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Encaustic artwork unveils unique delights

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The craft of artist Shawna Moore

By Michael Somerby EBS ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

BIG SKY – For Whitefish artist Shawna Moore, who has several encaustic pieces on display in Gallatin River Gallery, her vision starts with water.

Most have experienced that transcendental moment Moore draws upon to form the basis of her unique works—standing on the edge of a body of water, watching the light dance on both rippled and placid surfaces—and the special form of existentialism it evokes.

Moore, who works primarily with encaustic, pigmented wax blocks heated into a malleable liquid, believes our relationship with water in such a moment goes beyond the obvious visual beauty.

“We’re born in water, suspended in it until we hit the ground. We need it, the majority of our body water, and so we have this deep connectivity with it,” Moore said. “It’s this archetypal relationship we have with place … it’s empty, and wide and a place to contemplate your existence.”

A self-proclaimed “responsible ski bum,” Moore grew up in the landlocked, yet mountainous splendor of Bend, Oregon; she found that open bodies of water spoke to her in ways that even the mountains couldn’t.

Her work highlights the intense and intimate bond she has fostered with the liquid element through a lifetime of artistic and personal exploration.

Moore, who has been a creative since childhood thanks to ready encouragement from her mother, studied fine arts and architecture at the University of Oregon in Eugene, the latter discipline serving as a solid foundation for an evolving and exclusive interest in the arts.

“I started taking more art classes and sidelined my interest in architecture indefinitely, even though it was a great underpinning,” Moore said. “I feel fortunate that’s how I was trained.”

Throughout her late 20s and early 30s, Moore worked in representational ways with a number of mediums, with a couple of community galleries in Eugene and Bend showcasing her works. But in 2002, after moving with her husband to Santa Fe, a New Mexican city with a then-rapidly growing appetite for all things art, Moore came across an ad for a class in encaustic.

The young artist had encountered the art form in her studies, in literature and museums, but had never delved into the ancient practice of manipulating melted waxes into art pieces.

But one lesson was all it took: Today, the artist works almost exclusively with the medium, and is known for her daring large formats and unique pigments.

“Of the people that work in encaustic, I’m known for the color and size of my work,” Moore said. “It’s hard to control a surface as big as you are, and I’ve had to scale up all of my tools.”

An encaustic artist such as Moore will utilize a quiver complete with metal tools, brushes, heat guns and lamps, blowtorches and several other methods to manipulate the rigid material, cherished for its 3D qualities and ability to manipulate color and light.

For Moore, these virtues of encaustic are much like the Treasure State she now calls home.

“The wax is not completely flat, it suspends the particles of pigment, light dances around them,” Moore said. “When you put pigment in wax it’s more spacious and light than other types of mediums, kind of like Montana. That’s what keeps you in it.”

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