Mary Long was born in Ohio and has lived in Tennessee since the mid-1990s. She grew up near Canton, where there is a crazy-quilt patchwork of rural farms and factories. “It is a juxtaposition of abandoned industrial grayness against expanses of happy saturated colors that inspires my work to this day” Long says. She is self-taught in wax encaustic techniques and has been painting with wax encaustic almost exclusively for 12 years.
Long’s work begins with a color scheme and a skeleton of a composition. The artist then describes the rest of her process as a dialogue between herself and the painting. “I begin to have a back and forth conversation with the painting until it seems that the work is final, and nothing more appears to be said.” The encaustic technique involves creating a wax medium from melted beeswax and damar resin. The paint can then be shaped before it cools or manipulated afterward. Long fuses layers together with a heat gun and selectively scrapes or incises some areas. This process is labor intensive and repetitious, but is also, in a way, meditative for her.
Having worked with the encaustic technique for 15 years, Long has learned that the painting may go into a different direction than she originally envisioned, but trying to grip the steering wheel may lead to a ruined painting.“The biggest lesson in working with encaustic paintings,” she says, “is that it is best to follow suit rather than to try to take control.”
Long’s work is a representation of her instinctive response to events of the day. When she first began painting, Long’s lines were straight edge slashes which she connected to a deep hidden anger. Over time, she feels that she has become more placid just as her paintings have gradually softened.
Particularly for the works in our current show, Long presents abstract landscapes that strive to tap into the subconscious and go beyond the surface. The encaustic technique is well-suited for Long’s desire for viewers to not only feel the splendor of colors but also to form an understanding of what lies underneath. The wax medium gives the paintings slight transparency and gives the surface texture, in order that viewers may be prompted to examine the work past the bright colors. According to Long, “A painting may have happy colors, yet worried lines and distressed shapes are clues to what lies beneath.”