CLIFTON FORGE — “Art on Fire,” a selection of encaustic (hot) and cold wax works by Gina Louthian-Stanley, opened Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center.

Encaustics are one of the world’s oldest art techniques. Funereal portraits using medium have been found at ancient Egyptian, Geek and Roman burial sites, preserved so well that they look fresh and almost new.

The word encaustic means to “burn in.” Bees-wax, Damar rosin and oil paint are combined with colored pigments and this is applied to a firm surface with a variety of tools.

As successive layers are applied, each is “burned in” or fused to the one below, often using a small hand-held butane or propane torch, creating a deeply translucent effect. When the built-up surface has cooled sufficiently, it can be buffed to a smooth glass like surface.  

“Cold wax” is done by mixing oil paint into the wax and applying it to the firm surface without fusing the layers. It has a different, more matte or textural look. 

The two processes can be combined with each other, but only with cold wax on top of the encaustics. Artists can also incorporate other materials such as tar or photo transfers.

Cold wax pieces generally have a very different look and a more matte finish, but both techniques offer a wide range of surfaces and quickly become recognizable to an artist unique style.

Gina Louthian-Stanley is an artist, writer, and teacher living in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. She discovered art at an early age and continued her artistic journey to college and beyond.

She earned a Bachelor of Studio Arts Degree from Hollins University, with a thesis on monotype printmaking, then followed up with a Master of Science Degree from Radford University.

Recent independent classes and workshops have led her to explore alternative surfaces and combine various mediums with hot (encaustic) and cold wax techniques.

Today she shares her artistic knowledge by teaching. She teaches high school art classes and all ages of students at the Studio School in Roanoke, workshops for the League of Roanoke Artists, at the Art Box in Lynchburg and in Ashville, N.C.  

She has won numerous awards for her work, both regionally and nationally. Her work may be found in several galleries including the AHACC, the Pierre Daura Collection (Lynchburg), Virginia Western Community College Art Collection (Roanoke), and the Encaustic Art Institute (Santa Fe, N.M.) as well as many private collections. 

Recent exhibitions include Open Studios of Roanoke, Melting Point: Contemporary Encaustic Works, Sarah B. Smith Gallery, Charlottesville, and others.

Louthian-Stanley’s work was recently included in the June 2019 Encaustic Arts Magazine, and in Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Con-cepts and Conversations by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin.

Her website and artwork have also been reviewed by Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor of Woven Tale Press; she was one of the featured artists in the inaugural 2019 and 2018 print editions. 

Each work begins without a preconceived image, but with a series of random colors and textures, then adds marks and images, sometimes with brushes and scrapers, but often with her hands.

 “I believe a painting is not made with theory alone — the choice of materials is a vital component,” said Louthian-Stanley. “I like working in both cold wax and hot (encaustic) wax. I may begin with a predetermined medium, color palette or technique, but the work develops intuitively.

“I like to explore different surface preparation and applications, manipulating nuanced color harmonies, layers, and surface textures. I explore the versatility of wax mediums by scraping, scratching, and drawing into the surface and by using non-traditional materials (like tar) to create texture and color.

“Color choices are chosen to create an ethereal translucency of layers,” she added. “I also gain inspiration from the beautiful landscapes of my daily commute and other travels”

Much of the work in this exhibit falls into two general categories: Two Dimensional pieces that relate to Earth-Atmosphere-Spirit-and-Light, and Three-Dimensional pieces that are part of a new series called “Dwelling Places.” 

“In a time of great challenge throughout our world, I seek to capture the spectacular natural splendor that still exists on Earth,” she said. “Each image stands as a testament to the astonishing visual feast on our planet for those willing to seek it out. I focus on capturing transitory conditions of light and atmosphere as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life itself. These images memorialize an instant in time which will never be repeated. 

“I am drawn to the moments when elements collide to form moody, ethereal, and dramatic scenes. Working within the tradition of the impressionist landscape, my work revisits man’s emotional connection to these mostly untouched spaces,” she continued. “Sometimes a human figure is included to draw attention to the grand scale of the geography. Finding solace and comfort in the landscape environment, moments pass and are recorded. I find the process heals and inspires me. My images are created with the goal of sharing these expansive and beautiful spaces still found within the modern world. 

“I am currently working on a ‘Dwelling Series’ and have included a few in this exhibit. The house can be a powerful symbol of the self, often serving that purpose in dreams and art. It perfectly captures the nature of the human self: we are all made of the similar basic psychological stuff, but we’re all uniquely complex in our individual personalities and lifestyles.

“They are symbols of a personal identity; part of an inner dreamscape, deep thoughts, natural awakenings, and sensory mechanisms that are part of the soul — some of which I cannot even pretend to explain. The houses are the perfect vessel to become a reliquary of sorts, to hold those objects, moments, or emotions captured within. 

“Many of my ‘dwelling places’ are not exact remembrances of how I visualized the place or the moment, but more how it appealed to my senses — sight and touch in particular. They become carriers of memory and experience. Each takes me on a wondrous journey between time and space, known and unknown, and those singularly   fleeting moments, dreams, thoughts, or hauntings.

“The quick glance is not only one of the life inside the dwelling, but also of the atmosphere surrounding it: ‘when the light begins to fold over the mountains as you look through a morning window, a shell washes up on the shore, a   nesting bird singing in the wee hours of the morning, the beams of moonlight night reach into the room, the lingering essence of flowers in the garden outside an open window.’

“Every shift in time and space helps me conceptualize the natural mysteries I pass along in my work. The essence of ‘dwelling’ is our home, our place of solace,” she concluded.  “I hope to continue exploring the inducements that we are exposed to daily, if we would only take the time pay attention to our inner world.” 

“Art on Fire” will continue through Friday, Oct. 11. Admission is free, but please sign the guest register when you visit. 

The Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center is open located at 439 E. Ridgeway St., and is open  Smonday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and 1-4 p.m. on Sundays from May through December; and Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from January to April.

The Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center is supported by its members, contributors, volunteers, the town of Clifton Forge, the city of Covington, Alleghany County, The Alleghany Foundation, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information, call (540) 862-4447 or visit www.highlandsartsandcraft.org, or email www.highlandsartsandcraft.org@gmail.com. The center can also be found on Facebook.

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A collection of encaustic (hot) and cold wax works by artist Gina Louthian-Stanley, shown above, has opened at the Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center in Clifton Forge. The exhibit, titled “Art on Fire,” runs through Friday, Oct. 11. (Photo Courtesy Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center)