by printing it and affixing it to wood, then building layers of colored wax on top.

“I’m not real good at abstract,” she said, “but sometimes I will try some freeform.”

Encaustic wax “is a little bit like watercolor in that it is not too controllable,” she said. “You just don’t know exactly what you will get.”

In fact, sometimes the wax just doesn’t quite agree with the artist’s ideas. “So, you make it happy,” Zibert said.

She’s not above taking other people’s “wonderful art” and using it because “I think that is saying ‘Hey, I really like what you have done so I am just doing my thing with it.’”

Two years ago, the couple moved to Las Cruces, where Karen also paints pets on consignment. On a wall in her workspace is the original encaustic piece that earned a show spot in Albuquerque. The work is a pale honeycomb with a bee, all in wax. Her desk space holds her hot wax and potters and dental tools she uses to work the wax. There’s a set of pan pastels with which she finishes most of her works.

“I still love working with ink and stipple,” Zibert said. “Then I watercolor after, over the ink. So I still do my ink. But wax is my focus.”

Editor’s note: Next week: Carrie Green.

Elva K. Österreich may be reached at elva@lascrucesbulletin.com.

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