Thermodynamic heats up Depot

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Chance brought them together. A fever gave them an identity.

"Thermodynamic," an exhibition of artwork facilitated by heat, brings Julie Anderson, Annie Chrietzberg and Susan Thompson together for a show of their works of ceramics and encaustics at the Depot Art Center.

What: Opening reception for "Thermodynamic," featuring ceramics and encaustics by Julie K. Anderson, Annie Chrietzberg and Susan J. Thompson When: 5 to 7 p.m. today Where: Depot Art Center

"Susan had a fever and was brainstorming," Chrietzberg said. That's where Thermodynamic came from. All three women agreed that it would be a perfect unifying theme for showing their individual works in the first major Steamboat Springs art show for each of them, she said.

Anderson and Chrietzberg are potters. Chrietzberg and Thompson work with encaustics, which are beeswax-based paints used with heat to create a variety of textures and three-dimensional effects in a broad range of colors.

Outside her blue-room studio at Ceramic Design Group, Chrietzberg spent the week making pedestals for her large clay vessles that will be on display at the Depot. Her pieces are functional and sculptural; each one painted with encaustics, a medium that is new to her but one she said she fell in love with instantly.

Because the beeswax needs an absorptive surface, she said it works well on porous clay after it has been through its first firing. She likes to paint the colored waxes on her ceramic surfaces, build them up, then scrape them back down to create her desired effects.

Chreitzberg is showing pieces inspired by Arches National Park, plants and her multi-year stint living on a "narrow boat" in England. Narrow boats are built specifically for English canals, being 7 feet wide and up to 72 feet long. The boats have to be painted every two years, Chrietzberg said. She explained that her vessels are meant to reflect that inner play between rust and paint -- or as she calls them, "the beautiful, interesting rust blooms that come through paint."

Chrietzberg has been using encaustics to create faux rust, an effect that she proudly declares has been "redneck approved." She said one man told her "I can't get rust that good and I've had a car in my back yard for 15 years."

Chreitzberg gleaned her newfound passion for encaustics from Thompson, a mixed-media collage artist who has become an expert in the medium. Thompson won a mixed-media fellowship from the Steamboat Springs Arts Council three years ago. As part of her fellowship, Thompson gave a demonstration talk in Steamboat that has enticed other local artists to explore the medium.

"There is definitely a steep learning curve. Some days you curse it, some days you say this is amazing," Thompson said.

She is displaying a collection of encaustic paintings and mixed media collages that highlight the wax paints in "Thermodynamic."

Thompson typically paints on wood panels she builds herself. The effects she creates with her beeswax paints run the full spectrum from rough and metallic to a smooth, high gloss. She has even managed to create 3-D textures that resemble elephant skin using encaustics. Thompson said she appreciates the simplicity of her newer works, and has learned to value the relationship between surface and texture.

"It's just so cool -- you can build up layers and layers," Thompson said while in her small home studio, piled high with paintings, art supplies and various works in progress.

Her intricately layered paintings, baring titles such as "Lichen," "Oxidation" and "Savannah," spill onto the walls of her townhouse, where she can study and enjoy them continuously. Another added benefit of encaustics, she added, is that, being largely beeswax, they are no where near as toxic as using pigments like oil paints.

"It's great stuff -- and it smells good," Thompson said.

Turning up the heat a couple thousand degrees, Anderson, sticks with fired ceramic glazes for her intricate ceramic designs. Her delicate footed bowls and meticulously sculpted botanic ornamentation belie her past. She was a biology major with an art minor in college, and now she says she's "obsessive-compulsive about plants."

"Even though I don't study them any more, I study them in a different way," Anderson said. She said she take endless rolls of pictures of plants to use for her creations.

Two of the fruits of these in-depth studies, "Corn lilies" and "Day/Oriental Lilies," will be on display at the Depot. But don't be surprised to see them turn up with their scientific names instead, since those are often the titles Anderson prefers to use.

Anderson works in her home studio -- a nature-lover's dream situated high on a remote hill where she can watch wildlife and study an endless array of wildflowers and plants. Although she often works on commissions outside of Steamboat Springs, Anderson said she is excited about her first big show at the Depot.

"It's cool to be doing this in Steamboat. I'm psyched to be doing it the hometown way," she said.

"Thermodynamic" kicks off tonight with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Depot Art Center. In addition, all three artists are scheduled for a Gallery Talk from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The show will be on display through June 27.

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