An ancient medium enters the mainstream

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – The ancient medium of encaustic—heat-fused layers of beeswax, resin and pigment—has been relatively obscure until the last decade or so, when contemporary artists seem to have discovered the technique in exponential fashion. Across the board, encaustic artists say they enjoy the sculptural aspect of the process, building up the layers to create luminous, translucent depths that transcend the two-dimensionality of acrylic or oil paintings.

Bozeman artist Darla Myers is no exception. I talked to Myers while she was on a road trip delivering artwork to Persimmon Gallery in Bigfork, Montana, and Whitefish’s Walking Man Frame Shop & Gallery.

“You can leave things partially hidden but they’re there,” said Myers, who occasionally incorporates mixed-media into her encaustic pieces. “You can actually look into the painting, rather than just the surface.”

A self-taught artist, Myers began painting 20 years ago. Living in Alaska at the time, she took a watercolor class and had her “aha” moment. She had loved color as a child but was inhibited by her belief that she couldn’t draw. After some basic lessons, she found out this wasn’t the case.

“I didn’t know art was something you could actually learn,” she said. “I thought it had to pour out of you.”

Eight years ago Myers took an encaustic class and was hooked. She’d like to do more oil painting, but says she’s lazy—impatient might be a better word—and likes how quickly the wax cools and hardens, allowing her to continue working on it.

Today, on the brink of retiring, or a hiatus, from a 30-year nursing career to devote herself full time to her creative pursuits, the art does seem to pour forth—bright, poppy nature-driven works that lie somewhere between the representative and the abstract.

While exploring the trails, rivers and mountains of the region, Myers keeps her phone on hand to snap photos of the little moments that catch her eye, like “pops of light in the forest, shafts of light [filtering] through a stand of trees.”

“There’s something about being in the trees that is very reassuring to me,” she said. “Walking through the forest is so calming and meditative—the fresh air, stuff that moves in the wind. Not to be cliché, but that’s when I get a lot of my ideas.”

Encaustic artist Darla Myers teaches monthly workshops and private workshops for small groups in Bozeman.

Myers will then often use software programs to manipulate her photographs, simplifying the shapes and playing with the colors to further guide her art-making.

“Trees don’t need to be brown,” she said. She remembers one teacher telling students to put something of themselves into their art. “I think that’s what color is for me,” Myers said. “I think in colors … I try to make subdued paintings but I can’t.”

She is also always striving to make her works more impressionistic, asking herself how she can convey the feeling of being in nature, without having recognizable components of nature in the composition. But above all, Myers wants her pieces to be uplifting.

“I want people to see the world through bright, happy eyes,” she said. “There are enough painful things in life,” many examples of which she’s seen as nurse. “[I hope to] bring people a little more to the joy side of things … when people say my art makes them smile or reminds them of a really happy memory—that’s what my art is about.”

Myers also leads monthly encaustic workshops, and hosts small classes on demand, and said the experience has affected her both personally and artistically.

A mixed-media encaustic series grew out of demonstrations she would give for her students. Informally she calls it her “mod series” and the abstractly whimsical pieces are a distinct departure from her more representational landscapes.

She began incorporating image transfers of simple plant drawings, mark-making, and pages from airplane manuals cut into organic shapes, enjoying the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated content and finding a way to make it work together.

Although it’s been a long, gradual progression from coffee-shop shows to actual gallery representation, and there is still room for growth, Myers says she’s content with where she is currently at with her art-making. Whereas she used to struggle deciding what to paint, now, she says, her sources find her.

Despite all that remains unknown—an aspect of the creative process that all artists must make their peace with—she’s certain that one day her divergent encaustic styles will come together.

“Someday the two are going to fuse into something … I just don’t know how yet, but I’m going to keep doing them and someday they’re going to cross over—I’m sure of it.”

Myers was selected to participate in the Arts Council of Big Sky’s 2017 Art on the Streets initiative. Her imagery can be found on an art-wrapped utility box in Meadow Village Center outside of Michaelangelo’s Ristorante Italiano. Visit darlamyersart.com to see more of the artist’s work.