Wax Tableaux
Narrative Images, Poured and Carved
Black Powder
You Tread on Yourself
Hockey Fight!
Wine-Dark Sea
Young Woman
Oil Derrick

In the late stages of my senior project at Vassar, I was challenged by my professors to consolidate my parallel interests in sculpture, drawing, printmaking, and photography. I was infatuated by the print process so much so that my prints illustrated the process rather than any conceptual content. Concurrently, I had been experimenting with narrative images by taking stills of films and videos, illustrating moments from works of fiction, and drawing imagined pictures with implied stories. But these all felt like sketches which failed to represent the complex tactility and spatiality of the pictures which reside in the human imagination.

So, to satisfy my need for a physical process and better illustrate the depth inherent to the imagined picture, I began carving my narrative drawings into sculptural wax. First I would heat and pour high-grade microcrystalline wax into shallow volumes and allow it to cool. Then, using a variety of tools (gouges, blades, heat-gun) I carve away and add wax to create a sculptural image.

Since the first few experimental sketches made in cafeteria trays, this new form has proven to be extremely versatile. The three base tones of the translucent wax (umber brown, wheat yellow, and white) can be layered, as ink is in a print, to achieve a multitude of intermediate tones. Expressive pours of the hot wax are reminiscent of loose Pollockesque drips and pools of paint. But, unlike dry paint, the cooled wax remains workable, so that I can carve into it any number of marks, creating sunk relief or inlays. By building up the wax additively, I can create details or forms with mass, in low and high relief, which protrude from the image plane and announce the image’s materiality. The surface can be roughed, buffed to a polish, or textured with innumerable tools or media.

These final images, although representational in content, achieve a material quality independent from the things they seek to represent. These sculptural pictures depict objects and phenomena, but what seems more important than their inclusion are the specific actions that rendered them. Because the wax is capable of almost anything, the challenge becomes finding the most appropriate depiction for the object and the role it plays within the composition’s narrative.

Inspirations, predecessors: glass cameo carvings, Roman schoolchildren’s wax tablets, comic-book panels, coins, inlay, relief sculpture, encaustics (a distant cousin).