Aine, mixed media (photography, beeswax, pigments), 30″ x 30″, 2013
Ava, mixed media (photography, beeswax, pigments), 24″ x 24″, 2013
Isabel, mixed media (photography, beeswax, pigments), 24″ x 24″, 2013
Kathryn, mixed media (photography, beeswax, pigments), 24″ x 24″, 2013
Marlena, mixed media (photography, beeswax, pigments), 36″ x 36″, 2013
Sophie, mixed media (photography, beeswax, pigments), 26″ x 36″, 2013
Talin, mixed media (photography, beeswax, pigments), 30″ x 30″, 2013
Tawny, mixed media (photography, beeswax, pigments), 30″ x 30″, 2013
My Below the Surface series depicts classic images reminiscent of old Hollywood. The images are full of gesture, spontaneity, and motion and, on the surface, explore notions of glamorous femininity through the black dress, stiletto heels, and black stockings. But, like all women and all artistic expression, there is much below the surface.
These images were shot underwater, giving my model and I mere moments to capture a pose before the pull of the water changed the image forever. For me, it was an exploration of the past and of the future, the vulnerability and the sense of unbalance we feel when everything changes—in my case, the loss of my mother. We are forever held in that moment in time, while also impelled to move forward, willingly or not.
These photographs were printed on tissue paper in multiple pieces, which were embedded within layers of hot beeswax and pigments to create a more textural aspect. As part of the process, I cropped the images out of their underwater environment to enable viewers to bring their own memories and sensibility to the work.
Still, this series is personal to me. Several of the dresses photographed belonged to my mother, imbuing the images with her timeless sense of style. But the mixed-media layering process I use helped transform her dresses and these images into something unique and new.
In this work, as in my life, I am piecing together what time has changed.
About the Artist
Specializing in encaustic photographs, Minnesota-based Clare O’Neill began her career taking images of people and places in Ireland. She showed her first body of photographic work in 2009.
Seeking to add depth and texture to her work, Clare O’Neill no longer holds to traditional black-and-white film photography. Inspired by traditional oil painting, she uses her images, which she prints on tissue paper, as a starting point to manipulate and create works with a three-dimensional quality. Beginning with spontaneous, high-resolution digital images, she applies and re-applies multiple layers and textures—digitally and with encaustic wax—until her interpretation feels right. Rendered with a dream-like haze, Clare O’Neill’s work is at once mysterious and intriguing, suggesting an imaginative, sensual, provocative, even timeless style. The results she achieves with her photos etch in memory much more detail than do original out-of-the-camera images.
A Note on Clare O’Neill’s Encaustic Process
Encaustic is a wax-based painting medium that dates back thousands of years. Its origins are in ancient Greece, where shipbuilders used beeswax to caulk and waterproof their vessels’ hulls; they discovered that by adding pigment to the wax, they could create patterns on the hulls’ surfaces for times when the warships sailed into battle.
Clare O’Neill’s mixed-media essentials are, in addition to her photographs, molten beeswax, pigment, and damar crystals. The process she uses entails fusing the layers of wax after each application, making it possible to see many layers at once. Labor-intensive, the process is greatly facilitated by the availability of commercially prepared materials and equipment that can be electrically heated.
Encaustic’s contradictory aspects—hot/cold, opaque/translucent, liquid/solid, thick/thin, immediate/enduring—attest to its unique potential to embody many things at once. They also make perfection and control of the process impossible. The artist must be open to the unexpected, for the imperfection of the work is its own elegance.