An ancient material notably used in Egyptian mummy portraits, encaustic is pigmented beeswax that can create a multitude of results—a matte or glossy finish, thin glaze or thick impasto. Grady says the paint is also one of the most permanent; the wax repels moisture and helps maintain the integrity of the piece. Grady’s initial attempts with encaustic were discouraging. “It can be a clumsy technique to get detail,” he explains, “and I was trying to paint with some detail because I was trying to paint figures—heads—so I wasn’t satisfied with the results.” Grady turned to oil and watercolor for some paintings in his series of conductor and composer portraits before being drawn back to encaustic. “Maybe it was because I was older or more patient,” he says, “but I was able to get better results with the encaustic. I’m very satisfied with it now and I’ve given up oils totally.”
Still, Grady has only deemed three of these works suitable for public display, and he makes his encaustic debut at Kingston’s Gallery at R&F with his depiction of painter Francis Bacon. Bacon #1 is part of his series of closely cropped head shots of artists, which also include Picasso, Lucian Freud, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. “In different ways, they each opened certain doors to artists by showing that anything was possible—that you could do abstract expressionism and throw paint around and it was acceptable. And those are important things, even if I don’t particularly like their aesthetic.” His choice to represent Bacon was based on an admiration of his style, not direct influence. “Bacon’s paintings tend to be very psychologically charged; he’s able to get a good overview of the sitter with a minimal amount of exact representation,” Grady explains. “But he still gets their essence, and I like that, even though it’s not particularly how I work.”
Grady prefers to call these pieces “big heads” rather than portraits, explaining that a portrait often involves defining a psychological aspect of a person and conveying that through the painting. “Because I don’t know them,” he says, “I’m just using their image as a point of departure in painting. I want to have a certain resemblance to them, but I also want to paint and move paint around; that’s important to me.”
Thomas Grady’s Bacon #1 is part of the exhibition “Encaustic Works 2007,” on view through September 29 at two Kingston locations: Gallery at R&F, (845) 331-3112, www.rfpaints.com; and Watermark/Cargo Gallery,
(866) 405-8076, www.watermarkcargogallery.com.