Encaustics Artist Triumphs in Battle of Man vs. Machine

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You won’t find anything like 2014’s Mannequins at the leatherbar: It’s starting to get crowded or 2015’s flaming, leather-clad Harnificent in Joel Anderson’s current exhibit at Archway Gallery, but while “#Heatstroke3D” is decidedly more vanilla, it shows a brave leap in a different direction.

The artist has come far in his work with image transfers and encaustics since retiring from Shell two years ago, including picking up the blowtorch and fine-tuning his layers of beeswax, Damar resin and carnauba wax.

This brave new world, inspired by a trip to the Museum of Modern Art and a pair of 3-D glasses, resulted in his taking the plunge and purchasing a 3-D printer. It’s fairly uncharted territory on the Houston art scene, though Erick Calderon had some successful pieces in Lawndale Art Center’s “The Big Show” last year.

Anderson had many hurdles, including figuring out how to communicate with the printer. He began by exporting his Illustrator files into SVG, then importing into the 3D CAD design tool Tinkercad to create the elevations (up to three-eighths of an inch) and exporting that into an STL file. Even then, he says, the printer is cantankerous and has a dead zone that “just won’t print” and sometimes is so skewed that everything is an inch away from the zero point.

In this battle of man versus machine, Anderson has triumphed, as several pieces in the “#Heatstroke3D” exhibit reveal a successful merging of the ancient (encaustic painting dates back to early Egyptians) with the futuristic. A Tale of 20 Pyramids shows a scorpion tail of red polyhedrons, curving in an ever-smaller succession against a creamy background, and Tale Spin shows truncated pyramids in a yin-yang dance against an ocean of blue.

We also see a return of his gas-lamp motif, which did well at Bayou City Art Festival’s Candlelight Art Market last year. Für Elise a la Fleur de Lis contrasts the warm glow of the flame against the snowy depths nicely, and White Gas Lamp #1, with the frame of the lamp protruding from the canvas, is one of the best examples of his venture into the third dimension.

He has several pieces that incorporate the hexagonal shape, a nod to the bees and their honeycombs that produced his wax, but their capped thickness gives the illusion that they were laser cut from thick sheets of plastic, rather than through the laborious task of 3D printing. There are some nice pieces in this category, including Di-Hexa Blue Sky, Deka Di-Hexa Pansy Variety Pack and Di-Hexa Texas Sunset.

It will be interesting to see his work evolve over the next few years, as the software for 3D printing will see some enhancements and make elevations easier. Anderson says there was a lot of experimentation in finding the best way to affix the plastic to the encaustic paintings and he has applied for a patent for his methodology of “surface mounted 3D objects in encaustic.”

“#Heatstroke3D” continues through March 3, at Archway Gallery, 2305 Dunlavy, open Mondays to Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays 1 to 5 p.m., 713-522-2409, archwaygallery.com. Free.

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