Local artist Jamie Lang applies photographic images and found papers to cast adobe surfaces, finished with encaustic wax. The result is a dreamy synthesis of architectural geometry and a celebration of landscapes experienced through the fog of time and memory. Urban Vestiges is on view at Gallery 360 now through July 9.
360: What is unique about the body of work on display in your exhibition ‘Urban Vestiges’?
J.L: For this show I did some larger pieces, and some larger photo image transfer pieces. There are three of them which are 18×18” and one which is 31×31”. Each of these are a composition of multiple tiles creating one large image. It has been something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile but just haven’t had the space or the venue to do it in. Merry gave me the opportunity to explore this for the show. I also utilized some new tile shapes. I cast some new tiles that are 12×18” more of a horizontal rectangle landscape feel. For two of the pieces in the back gallery and also I put two of those together as vertical pieces to create one larger piece in the front window. Also, the majority of the work was created in the past year and hadn’t been shown in the Twin Cities before this.
360: Your work features several, very different mediums. Do you think of yourself more as a ceramicist or visual artist, or do you feel these roles are present in equal measure?
J.L: I feel like I’m for sure equal in that regard. My background is in clay and all the pieces are still rooted in clay. The use of the adobe is as a reference to bricks and architecture. I start using adobe in grad school, it was a way for me to get my ideas out a lot quicker. I also like the idea of combining two different mediums or several mediums to create the question of what is it made of or how was it made. What the process can tell you about the work and just a little bit more of a question of what is being presented. Also, there’s a lot of similarities with working in clay and encaustic.
360: How did you come to use adobe bricks as the armature for your imagery? Have you ever used them architecturally, as a building material?
J.L: I first began working with adobe in grad school probably about 18-19 years ago. At the time I wanted create some outdoor pieces I was trying to figure out a way to create structures on trees. So, I built wooden armatures covered with wire mesh and then covered it with adobe. Creating these geometric cubes that appeared to be floating in space and while I was experimenting with the adobe I began casting tiles and forms using wooden molds or small boxes as a way to explore the medium. I stopped working with it shortly after that knowing I would eventually come back to working with it. Finally I came back to it about 10 years ago then at that time I was casting tiles or casting into wooden framed forms. I was also building wooden armature covered with wire mesh then covering it with adobe as a kind of stucco technique. I did several pieces like that in varying scale. From there I began casting tiles again and around this time I was had been experimenting with encaustic painting on wood. Shortly after that I began to combine the encaustic and adobe. It’s now been around 6 or 7 years that I have been working these materials together.
360: Your pieces reference the built environment, the landscape and geometric patterns, how do these visual themes relate to each other for you?
J.L: For me they reference home, they speak about space and about places we occupy. So for me they become a reference for memory wether real or imaged. The spaces that we have traveled or the environments that we have lived or grown up in. They also become the center point of the context or starting point for the work. A way to have an architectural structure that interacts with geometric or ornamental patterning and also combined with the visual landscape. Which acts as mnemonic devices or triggers to an experience, memories of childhood or the past. Becomes kind of a visual language for the viewer to enter into the pieces and bring their own stories or memories into.
360: Is there a relationship between the function that adobe plays as a building material and the buildings that recur in your images?
J.L: I’m using the adobe more as a reference to architecture and that becomes one singular idea. The imagery of the architecture/building on the surface becomes another visual element. The finished imagery becomes more of a reference to the memory of that space or the environment. The adobe tile or brick itself is more of a reference to the home or self in a way. So in someways it becomes more of a starting pointing for the memory or that experience which continues with the surface imagery.
360: Do you ever think of yourself as a kind of landscape artist?
J.L: Not necessarily in the traditional sense, I am definitely inspired by the landscape. The vastness, the isolation of the structures or objects in the environment. They come a reference point for some of my work. I’ve definitely been photographing the landscape over the years the clouds, trees, and the structures. I’m definitely intrigued with what can be explored within the landscape format.
360: Where do you gather your imagery from? Are you a photographer as well?
J.L: I wouldn’t consider myself as a photographer, I’m more of a cataloger of reference images. I’m inspired by the things around and use them as references for my paintings. About five years when I began to do art fairs, I wanted to have some smaller pieces for sale as an entry into my work. So, I started to use my actual reference photos to create image transfer pieces on 3×3” and 3×5” adobe tiles. From there I began taking more photos from day-to-day life to use on the tiles which to evolved into creating larger pieces like the ones in the show.
360: Can you tell us more about how you develop the surface of the adobe bricks? Do you have an end composition in mind when you start, or does each piece evolve organically?
J.L: Once the tiles are cast and dried, I cover them with a white ground, either a gesso, plaster wash or joint compound. Something just to cover the adobe to create a white surface. From there I begin by laying down a layer of encaustic medium (wax) which is a combination of beeswax and damar resin. The resin raises the melting temperature of the beeswax and also makes it more durable. From there it can go anywhere, maybe an photo image transfer or layers of pigmented wax or other pigments (like oil sticks, watercolor crayons, etc.) Sometimes I’ll even cast the adobe into lace, fabric or other materials to create a texture within the tile and then begin to build up on top of that. Sometimes theres an idea in places and other times things happen more organically by responding to the medium. Sometimes I’ll even build up multiple layers of wax and scrape back into the surface creating a bit of a worn surface.
360: The encaustic wax surface of your pieces lends them a very atmospheric effect, almost like something out of a dream. Can you share more about how the play of time, history and memory are significant to your work?
J.L: The encaustic medium has been really fantastic and I really enjoy how the finished quality of the pieces. Building up multiple layers of the wax creates a kind of hazy, kind of dreamlike state almost vintage feel to it, like old postcards. For me the encaustic medium has been a perfect way to translate some of the ideas I’ve been thinking about. Which are old painted billboards on the sides of buildings, worn away and a bit of a remnant of what was left behind. With in the wax I can build up the layers and can hide or reveal certain areas I can utilize patterning or ornamentation to reference say wallpapers, or fabrics as a trigger to another space or time For me they become a sort of visual language to a memory or passage in time.
360: Is there any advice you would share with emerging artists trying to establish themselves in the field today?
J.L: Well, I guess in some ways I feel like I’m still an emerging artist myself. Even though I’ve been doing this for quite sometime now. But I think the biggest thing is to keep working and keep getting the work out there. Sending out images, postcards, information and talking to galleries. Seeing what’s happening in your area with different venues. Show your work wherever you can, either at an art fair, art market, or retail/gallery space. Have a website or some other online presence. Keep pushing your work, apply for juried exhibition, artist grants and other opportunities. Best of luck.