by Carol Westfall
Although I have never met Francesca Azzara, I feel as though I know her well Her assorted vignettes, which she has posted on YouTube, highlight her work as a realtor, times with friends and, most importantly, her informative workshop videos. Francesca works primarily in encaustic wax, a medium that pre-dates oil painting and has found enormous popularity with contemporary artists over the past 15 years. Francesca’s 4 videos give you a quick glimpse of the basic techniques for creating an encaustic painting. She exhibits extensively throughout the tri-state area and runs group workshops at both the Newark Museum and the Arts Guild of New Jersey where she will be teaching this fall. Private and small group lessons are also available. Her work has received numerous awards including: two HEART grants from the Union County Division of Cultural Affairs and featured “Artist of the Month” on the state’s “Discover New Jersey Arts” web-site and has been cited in various publications including the New York Times and the Newark Star Ledger. Currently she is preparing new work for a solo show at PTC Therapeutics, a bio-tech firm in South Plainfield, NJ and an invitational group show at the Arts Guild of New Jersey. Both exhibitions will open this fall. Francesca works out of her studio in Westfield , New Jersey.
How did you decide that you were going to pursue being an artist?
I am not sure I ever consciously pursued being an artist. I have been creating art, in some form, my entire life. I attended FIT and received an associate’s degree in apparel design. After designing clothes for 17 years, I left the industry to raise my son and I began to paint. This eventually led me to Kean University where I received my BFA in studio art. I have been painting for 20 years and twelve years ago, I discovered the technique known as encaustic.
What are you working on now?
With two upcoming fall exhibitions, I am currently working on two separate bodies of work. The invitational show is an exhibition focused on houses. Houses have been a recurring theme in several past bodies of my work. The house shape represents one of the most basic human needs, shelter. In the past, my work has explored the transformation of house to home, thus changing from an object (a house) to an emotionally charged symbol (the home.) My “day job,” as a real estate agent has given me a first hand opportunity to see the metamorphosis of this object. For this new show, I will be revisiting the personal memories of some of the homes that have been significant in my own life.
(Interestingly, the Japanese kanji for HOUSE consists of the characters for roof and for woman. Thus, the primal need for shelter, sex and sustenance is all met in one character.)
For the solo show, I am working on a new abstract series. The focal point will be line, negative space and transparent layers, a visual language expressing internal conversations. The work is in the incubation stages at this point.
How are you working?
Wax is a lush medium . It is easy to get lost in the process. My personal challenge is to move more deeply into the context of the work rather than have the image be defined solely by the process.
I am experimenting with unconventional formats for encaustic work. I am combining many smaller works to create larger formats. I am also doing works on paper, something I have not done in quite a while.
What materials do you use? What is your motivation for using the materials and processes you use?
The diversity of materials that can be easily combined with encaustic wax, is one of the most alluring qualities of the medium. One can collage, photo transfer, use an assortment of techniques, the list is endless. I prefer to limit my choices when I work. This allows me to focus on content. Currently, I am using a tool that scorches the surface. I am using this for both the under painting and for patterning papers that are collaged into the surface. I am also working with sheer fabrics that can be layered and cottons that can be scorched. I often work with thread, charcoal and ink.
Encaustic allows me plenty of leeway to edit. I prefer to build, remove, add and subtract. I can leave a work for weeks or months and still rework it. I can scrape a surface down and start all over with only faint remnants of an original idea to build on again.
What is your routine? Etc
My studio time varies. Working full time often gets in the way. I think about my work whenever my mind has a free moment. It’s like a mental vacation. I will make small sketches and notes to take back to the studio. I try to keep the creative process in motion even if I am not painting. I will leave the studio in the middle of something that has a definite direction. This way, when I get back into the studio, my warm up time is spent finishing what has to be finished. This is a great way for my limited studio time to be most productive. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of time to ponder endlessly. If I don’t have time to paint for a long stretch, I will still go into my studio just to touch things and look around a bit.
Artists you have been influenced by, etc.
Georgia O’Keefe was one of my earliest influences. I read a lot about her. It helped me discover my abstract voice. Later, I became immersed in the works of several of the abstract expressionists, particularly Mark Rothko and Franz Klein. I am a big fan of Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly, Fred Tomaselli for his amazing collage work and Martin Puryear’s minimalist sculptures. My personal aesthetic tends towards minimalism or more appropriately communicating a lot with very little. The concept intrigues me and remains a constant challenge.
Who or what has helped you most?
The two grants I received from the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders were extremely critical to my work. For the first grant, I mounted three solo exhibitions in one year. Each exhibition was accompanied by an encaustic demo. This was over 10 years ago and most people had never heard of encaustic wax. This led to many invitations to teach and thus meet many influential people. I was also involved in the Jersey City Studio Tour which was also beneficial. Many excellent exhibition opportunities have come about from this kind of exposure.
Any negativity which might have affected you or your work?
I would say the medium. Very often the viewer gets very taken by the medium and the process. The content is passed over. Artists that work in encaustic are artists that work in a particular medium just like oil painters or water colorists. It is a means to an end.
Other art forms that affect your work?
Hmmm??? I am a very visual person. Definitely anything and everything from graphic design, fabric and interior design, architecture, pottery, glass, stationary, scuffs on walls, trucks filled with cartons, shipping containers stacked at the ports, cans and vegetables stacked at the supermarket, trees without leaves, fall leaves in a heap, the shape of leaves… birds…fish…insects, maps… (I love maps), the interconnection of roads and highways, the shape of cloud formations, sunsets, the farming fields of the heartland of America as you fly over them…very interesting, the stitching patterns on certain garments. I enjoy music and reading but…
Living /working in JC influence?
I spent the first 23 years of my life in Jersey City. Coming back as an artist is a great feeling. The city is in my blood. My work, at some level, still channels that.
Best kept secret?
Definitely the energy.
You can see Francesca’s work and learn about upcoming workshops at www.FrancescaAzzara.com.