Exhibition features ideas and colors

Two very modern painters using a very old — ancient, in fact — method were at the River Road Gallery on Saturday, Dec. 3, for the opening of their joint show called Layers of Color.
Nash Hyon and Suzanne Wilkins, both of Wilton, work in the medium known as encaustic, which is painting with heated beeswax that has been colored with pigment and added natural resin. Wilkins also works in collage. Despite the common medium, their works are quite dissimilar but they make for a cohesive show.
Although she earned a degree in fine art at Syracuse University, Wilkins did not pursue painting seriously, opting instead to continue her education at the Fashion Institute of Technology in design. She has worked for the past 25 years or so as an interior designer and has painted “in fits and starts,” she said.
She has found real similarities in both pursuits, however, with the focus for each on positive and negative space. “Space planning,” she said, “is a lot like that.”
As an artist, she said, she is “first and foremost a collage artist,” mixing the bits and pieces, which can be as varied as scraps of vintage postcards or paper coffee cups, and pulling them together with color. All those bits and pieces, she said, are akin to “the fragmented nature typical of our lives … taking all the little bits and trying to find a focal point.”
Both her collages and encaustic pieces feature “lots of layers. I cover things, I delete things. I try to find a focal point, which is what we all try to do.” Both mediums appeal to her love of color and texture.
Her art has impacted her interior design work, Wilkins said, adding she’s always liked eclectic design and “in some ways it’s gotten simpler” as she is able “to look and see what needs to be eliminated.”
When she works in encaustic, her main colors are yellow, blue, and white. Of one piece in the show, she said that at one point she had felt it was incomplete. “I liked it but I didn’t love it. I felt it was out of balance.” So she covered and uncovered aspects of it until it was where she wanted it to be.
The layering possible with encaustic appeals to Nash Hyon also. She had worked with oil and acrylics, but was not getting the results she wanted. She wanted more texture.
Jasper Johns is the most well-known artist to use encaustic, she said, and she started to think about the surface of some of his work. She had also made jewelry, and so was familiar with using fire and heat in the artistic process. When she tried encaustic, it was “love at first sight.”
She has been using encaustic paint since the late 90s, although she sometimes paints in oil. “It does not dry,” she said of encaustic paint, “it cures. As soon as you remove the heat from the paint it cools, so you can work quickly. But at any point I can warm it up and go back to it.”
She also likes the connection of using beeswax, a natural product, to the narrative of her work, a happy coincidence.
That work involves a couple of ongoing series she’s been working on the past few years. One is a series called The Elements, based on the natural elements of the periodic table. In the show is a piece titled Carbon. Another is a diptych called H2O, and the work led her to thinking about water, its importance and the forms it can take.
“I am interested in the process of the artist transforming paint to a finished product and in nature how everything is transformed,” she said.
Because her work is so abstract she likes to have a particular narrative to help express her ideas without being too specific. She also likes to hear how people viewing her work interpret it, and if their interpretation is different from her vision.
Hyon said she hopes people will look at her work and think seriously about water and other things that relate to climate change.
“I hope people look at the work, look at the title and think about what they are seeing and some of the things I’m trying to express.”
Beyond that, she also hopes people find an aspect of beauty in her paintings.
“No other paint has the surface that encaustic does,” she said. “The luminosity — the aspect of beauty is always in the back of my mind.”
The show will run through Jan. 14. The gallery is at 21 River Road. Information: 203762-3887 or riverrdgallery@optonline.net.