Encaustic painting is an early painting medium, used by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. In the later case it was used for the well-known Fayum Mummy Portraits, the sometimes strikingly beautiful portraits done on wooden panels attached to mummies in Roman Egypt.
Encaustic painting is a process in which pigment is added to heated beeswax, sometimes modified with damar resin or other hardening agents, and applied to the support while still hot. Though wax is thought of as a fragile substance, the addition of hardeners and the “Punic wax” process, lost and then rediscovered by painter Fritz Faiss in the early 20th Century, make it durable. The encaustic mummy portraits date from 100-300 AD.
Modern artists in the 20th Century, notably Jasper Johns, incorporated encaustic into their work; and the process, demanding as it can be, is experiencing something of a revival.
Kevin Frank is a Brooklyn based contemporary artist who does still life, landscape and portraits in the encaustic medium. His paintings have a beautiful character of texture and surface color, due in part to the way in which the artist must apply the paint, quickly and with finesse, before the wax cools. (Inexperienced painters will sometimes find themselves with a brush stuck to the surface.)
I find the way that Frank uses the character of the paint particularly appealing in his still life subjects, which have a visceral, tactile quality reminiscent of Chardin. His landscapes appear to lean to photorealism when viewed small; viewing the details, however (look for a link to the left in the pages on his web site) reveals a painterly, textural surface.
Frank’s site includes an essay on his work, and the nature of encaustic painting, by Joanne Mattera, painter and author of The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax.
In two of his still life paintings Frank pays tribute to his chosen medium, Still Life with Flag makes reference to objects associated with the work of Jasper Johns; and The Lyre (image above, third down and detail, bottom) refers to the mummy portraits, one of which Frank had a life size reproduction of mounted on a board and keeps in his studio for study.