Michael Giannella may have started out in pottery, but he found his passion in encaustic art. This wax medium lets him achieve the texture of acrylics, the flexibility of oil paints, and the adhesive properties of glue, all in one go. When combined with other elements like paper and shellac, the possibilities are endless. It dries quickly so it captures drips and other textures, but it can be re-melted or scraped away to adjust the texture and placement of different parts within the piece. Also, it's more eco-friendly than other mediums because it uses naturally occurring beeswax and tree resin instead of harsh chemicals with toxic fumes.
Encaustic wax is a highly workable medium, so artists like Mike get a lot of variety between their different pieces as they experiment with new techniques. Indeed, there are always new techniques to discover, whether it's using different tools to apply and adjust the wax, using different amounts of heat for different lengths of time, layering, or varying the amount of pigment mixed in with the wax. Even the setup and storage of the wax calls for innovation. Mike uses a pancake griddle to keep his various pots of wax liquid while he uses them.
Encaustic art is all about the process, and Mike’s work is no exception. He uses brushes, palette knives, heat guns, blow torches, and any other tool he has handy to achieve his desired effect. Each detail is carefully carved, melted, or brushed into place until he is completely happy with the final image. You can clearly see the joy and time that he puts into each and every work. All of the experimentation and playfulness comes through in the final image. Simply put, it looks like he had fun making them and learning from them, and that makes them all the more beautiful.
One way Mike achieves interesting textures is by forming the wax around paper. He uses paper that already has a distinctive grid-like cutout texture, and then lightly brushes the wax over the top so it gathers on the highest points. It hardens in no time, so he is able to add many layers and build up the wax until the surface is ridged. He then adds more texture and visual interest by dripping colored wax over the top. If the wax is thinner when poured, it gathers in the valleys between the bumps. If it is poured in a thin continuous stream, it creates narrow wax lines that contrast with the rounded drips. His hand is free and light but also steady and precise. Together with the luminous quality of the wax, his art takes on an ethereal glow.
Another masterful texture technique that Mike uses is embedding small trinkets into his art. In the coastal town of New Jersey where he lives, there are plenty of beaches to visit and find seashells or starfish that he seals into his work with uncolored encaustic medium. You may well do a double take when you first notice these objects, since it is not something you usually expect to find in seemingly 2D art. In fact, the 3-dimensional factor is part of what makes encaustic art so special. When these items are collected by the artist himself, it begins to tell a deeper story that first meets the eye. You get a sense of what Mike pays attention to in his everyday life, the places where beauty stands out to him and draws his eye. His art steps off the canvas and begins to walk around the room with you to show you the world from a different perspective.
If the encaustic medium itself is brimming with potential, it is mirrored in the wide variety of images that Mike takes on in his art. His inspiration comes in many forms, from flowers to seascapes to music. Flowing lines and bright bursts of colors shine through the wax and pull the eye into every corner of the canvas. Much of Mike’s work includes abstract elements, even the pieces that contain concrete imagery. Nebulous clouds billow in the background of his florals and dripped texture surround his portraits. His series called “Synapse” features a technique that results in dark criss crossing patterns which resemble neural networks. Paired with bright swirling colors in the background, the viewer gets a sense of the limitlessness of human consciousness and the beauty and individuality of the human mind. Other viewers of the same encaustic might instead see a galaxy, or the churning foam in the wake of a boat. This series captures the essence of Mike’s work, which is meant for people of all walks of life to connect with in their own way.
Michael Giannella’s work is for sale on his website and at local galleries in the New Jersey and tristate area. Check it out to learn more about his process and the encaustic medium.