Five Minutes with: Artist, Maggie Simonelli

R, MS River Flow.jpeg

Maggie Simonellli is an American artist best known for encaustic technique. Her style is a unique blend of processes used to create works layered with custom paints. With her characteristic use of textured surfaces, she creates expressive works that evoke “sensuality.” Simonelli received a BA from Connecticut College in Studio Art painting and Collage/Mixed Media, as well as an MFA in Painting and MS in Art History from Pratt Institute. She has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions. We asked about her process.

What drew you to encaustic technique?
I was first introduced to it in a Painting Processes class at Pratt, where I received my MFA in Painting. Encaustic is derived from the word Enkautikos, which means: to burn in. This an ancient painting technique used by the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. Instead of a medium made from linseed oil as in an oil painting, the paint is made of beeswax heated in a double boiler, applied hot, and heated with a heat gun. I fell in love with the medium immediately. I had been painting and collaging and saw how I could bring these two things together using beeswax as my medium. The beeswax can handle carving and layering of particular materials like gold, silver and copper leaf. There is a sensuality to the material that just makes you want to touch it.

Above: Details of River, Flow 2019; Encaustic, Chanel Quiet Revolution eyeshadow, Japanese glass pigments, Japanese coral, aluminum leaf, pigments and water: Hudson River on wood panels. Total composition: 24” x 78” x 1 1/2”

I developed my own technique carving with tools and collaging in materials, so I have the ability to make my own paints and therefore can experiment with natural materials like crushed pearls, indigo, bee pollen, sand, seashells, and seawater; or even unusual and fun ones like lipstick and eye shadow. I also like to include more historical art pigments like: lapis lazuli, malachite, coral, and cinnabar. Playfulness of the materials and medium makes it really fun to work with and to imagine each series with natural materials as symbols. There is a translucency to the beeswax layering that creates incredible depth, as if you are looking through time, and getting to the essence of the painting.

Meditations on the Hudson, Flowing River   (private commission) Encaustic, pigments, Chinese cinnabar, Japanese coral, aluminum leaf,   Chanel 122  Ocean Light  eye shadow, Hudson River water and acrylic on floating birch panel 18” h x 90" x 1 7/8”

Meditations on the Hudson, Flowing River (private commission)
Encaustic, pigments, Chinese cinnabar, Japanese coral, aluminum leaf, Chanel 122 Ocean Light eye shadow, Hudson River water and acrylic on floating birch panel 18” h x 90" x 1 7/8”

So how do you begin your process?
I really just jump in, but the painting has a life of its own. I come up with an idea, which is pretty rough and not fully formed. This leads me to other choices, colors, what size it wants to be, etcetera.  When it is going well, the painting is informing me.  It is an intuitive process…a meditative one that allows me to open myself up to listen. If I have an idea for a series I sketch it out.  Often my initial inspiration is sparked by specific ancient artworks, nature and themes of love.

For example: River, Flow comes from my daily walks on the Hudson River, which I call Meditations on the Hudson; The Wind & Grasses series was inspired by a Japanese nature painting of grasses and mist called Autumn Grass, by) by Suzuki Kiitsu, a 19th century artist; and the Vera Conversazione d’Amore series was inspired by the idea that romantic love as sacred. This is an ongoing theme in my artwork.  

Wind and Grasses Triptych
Encaustic, oxidized copper leaf, 16 kt pale gold leaf, Japanese coral, Arabian malachite, bee pollen, cosmetics: Chanel 204 TISSE VENDOME eyeshadows and pigments on birch 3 @ 20” x 20

Lady with a Flower   from   Vera Conversazione d’Amore   series 2017  Encaustic (cosmetic grade beeswax),  DIOR   Blue lagoon  eyeshadow, Japanese Iwamomo glass pigments, Arabian Malachite, bee pollen, 24 kt gold leaf , 16 kt. gold leaf, aluminum leaf and lotus essential oilon birch panels Each panel 16” w x 20” hAll Six panels : 96” w x 20” h

Lady with a Flower from Vera Conversazione d’Amore series 2017
Encaustic (cosmetic grade beeswax), DIOR Blue lagoon eyeshadow, Japanese Iwamomo glass pigments, Arabian Malachite, bee pollen, 24 kt gold leaf , 16 kt. gold leaf, aluminum leaf and lotus essential oilon birch panels Each panel 16” w x 20” hAll Six panels : 96” w x 20” h

How much time do you generally spend on a work, and when do you know its finished? 
A few months to a year.  My latest painting, River Flow, was started over a year ago. I had the idea, started it, then it germinated for a while. I finally finished it in July and recently exhibited at Gary Marotta Fine Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts. I take a lot of process pictures while I am working, review them and if I think it’s done, I’ll sleep on it and see what it looks like in the morning.

Any current or upcoming shows?
Yes. I am currently in a show with my mentor, Manuel Pardo, at Gary Marotta Fine Art G-1 in Provincetown, Massachusettes.I will also be exhibiting with Sara Nightingale Gallery in Sag Harbor in the Hamptons later this year.

CS