Berkley artist works combine paint, light, wax and photography
No two creative sessions are the same for Melissa Porter. When she’s working on her encaustic art, she allows herself flexibility for her process — which varies depending on how she feels.
“When I enter my art studio, I try not to have an agenda,” says Porter, of Berkley. “I set and keep regular business hours with dedicated time for creativity. At those times, I just allow myself to play, I dance around, touching things until something grabs my attention, some days lots of things grab my attention other days I’m hyper-focused on the intricate details of a piece. I love standing back at the end of the day and seeing what came up, it’s always interesting and sometimes works.”
Porter initially pursued business after high school, but fell for photography after taking it as an elective, and ended up earning her BFA in Fine Art Photography from College for Creative Studies.
She came up with a technique of painting her black and white photos. But a few years ago, while on sabbatical from her portrait business, her style changed when she began working with encaustic — a process of painting with warm pigmented wax — taking a workshop in her newfound passion.
“I liked everything about working with the wax, the smell, the warmth — it was very tactile and reminded me of working in the darkroom,” Porter says. “I started trying to incorporate it into everything and was left wanting more. I found a photo encaustic workshop taught by Candice Law that left me grateful and inspired. I love the soft dreamlike quality the wax gives photographs, it reminds me of old photographs where everything wasn’t razor sharp and hyper-real.”
She describes herself as an empath, and often takes inspiration for her works from the energy of people around her. Porter says being in nature also inspires her and renews her life force.
“It’s there that I find color and texture inspiration,” Porter says. “On a good day, I might even find a treasure that eventually finds its way into one of my art pieces.”
Porter is one of 23 artists with work in Northville Art House’s “House of Wax” show, going on through Aug. 23.
Each year, the Art House usually has three juried exhibitions and chose encaustic as a subject because there aren’t many encaustic shows in the area.
“The response to hosting the ‘House of Wax’ exhibition was obviously strong among the artists who work in the medium,” says Ryan Kaltenbach, exhibits director at Northville Art House. “In addition to artists in Michigan, largely in the southeast, the exhibition garnered attention nationally, as we received submissions from artists living in five states including Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Texas.”
Juror Candace Law selected artists to bring a variety of pieces created through the versatile process of both cold wax and hot (encaustic), including paintings, prints, collage and sculptural works.
“The exhibition offers an extraordinary range of expression and allows viewers to discover how depth, texture and luminosity play a vital role for artists who work with cold wax and encaustic,” Kaltenbach says.
Porter says she especially looked forward to this show because of the works she’ll have in it — from different points in her art career. She’ll have her newest piece, “Travel Restrictions” which features her black-and-white photography combined with paint and wax, and her first mixed-media piece, “Wounded Arm,” through which light shines.
“I’d be a big fat liar if I didn’t say I wanted to sell a piece,” Porter says. “It is, after all, how I make my living and the notion of starving artist has no appeal for me. I’m also a practical girl and would be just as satisfied to have my piece connect and resonate with another human being. That is ultimately why I create — to connect with, inspire and add my voice to the conversation.”
• If You Go: The House of Wax exhibit runs through Aug. 23 at Northville Art House, 215 W. Cady St., Northville. Gallery hours are noon-5 p.m. Tues.-Fri., noon-4 p.m. Sat., 6-9 p.m. First Fridays. For more information, visit northvillearthouse.org.