Ann Gibson created the left side of this piece, and another artist took her cues to create the right side. The work is part of "The Diptych Project: A Collaboration in Wax," and is on display on at the Depot Art Center.

Courtesy photo

Ann Gibson created the left side of this piece, and another artist took her cues to create the right side. The work is part of "The Diptych Project: A Collaboration in Wax," and is on display on at the Depot Art Center.

Encaustic artists wax collaborative

'The Diptych Project' pairs work from East and West coasts

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Until she was assigned to create a dual-panel piece of artwork with West Coast wax artist Mari Marks, Kim Bernard had never met her new creative partner.

"We've had an ongoing collaboration outside of this project that we've continued to work with, so we've struck a nice collaborative approach working together," Bernard said about the outcome of "The Diptych Project: A Collaboration in Wax." "I can't say it was that smooth for everybody."

The project started in a brainstorming session at a wax artists' conference in June 2007. Two organizations - New England Wax, which Bernard founded, and West Coast-based International Encaustic Artists - decided to pair off randomly to create original works in pigmented beeswax. Select pieces from the resulting collection are on display through the end of November at the Depot Art Center.

"Every artist handled it a little bit differently," Bernard said about working with someone on the opposite coast. "Some artists really stretched their style so that their work would be very consistent. Other artists, me for example, I worked like I work, but with a palette that would be compatible with my artist partner. We pretty much worked in our own way, but in response to the work that we received."

Each pair comprised a West Coast artist and an East Coast one. The artists crafted one panel of work out of encaustic, or colored beeswax fixed to a surface with heat. They sent those encaustics through the mail and completed a complementary panel to create a diptych, or a work consisting of two panels. The process is a fragile one, said Linda Laughlin, director of visual arts for the Steamboat Springs Arts Council.

"The medium is not only difficult to work with because it's heated in little muffin tins on your burner, but it's the kind of work that's done very tediously," Laughlin said, explaining that the wax can chip or move during shipping. Laughlin had worked with Bernard in a gallery she owned in Portland, Maine, and brought "The Diptych Project" to Steamboat through that connection.

"One of the reasons that I brought this show here is that we have a small group of encaustic artists here in Steamboat, and I thought they would enjoy seeing these pieces because of the technique and how advanced these artists are," Laughlin said. "And all of them are abstract paintings. They're very contemporary, even the landscapes."

Bernard said the project inspired her to consider other collaborative efforts - she and Marks, her "Diptych" partner, already have done four more pieces together.

"Having gone through this, it's kind of opened a door to other ideas for collaboration between artists," Bernard said.

"The whole idea of working with someone else is kind of unique to most artists; most artists kind of work in solitude in their own studio. It really opened the door to collaboration and having someone else respond to your work."

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