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Waxing Geometric: Contemporary Islamic and Encaustic Paintings

How do you engage with an ancient art form that continues to be practiced today? What does it mean for a contemporary artist to make use of sacred mathematical tools and techniques that are more than a thousand years old? Tremain Smith’s Waxing Geometric reveals her long-held appreciation for Arab/Islamic art and a deep relationship with geometric forms borne out of her own explorations and her work over many years with Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.

“I started working in encaustic 25 years ago because I wanted to be able to layer and collage with oil paint. I tried some cold wax medium and it took too long to dry. So I picked up a cake of beeswax and experimented. There was very little information on encaustic then, so I taught myself,” Smith shared. Her work involves collaged geometric shapes, preserving and separating the essence of each layer. She has four works of art in the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and has been featured in the encaustic art publications: Encaustic in the Twenty First Century and The Art of Encaustic Painting Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax.

Earlier in February 2020, Smith led a Mixed Media Workshop designed for family participation. It was a joyful, intergenerational event. Youth and adults constructed their own six-point rosette, from which they identified various patterns and colored with different mediums. Participants were able to study and apply the complexity of the grid and repetition in their work, while also learning about recurring motifs and techniques in Islamic Art. Smith explained the significance of the “rosettes” in Islamic Art–a form that represents organic objects in nature. She said, “The seed is the beginning or foundation of the rosette which can expand infinitely in space,” therefore the rosette can imitate the germination of life and the universe’s infiniteness.

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