Wax and Plaster
Before artists employed oil as a medium for binding pigment to create the luminous surfaces of their paintings and even prior to the use of egg-based tempera, the ancient Romans developed the traditions for encaustic painting and what is now called Venetian Plaster to create panels and cover walls with deeply saturated, vividly colorful, seductive pictorial imagery that have a hardened illusionistic surface. These techniques would rise to popularity during various eras throughout the centuries whenever the influence of the ancient Mediterranean world became fashionable, as with the early 19th century, American Classical period when much of the furnishing found were produced. However, moving toward the 20th century these techniques fell into relative obscurity until their rediscover at the end of the millennium.
Mike McMath adapted these seldom used labor intensive mediums for a series of work he began to produce in the first decade of this century. A graduate of the School of Art at the University of Michigan, McMath has held a deep interest in illusionistic painting techniques and faux finishes as well as gilding, sgraffito, and other decorative embellishments. Much like James Abbot McNeil Whistler, McMath is extremely concerned with the surface tension provided by his work. The glistening smooth surfaces of his Venetian painting, suggestive as Whistler stated, “As if breath on a glass,” such is the experience with Ghost Ascending, 2018 or Cold Winter, 2018. There is a certain distance to his compositions in that one looks through the mist behind a glass coating to experience the imagery. Much like his ancient predecessors his work is intended to suggest other mediums, imagined surfaces or the permanence of work set in stone.
The panels in this exhibition explored a range of surfaces through both encaustic and Venetian plaster creating visceral tactile sensations. Both in the ultra-smooth surfaces found on the Venetian plaster pieces to the rich plasticine molten surfaces of the encaustic work one is drawn by the sensations suggested by the surfaces, thus tempting the viewer’s imagination and drawing on their past experiences. The illusions covering the walls were intended to transform the visitor from the confines of their earthly experiences to those of a temporal plane.