The Alchemist of Wax – Encaustic Paintings by Artist Lonney White

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Every once in a while a young artist reinterprets and reinvents ancient techniques infusing them with a breeze of fresh air. Such is the case of Chicago-based artist Lonney White who for years has been creating abstract-looking black and white wax-based compositions which exude an aura of balance, movement, and dynamism and connect us to the underlying structures, forces, textures, and origins of nature.

White, nowadays represented by Holly Hunt in New York, was born in Billings, Montana, and studied sculpture and foundry at Missoula College. Over the course of his prolific career, he has ventured into different mediums, such as sculpture, installation, or furniture making. However, some of his most striking works are large-scale abstract encaustic paintings, a technique that involves mixing and applying heated beeswax and other resins to colored pigments. Importantly, the centuries-long tradition of encaustic was brought back to art making first by early 20th century modern artists and then by contemporary art legends like Jasper Johns who paved the way for the current revival of the technique.

White’s working process, which he undertakes in his impressive studio designed and constructed next to his partner, interior designer Lukas Machnik, is highly intuitive and serendipitous as he lets the materials speak by themselves. “It’s a conversation with the elements-happy accidents,” he once explained. In this way, White is an artist who treats each material as a never-ending source for experimentation and discovery, almost as an alchemist would do. For this reason, next to his encaustic works he also experiments with metal alloys or adds other objects, like threads, to his compositions.

The artist’s methods result in hypnotic and vibrant monochromatic black and white or grey compositions with rich and contrasting textures that reveal the sculptural nature of his two-dimensional works. Importantly, White’s works speak to each other and are often structured as diptychs or polyptychs inspired by a far-reaching topic. For example, the paintings from the Methamorphic series bring to mind natural phenomena such as volcanic rock flows, spider webs, and the trajectory of smoke and, on a more personal level, connect us to a meditative state of mind and to the certainty of the now.

“I try not to force the materials to do something they would have an aversion to, I want the material to react as it would naturally.” – Lonney White

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Written by Constanza Ontiveros