In early February, artist Denielle Harmon invited me to her studio for an introduction to her newest series of encaustic paintings titled “Transcending Decay.” Denielle best summed up her own collection by saying, “Everything changes, everything becomes decayed. As an artist I want to elevate what others see as decay and use it as a metaphor to show there is a choice in the way we evaluate an experience and choose to fall apart or move past the pain to transcend and turn ourselves into something more amazing .”
As I looked around the studio, Denielle’s process began to emerge. On the porch was a container of rusty nails and bolts, two pieces of plywood, and a large roll of sheetrock tape. Harmon explained how she takes a strip of sheetrock tape, puts it on a piece of plywood then lays the rusty nails and bolts carefully onto the strips of tape, creating a “rust print.” Once all elements are where she wants them, Denielle sprays down the entire piece with a salt water mixture and covers it with the second piece of plywood. The creation is then left to cure for 24 hours.
Finished rust prints are incorporated into her encaustic composition. Some of Denielle’s pieces have components that are sewn together while others are rust prints with layers of wax and rusted objects embedded into them. I watched as she worked on the final stages of a piece, removing the unwanted wax with heat and scraping. It looked like great fun and I was excited to jump in and get creative. It only took a short time for me to realize scraping the wax required a lot of strength and patience. Denielle definitely made it look effortless, but as I always say art is work.
Here is more from my discussion with Denielle Harmon:
Why do you create?
Denielle: “Because I cannot not create. It allows me to process myself and the world around me in a non-verbal way”.
What is your new work about and how does it tie into your past work, which was more focused on realism and the figure?
Denielle: “My past work was about understanding the human experience, about our pleasure and pain. It examined the truth that the more you love the more it has the ability to hurt. This new work is about transcending the human experience. It is about the emotional process of growth and how it takes place in people and in the materials that surround us every day.”
What made you want to switch medium from acrylic to encaustic?
Denielle: “I have wanted to work in encaustic for a while. I got a chance to take a workshop at Studio B this year and that allowed me to grow into the new medium. For some time I wanted to find a way to create dimension and depth in a medium. Encaustic seems like that bridge between sculpture and painting. I am also really interested in using rust as a symbol of transition. The encaustic medium allows me to embed rust prints or actual pieces of rusted material into my paintings. I can build up and break down the surface of the painting like we build up an break down the lairs of ourselves.”
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Denielle: “Being awake.” The answer made both of us laugh. She continued by saying, “My work is a constant exploration to understand the human condition, life cycles and the collective consciousness. In this new body of work rust has been very inspiring. For me rust has both a literal and figurative meaning. Every experience is a transcendental move. Something we may see as negative or painful may someday be the thing that transforms our thinking or self into something new and positive. When most people look at rust they see decay and breakdown, something undesirable, and through this body of work I am trying to help people see how decomposition is just a shift to a new part of the life cycle; a transformation into something that is possibly more beautiful.”