Jamaica Gleaner / Dr Michele Lee-Lambert has always found inspiration in nature, and even though she has a very demanding job as a neurologist at the Caribbean Neurology, Pain and Headache Centre here in Jamaica, over the years she has discovered her niche as an artist in encaustic painting.
Through encaustic painting – the ancient art of painting with molten beeswax, tree resin, pigments, and other natural elements – Lambert transforms natural materials into her interpretation of nature, creating what can only be described as abstract wonders.
Encaustic painting dates back more than 2,000 years to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Although still somewhat an obscure art form, the encaustic medium has seen a slow resurgence over the past two centuries, coinciding with the invention of electric heating implements.
Wax is an excellent preserver, and it was from this application that the style of encaustic painting was developed. The simplest mixture is the adding of coloured pigments to beeswax, but other recipes suggest the application of other wax, damar resin, or linseed oil.
Special metal instruments and brushes are employed to shape the liquid or paste before it cools, and today the process of melting the wax is made easier with the help of heat lamps, heat guns, irons, and other methods of applying the heat on to the canvas or prepared wooden surfaces.
The mixture can be polished to a high gloss, but it can be also modelled, textured, sculpted and combined with collage materials.
According to Dr Lee-Lambert, while a student at the University of Miami, Florida, she had completed all her requisite subjects in three years, and while in her senior year, she took the opportunity to take art classes.
“I did courses in oil painting and metal art, jazz, and dancing. It was a great year, and I managed to get two pieces of metal sculptures accepted in the end-of-year art show at the Lowe Art Museum. These were selected by an external juror. During medical school, I would occasionally paint for relaxation,” Lambert explained.
In 2011, she began taking painting classes at Saana and was introduced to acrylic and abstract art.
“One day I was looking for an art book on Amazon and came across books on encaustic. I was immediately hooked. It looked like nothing I had seen before. I began asking artists in Jamaica about this medium, but no one had used it or knew much about it,” Lambert told Outlook .
Determined to learn this art form, she searched the web until she found someone in Fort Lauderdale – Tristina Dietz – who agreed to facilitate her in a private workshop to introduce her to this dynamic medium.
“I began attending workshops in the States, including a workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with renowned encaustic artist Ellen Koment.
“Along this journey, I have managed to learn so many interesting things and meet fascinating people. Initially, it was difficult to understand this new technique. I liken it to someone changing their tennis stroke – it feels weird at first, but then once you get used to it, you can do wonders,” Lambert said.
Although encaustic painting is not often discussed in the literature dedicated to the story of art, it has nevertheless had an important role throughout its course. As a method, it hasn’t gone through much change, but it did evolve stylistically over the centuries, adapting to the needs of its time and surrounding culture.
LOST ITS PRESENCE
Between the Middle Ages and the 18th century, this form of production lost its presence and could only be traced in artwork remaining from the past; painters turned to other media and techniques, such as tempera and fresco, as they were easier to implement and did not require the application of fire.
The revival of encaustic started with the discovery of artefacts from Herculaneum and Pompeii (c. 79 BC) in the 18th century and the Fayum portraits in the 19th century. Finally, it culminated in the practice of one great innovator of the last century – Jasper Johns. The little-known origin of encaustic wax painting can be followed through its most famous artworks, from ancient times to the most recent contemporary pieces.
“I like to take the view that my art complements my profession. A neurologist by day, I approach each new expressive piece by opening up my mind to a potential theme, gradually allowing the piece to take hold and evolve on the canvas of my brain and easel,” Lambert said.
“I enjoy creating expressive art not just for my own journey of self-exploration, but also for the automatic dialogue it almost demands between piece and viewer. For me, an expressive piece is finished only when the viewer has added his or her own interpretation, much like the final punctuation at the end of a sentence. And when you look at it that way, the possibilities can be mind-blowing,” she added.
This year, Lambert won gold and silver in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Visual Arts Competition in photography, bronze in painting, and third-place jury prize. In the same competition in 2016, Lambert was awarded merit for painting. In 2015, she was awarded a total of seven merits in the categories of painting, photography and assemblage.
Her exhibitions have included the Liguanea Art Festival in 2012 and 2013, Kingston on the Edge (KOTE), solo and art talk in 2014, and from 2012 to 2014, Group Art Show, Saana Art Studio, Kingston, Jamaica.
“I continue to work in all mediums, including photography and acrylic. Donnette Zacca taught me the basics of photography, but probably even more so to be curious and get out,” Lambert said.
“One day I went downtown and was taking pictures of an old window and someone asked me if they could ask a question. I said sure. She said, ‘You really think this looks good?’ I said there is wood, metal, glass and paint, what more could you ask for. It was amazing to see her look at the old window in a completely different light. There is beauty in everything,” Lambert added.
JAMAICA: Dr Lee Lambert – Neurologist by day artist by night
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