Total Immersion: Layers of Life and Wax
How San Francisco Abstract Artist Howard Hersh Approaches His Art Practice
By Lynette Haggard
Encaustic Arts Magazine
When Howard Hersh sets out to make a painting, the process is in motion long before he melts the pigment and wax. After over 25 years of creating artwork, his subconscious has become a vast subliminal repository of references, perceptions and sensibilities. As he works, he taps into this, following intuition, memories, and imagination, and so the painting begins.
Hersh considers it critical to his creative practice that he spends time in his studio daily. Whether or not he picks up a brush to paint, or a pan to pour—he spends time there, living with his work and the process of making his art. Following his passion, this time spent in the studio contributes to a lifestyle of total immersion. This habit supports Hersh’s ability to have strong vision and awareness as he works. Referring to nature “his dominant muse” this influence is intrinsic to his work. He recalls spending early childhood years playing in the woods, camping with his family, and later, being part of the “back to the land” movement of the 1960’s. Hersh describes these events as having profoundly impacted his psyche and being inherent to his identity. These earliest childhood experiences inform his work today.
A self-professed non-academic artist, Hersh downplays the importance of historical context but values his current connections to life, nature, and the world around him. He views each body of work as a continuum—that which was created last year and yesterday is connected to the work he creates today. As he works on an individual painting, each piece takes on a life of its own.
Because encaustic has no drying time, he prefers to work on one piece at a time. The exception would be when he becomes stumped on a painting, at which point he may decide to start another one—until he can figure out what’s required with the stalled piece.
Putting down the paint, pouring the wax, making marks, choosing color, and making decisions while working to resolve the painting is a very fluid process. Says Hersh: “Each painting initiates a dialogue with me. Sometimes this is a quick and easy process, and sometimes it’s a downright struggle. As the painting develops, some questions are answered and some new ones appear. This is the process of creativity for me.”
Properties of Waves and Particles
Hersh has completed about 30 paintings in the Waves and Particles series, started in 2010. He says: “Sometimes I like to use titles to lead the viewer into ways of thinking that they might not take. For example, some of the concepts that I like to evoke for the viewer might be the contrast and difference between what is seen or unseen; the subtleties between intuition and knowledge; thoughts and actions; intention and results.”
In Waves and Particles, his intention is to suggest that energy and matter are really all there is. The pulse (waves) of the universe is what articulates and forms matter (particles). While this phenomenon is quite scientific, waves and particles create a nice metaphor for many other principles. Within the paintings themselves, the gently curved lines represent “waves” and the circular pools of paint, the “particles.” Hersh claims to refer to a previous work in order to give context and a jumping off point for the new one. Analyzing that and what he considers the strengths and weaknesses of the work, he then attempts to steer the new painting in the desired direction. Referring to the Waves and Particles series, he says: “Since the concept of the Waves and Particles has not changed, this leaves me with mostly aesthetic decisions about how to create a more successful picture.” Some considerations for him while assessing a piece include: is the piece too busy or too empty; too graphic or too subtle; too big or small; too colorful or too monochromatic.
Before Releasing Work into the World
Because Hersh (and most artists) work in isolation, he must rely on himself as his own most serious critic. There are questions of the individual piece being resolved, but also the larger criteria of whether the direction he’s going with the work is adequately fulfilling his aesthetic and goals as a communicator. That being said, before Hersh feels that a painting is ready to leave his studio, the work must pass his criteria. When he considers each piece, he also considers whether the work is achieving what he wants it to communicate to a viewer. Once he has fulfilled his process, the work is complete and released to the public.
Houston, 72″ X 216″
Howard Hersh is represented by: Butters Gallery, Portland, Oregon, Addington Gallery, Chicago, NuArt Gallery, Santa Fe, and Gallery One, Nashville. For additional information: http://www.howardhersh.com/artstats/hershstat.html
LYNETTE HAGGARD is an artist, blogger and writer living in the Boston area. A founding member of New England Wax, she is also an invited presenter at the National Encaustic conference. Haggard holds a BFA from Philadelphia College of Art.