“Dark Self”. Life-size, printed on tracing paper, coated with a thin layer of natural beeswax. Won Best of Show by art critic, Bill Arnett
I found Penny Treese’s work in the course of an unusually fortuitous venture into Decatur’s Market Gallery a month or so ago, whereupon I recognized her distinctive style from her series of encaustic figure pieces in No Apologies. Her name had somehow come up multiple times in the course of a week and I decided I should take it as a sign, so I contacted Penny Treese for an interview:
MC: I love the concept and method of creation behind your encaustic works, especially your encaustic figure pieces. I read your statement on the pieces on your website and was wondering if you could go into a little more detail about the connection between aging and beauty that your pieces express? Does the beauty in aging, in general and that which your encaustic figure pieces express, in any way come from the obscured-ness and fadedness that take over with age and make the subject of beauty more mysterious and up to interpretation?
PT: I agree with you, Maggie. With age, our faces/bodies become more obscure and faded, loosing definition with the reduction of collagen production. Distressing my figures allows the subject of beauty to appear more mysterious and up to interpretation. I wish we, as women, as a culture, could do the same. The body of work was birthed from a series of photographs taken by my husband, on our honeymoon. I’m forever grateful that there was a camera nearby to capture those intimate moments, so full of love and trust. I studied them for over 5 years, then finally decided to take them completely out of focus and hold them there, just before the form almost completely disappeared. The effect looks like the figure is being lit by a candle nearby.
After printing the photos on thin art paper, I was moved to drown them in water, douse them with red wine, rub them with salt, coffee and tea…elements and products that age my body. I worked over about 15-20 prints at once, attempting to stay free and loose in a subconscious state; in an automatic writing type of process. I spread them out all over the ground and dried them on various substrates…wood, glass, concrete…exposing them to the sun or hiding them in the dark. I think I became obsessed with experimenting with the photos; embracing the imperfections and laughing out loud and tearing them up as they wrinkled in the sunlight or faded under the water.
Like most women, I struggle with the way our culture treats aging as an evil to avoid. I’m sure I’ve distressed over a hundred prints. I love watching this female figure transform before my eyes, with wrinkles and age spots and tears, sometimes completely disintegrated —and that was moving as well.
MC: Are any of your pieces a form of emotional expression or catharsis? How much of your emotions and present state of mind are reflected in your work?
PT: Depending on the day, I’ll find myself inches away from the mirror, inspecting and criticizing every inch of my face and letting out a huge sigh…here we go. On other days, I will stay 10 feet of the mirror and squint my eyes at my body, emulating the out-of-focus effect that I use on my photographs. Those thoughts help force me into an acceptance of my imperfections by purposefully creating age marks and wrinkles in my artwork; by watching my form fade in the sun and water, becoming more beautiful than the original nude photographs. This helps me with the struggle to find beauty in aging.
My present state of mind will inform the outcome of my paintings and distressed photographs. If I’m feeling particularly critical that day, the images may get shredded or almost disintegrated by my hands and water, salt, wine, or coffee. At other times, I’ll feel a sense of peace and release of scrutiny as I watch the figure float underwater and develop “age spots”, which are gloriously beautiful…
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