This hot wax mixed with pigment technique has been employed from the time of the Egyptian mummy portraits (100 AD). When the wax hardened and was polished, the surface was impermeable and was meant to last at least as long as the case it adorned. The encaustic surface can be carved into, layered over and embedded with objects. In ancient Greece it was termed enkaustikos.
My travels to archeological and historic sites around the world also included visits to the small museums at many of these sites or in the local towns nearby. Many objects found during excavation, such as tools, jewelry, symbolic or ritual objects were on display and were often beautifully crafted out of stone or terra cotta.
A personal theory is that the Neolithic era, during which many of the sites I visited were created, was the start of abstraction: think of the pre-Cycladic figures from the eastern Mediterranean area or the Bird Stones from central North America made by Native Peoples, both circa 3000 BC. These examples of ancient objects struck me as ‘modern’ if not ‘contemporary’ in form. Yet they represented collective ideas from cultures long gone.
My intention was to do the equivalent of capturing these objects in amber – engrave their image in wax. The ghostly film that can be created by applying, heating and polishing the encaustic material allowed me to do just that.
-Elyn Zimmerman, 2017