When Blow Torch Meets Wax, Encaustic Art Emerges

by Bella Erakko

Wax, to most of us, means scented candles or power outages, but to Nick Sorrill, the Alliance Art Gallery’s featured artist for March, it means art. To be specific, encaustic art. Sorrill explains, “Historically, it is basically painting with wax. In ancient times, Egyptians would have a mummy portrait painted in wax on their coffin. I also read that early ship makers used wax to seal the inside hull creating a surface for murals, much like graffiti.”

The dictionary traces the word “encaustic” to Greece, meaning a method of painting in which heat is used. Enter beeswax, pigment, resin—and a blow torch—along with a host of carving tools ranging from forks, ice picks, knives, carving tools. “I usually have an idea of what I am going to do, and by the end, it’s completely different,” Sorrill admits. “The wax dries within five to ten seconds. But the blow torch heats the wax and moves it around. You can build layers. I use tools to scratch the surface to give it texture.”

The results take the viewer into a vibrant three-dimensional world of color and sometimes implanted objects. The “realism” comes from textures and colors. “I like to experiment and not necessarily have a set thing. I like to work it out on the painting, where the painting tells me what it needs and when it is finished.” He did not begin as a child encaustic painter, but just about every Christmas, his parents bought him how-to kits for drawing, painting, coloring. Although traditionally trained at John Woods and Culvert-Stockton as a fine arts major working in every medium and style, once he graduated, he concentrated on acrylics, encaustics, and abstraction.

The Alliance Gallery will be showcasing Sorrill’s encaustic body of work throughout the month of March. And for those curious about how wax paintings handle the sun, he can assure you, hung in any traditional setting, they work just fine. He admits however that one friend put his encaustic on an easel in a bay window facing south, apparently not knowing that even the pharaoh placed his encaustic “under tomb.”

An opening reception will be held Saturday, March 9, from 5:00 until 8:00 pm. This reception coincides with Hannibal’s Second Saturday Gallery Night.