1. Arts & Entertainment

Stop the world and melt with Morean Arts Center encaustic exhibit

Published Apr. 11, 2012


If you have never thought about the connection between a box of Crayolas and ancient encaustic paintings, "Wax: Medium Meets Message" at the Morean Arts Center draws the line for you. Nine artists demonstrate the malleability of techniques using a malleable medium.

Tinted, melted wax was used thousands of years ago as we use paint today. But by the seventh century, it was pretty much a lost art, losing ground to the less temperamental, water-based tempera.

More than a thousand years later, encaustic was revived as child's play when colored wax was formed into sticks called crayons. As an art form, it only gained new traction about 50 years ago, most famously when Jasper Johns began using it.

Leslie Neumann, who lives in the Tampa Bay region, has become a well-known encaustic painter, but it isn't a medium you see often in exhibitions. In curating this show, she has assembled works of great diversity.

Neumann's mystical orbs floating in a richly imagined cosmos with layers of wax scraped through to reveal subtle layers are familiar. Kim Bernard's jaunty 3-D orbs of bright wax are not.

Bernard attaches the balls to springs and a bicycle wheel, making them kinetic. Readymade Color Wheel is a nod to Marcel Duchamp's controversial Readymades in the early 20th century in which everyday objects were slightly modified by Duchamp and declared art. Wax balls bobbing around when you spin the "color wheel" (pun intended, I'm sure) and bounce against the wall, leaving little crayon-like marks. It's engaging and is more about an idea than masterful manipulation of the wax you see in other works.

Laura Moriarty creates sculptures from encaustic painted on wood panels. They resemble geological cross-sections with layers, rifts, shifting plates, land masses rising and falling and thick wax like lava flows.

Old photographs are enlarged by Marybeth Rothman and encased in encaustic as if preserving memories, except these are found photos of anonymous people.

Lorrie Fredette's installation is simply beautiful. The Great Silence is composed of little pods made from muslin stretched over a frame and coated in wax. Each is strung from a ceiling grid with nylon threads. You could compare them to a lot of things visually, but the wall text tells us they are an account of the 17th century small pox epidemic that wiped out most of the Cape Cod population. So we can see these perhaps as either a microscopic representation of the virus or the memories and stories associated with the event. That's a bit cerebral, perhaps, but the work stands — or floats — on its own.

This is, above all, an accessible show. The lushness of the wax and the ways it is used provide immediate visual pleasure. You can dig deeper, as the artists often do when they use the wax, to find more levels. You'll find plenty.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at or (727) 893-8293.


  1. Authors James Baldwin (maroon), Kristen Arnett (pink), Rita Mae Brown (yellow), Tanya Boteju (green), Thomas Page McBee (turquoise), Alison Bechel (blue), Mariko Tamaki (lime green), Alexander Chee (red), Kate Bornstein (purple) and Eileen Myles (orange). Illustration by Lisa Merklin  |  tbt*
    Books help to chronicle the long, storied, beautiful and diverse LGBTQ community. | Ashley Dye
  2. Susan Kelly of West Palm Beach puts the finishing touches on her "Harry Potter" chalk art at the Clearwater Beach Chalk Art Festival in 2017. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times (2017)
    Peruse the chalk art festival in Clearwater Beach, ‘The Last Podcast on the Left’ visits Tampa Theatre and taste the Flavors of the Gulf at John’s Pass.
  3. Jeff Vinik and Penny Vinik, 2019. Courtesy of Tampa Museum of Art
    The gift that will fund the position of executive director is the largest donation ever made to the museum’s foundation.
  4. Billy Joel will return to Tampa for his Feb. 7 show at Amalie Arena. Times (2016)
    Billy Joel, Graham Nash, the Queers, Andrea Bocelli and more.
  5. The 53rd-annual Rattlesnake Festival will be held Oct. 19-20 at the Pasco County Fairgrounds in Dade City. The weekend event, kicks off with a prelude concert featuring the Bellamy Brothers on Friday, and raises money for the Thomas Promise Foundation. The foundation provides meals for Pasco County school children who do not have regular access to nutritional meals on weekends when school is not in session. "LUIS SANTANA  |  TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The annual festival offers a family-friendly outing while raising money to feed school children in need.
  6. Fred Johnson, who still performs locally, is community engagement specialist and artist-in-residence at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. Courtesy of Tampa Jazz Club
    The 68-year-old artist has worked with all the big names. But helping the community is his purpose.
  7. Dunedin's Parlor House Bistro will feature an American-French menu that includes house-made pastries. Courtesy of Ryan Steffensmeier
    The new restaurant will serve American-French cuisine, offering a New Orleans vibe.
  8. Tampa Theatre in downtown Tampa. EVE EDELHEIT  |  Times (2012)
    The expansion ‘fundamentally changes our business model,’ said the not-for-profit theater’s CEO.
  9. Truth Hurts" wasn't originally featured on the 11-track "Cuz I Love You," but her record label added it to the deluxe version of the album, released on May 3. ALLIE GOULDING  |  Times
    The songwriting brothers Justin and Jeremiah Raisen, who worked on “Healthy,” claim say they deserve writing credit on “Truth Hurts.”
  10. Ginger molasses spice cookies LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI  |  Special to the Times
    They’re loaded with fresh seasonal spices, plus pecans and raisins.