Encaustic Dreams

by Kate Dryden
          The presence of Christine Sajecki was hard to miss at “About Face”, a collaborative show featuring the work of 11 artists at S.P.A.C.E gallery on the balmy evening of July 12. She sat in the center of a semi-circle of easels being dutifully depicted by her painterly peers. Light washed over her as if it were sent from some divine being, blasting like a proud trumpet through the heavens to highlight this very fine woman among a full house of fine artists and appreciators alike.
           To the left of her, two very large, very emotion-ladden encaustic paintings clung to white walls, delivering an atmospheric glimpse into the relationship the subjects share with the world around them. These proud pieces came to fruition by the hand of the ever lovely Sajecki.
           After the show, she was sweet enough to agree to an interview with your humble narrator. I was very pleased to realize indeed how wonderfully creative, funny and insightful she truly is. So read on and bear witness to the loveliness that is Christine Sajecki.

K: First off, congratulations on the smashing success of “About Face”. Yourself and your collaborators had some really fantastic work up. Your work was especially interesting. Can you tell me a little bit about your process?

C: There’s a bunch of thinking, writing, staring, gathering and melting and preparing of materials. Then a photo session is usually involved; I use a mixture of memory, imagination, and photo references in making an image. Then the mortal battle in the studio begins- I have pancake griddles on my work bench of different colors of molten wax. I apply the paint to the panel lying flat on the bench, layer colors, torch them, carve in, draw on the surface… that part is the dance that can be easy or hard or fast or slow. The process is additive and subtractive, so it’s a back and forth of building and removing.

K: Pancake griddles, that’s intriguing! Do you just use them to melt candles or hunks of wax or do you use them as a tool to apply the wax?

C: I use them as palettes, my cups and bowls of mixed colors sit on them and stay molten. I’ll back up: I get 25lb slabs of beeswax, or smaller chunks from local beekeepers, and I melt that together with damar resin (a tree sap, acts as a hardener) in a big electric turkey roaster. Once that’s all integrated, I pour it into chocolate molds and muffin tins to make little cakes for later. I melt those little cakes and mix them with pigments in the cups & bowls on my griddles. It’s very kitchen-like, except you can’t eat the food.

A palette in Sajecki’s workshop

K: Do you go out and take photos and what kind of photos do you use as reference? Atmospheric? Landscape? Portraits? Something entirely different?

C: For self portraits, I put the camera on a tripod, often in the lane behind my house, and set it on timer to take ten pictures in a row. Then i do things related whatever the painting is going to be about. That way I can catch myself in action, I see what I really look like when I walk or smoke or carry things. I’m not a photographer, so I’m informed by the accidents a lot, the blurs and the washouts. My husband and I drove out west last year and I have 1000 blurry pictures of the side of the road that inspire me.

K: How did you get into encaustic painting?

C: I came to it as an oil painter, about 8 years ago. I had just spent a few weeks working as an usher for the Cirque Du Soleil. I was extremely inspired by it and wanted to do a body of work that had that charged atmosphere, theatrical energy, gravity and space. I couldn’t get there with oils, or was not patient enough to wait the drying time between layers. I started experimenting with different media and fell in love with wax. It was exactly what I was looking for, with the added bonus of physical danger and muscular finesse!

The encaustic dream herself, Christine Sajecki

K: Working for Cirque Du Soleil must’ve been SO COOL. In what city were you working for them?

C: Baltimore! The show was called Varekai. I highly recommend it if you get the chance! They come to a town and pretty much hire anyone who applies, and find something for everyone to do.

K: How much of your work is encaustic? What is the most used medium/method in your creations?

C: As far as the work I exhibit, the vast majority is encaustic unless it’s a drawing show or some other special circumstance. But there’s a lot of process and practice behind a piece. Photography and drawing, collage, collecting. I like to go to live model sessions and practice drawing the figure.
K: What are you currently working on?

C: At the moment, sort of tying up loose ends, getting ready for a fresh start. I have a few commissions and barter projects that I’m working on. I like to work on a few things at once, so at the same time, I have a lot of half-finished paintings, or paintings I don’t like, or paintings I would like if they just had one more or one less mark. When I take a break from the more serious paintings, I’ll take out one of those old paintings and try to gussy it up. Did you know that my husband and I are moving to Baltimore? It’s true. It’s bittersweet. So my current studio will be my husband’s Savannah office (he’s an architect and still has projects happening here) and I’ll be moving my studio to Baltimore at the end of the summer. So there’s that.

K: Oh no! Well there will be a great big hole in Savannah with your absence.

C: Pssshht. Nah. Plus, we’ll be back a lot, just in case anyone was thinking of missing us.

K: How would you describe your style?

C: Man, maybe you could help. People ask all the time and I don’t know that I’ve ever answered well. How would yoooou describe it?

K: I would say that your work is very atmospheric, and almost child-like in its purity. It conveys the physical appearance of a person or place, but its also stylized to drive the mood in an honest albeit abstracted way. You find a way to explain those things about a place that you really can’t put into words, the things that you have to feel and absorb in its presence to really understand. As a writer its endlessly frustrating to be able to explain everything but that vibe, that emotion, that presence, that… Ugh, see? There aren’t even words for it, which is why I find it so impressive that you’re able to not only convey that nameless thing to the viewer, but to literally show them through the lens of your work.

C: That’ll work! I like that you bring up writing. I think of painting as writing- paintings as books, yes.

A young couple contemplate another of Sajecki’s work

K: What inspires you? More specifically, what inspired the works you had up in S.P.A.C.E gallery?

C: Generally, inspiration comes from anywhere. Nature, garbage, Woody Allen, Steinbeck, fairy tales, walks, architecture, books, dreams, other artists, road trips, current events, family- I suppose that could be summed up broadly with STORIES and CONTRAST and TEXTURES. This specific work, I wanted to do self-portraits because they’re good to do every now and again, to check in with yourself, like markers of growth. I started a series or self-portraits about smoking- the first was for a show I was in a month before and doing that one was a horrible nightmare. Terrible! Crying in the studio, tears in my paint, pathetic terrible. So I had to keep going with this series, and work it out, or try to get a job somewhere and quit being a painter altogether. I wanted to paint about smoking because there was a little mystery buried in me about why I smoke, what it meant to me, why it’s important to me. Painting is part investigation. It has been so helpful- stepping out, seeing myself from outside smoking, studying my face smoking.

K: Ah, fairy tales! I definitely see that. You isolate a character or space from everything else in the world, letting it exist in its own universe, much like a fairy tale. Is it your intention to sort of separate your subjects from the known world in order to more effectively focus on the main idea, or is it more of a stylistic choice?

C: Exactly, yes! I love to remove and change the context, to more effectively see the thing. That’s the part that’s like writing to me.

Sajecki’s work at SPACE gallery

K: You tend to do some lecturing and teaching on the side. What compels you to do so and what kind of topics have you lectured on in the past?

C: I’m just asked to sometimes. Ha, I like the way you ask- I picture you picturing me at the front of a lecture hall with an old timey slide projector. It’s just more like a talk, informal, just people ask me to come in to schools or groups and talk about a certain body of work or encaustic or certain collaborations. It was fun doing a talk at the Flannery O’Connor Home with a few other artists about the connections to the author in particular pieces that we did. The stories of paintings I could talk about all day.

K: In the bio section of your site (which is adorable by the way) you mention that you collaborate with other artists in such activities as protests, campaigns and marsh wracking. Can you elaborate a bit in what kind of protests & campaigns you’ve been involved in as well as a brief description of what exactly marsh wracking is?

C: I lived in Baltimore during much the Bush administration, so it was a pretty quick train trip to go raise hell. Then my dear friend and favorite writer Joseph Young (www.verysmalldogs.blogspot.com) and I knocked on doors and registered voters during Obama’s 2008 campaign. Some friendships, everything feels like art and collaboration, know what I mean? & Marsh wracking! I’m sure you know Betsy Cain, or at least have seen her beautiful paintings. She lives on Wilmington Island right on the water, and a few years ago, a neighbor of hers was mistakenly awarded permission to build a 900+ foot dock. It’s obscenely longer than any other dock anywhere near it, and it traps wrack (the dead marsh grass) to the point where it could suffocate the marsh for miles. People go out and help Betsy do what nature would do herself if she were able- gathering the wrack and pushing it out into the tide. It is such pleasant, sensual, cleansing, important, and wonderful work. It’s like being inside one of Betsy’s paintings and pushing marks around. It feels like what acupuncture does to the channels in the body. I feel like it will inform my work in ways I don’t know yet for years to come.

K: I understand that you’re originally from Baltimore. What informed the great migration to the Hostess city?

C: Originally, I’m from Connecticut (a thrifty and pragmatic new englander by birth) and came here first in ’97 for to study at SCAD. That decision was informed by the warm February sun thawing out my pragmatic Connecticut ass when I came to visit. Moved to Baltimore as sort of a wild guess after school, for a bigger city. Loved it. Lu-hu-hoved it. Baltimore is a wonderful city. Moved back to the Hostess City for the love of Algar Thagne, my husband. We met in school and were friends and he stayed and I moved and a few years later we reconnected and lived happily ever after.

K: What kind of shows do you have coming up?

C: There’s a group show coming up in Athens in September, at the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art  (www.athica.org) – please check in with my website in a few days for links and more information about  that, it should be pretty epic, 70 artists from all over the universe! That’s in September.

K: Amazing! Well I’ll be sure to jet up to Athens to see it. Thanks so much for your time, Christine!

         More of Christine’s work can be found on her website (which is SO CUTE by the way) at www.christinesajecki.com and if you happen to be in the Georgia area in September, swing by Athens Institute for Contemporary Art to catch her work in person. Who knows, maybe you’ll have the honor of sharing a cigarette with your new favorite encaustic painter.

Author: SAI

Savannah Art Informer is a program by Art Rise Savannah, a non-profit arts organization in Savannah, Georgia.

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