Wednesday, June 17, 2009

July Artist: Art of Surprise

If you associate batik with wild-printed scarves and skirts sold at street markets, you have been missing out on the wonderful applications this art form offers.

My recommendation is to immediately check out Mary Fiore’s colorful, diverse and beautiful batik paintings.

Fiore has been working in batik for over twenty years, and a collection of her work is on display during the month of July at Absolutely Art. She recently took some time out from the intense process of batik-making to talk about how she got into the medium, her process, her inspirations and more.

How did you become a batik artist? What is it about batik that interests you?

Becoming a batik artist wasn’t planned. It had its beginnings in the chaos of taking twenty credits while trying to finish an art degree at Tulsa University before a planned move back to Arizona when I was a young mother. “Crafts” was on the list of requirements, and having never done a batik before, I chose that as one of my crafts requirements. I immediately fell in love with the process, which can be controlled but which has an element of the unexpected and requires flexibility. Once the hot wax is painted onto the fabric, it’s a done deal. There is no going back, no correcting—there is only the opportunity to take that accidental drip and incorporate it into the finished product, a kind of “I meant to do that.” Mostly, I love it because of the end result—when the entire piece is nearly covered with wax, removing it in the final step is an “unveiling” of sorts, and can result in a great sense of satisfaction (or sometimes in a great disappointment), but it’s always a learning process and a little bit of a surprise. I like that.

Tell me about your process for creating a work.

Batik is a resist form that is created on fabric with hot wax and dyes. The initial step is the subject matter, the thought of a beautiful scene, a place, a face. I use photos I have taken, usually with the batik in mind. From that photo, I sketch the drawing onto a piece of paper, heavily outlining it with a marking pen, then lay the cotton fabric over it and trace the lines of the design.

The fabric is then stretched taut onto a working wood frame (my first ones were stretched over the top of a cardboard box), and hot wax (a mixture of paraffin and beeswax) is painted directly onto the fabric, beginning with the lightest color and working to the darkest. All areas to remain white are waxed first. The fabric is then removed from the frame and dipped into the first dyebath (the lightest color) with additives that allow the dyes to adhere to and permanently bond with the fabric. The piece is then allowed to dry, and the entire process is repeated (stretching it over the frame and painting hot wax over the areas to remain the color that was just dyed). The process requires planning and a knowledge of color, for the dyes are overdyed with one another (yellow overdyed with red produces orange, then overdyed with blue produces brown). This process is continued until the dipping of the final and darkest color.

The major characteristic of a batik is the “crackle,” the dark spider web lines that appear throughout the design. That is obtained by bending or “scrunching” the fabric right before the final dyebath and creates cracks in the wax, which allow the dye to penetrate. This can be controlled, depending on the amount of scrunching as well as the kind of wax (paraffin is more brittle and results in more crackle, while a higher level of the more pliable beeswax results in less crackle).

After the final dyebath, the piece is nearly covered in dried wax and difficult to see. The wax is then removed. I iron it between lots and lots of newsprint, which soaks up most of the wax, and then have the piece dry cleaned, which removes all traces of the wax and additives. The piece is then stretched onto a backing, matted and framed.

What (or who) are your artistic inspirations?

I enjoy art of all kinds, but have always loved the work of Andrew Wyeth, both in his incredible talent and in his subject matter. I identify with his observations of life as it is—the beauty of ordinary days, of the places and people that inhabit our world. I especially enjoy doing scenes of life around me—of the people and places I have visited as well as of those that are in my immediate world. Most recently I have done pieces that relate to the Dane County Farmers’ Market or nearby community gardens, as they encompass much of the beauty I see right here—the man selling apples at the market in the fall, the couple choosing flowers for a bouquet, brilliant sunflowers.

What do you want people to get from seeing your work?

I’d like them to come away with a deeper sensitivity to the beauty that surrounds them—the beauty of old faces, of colors and smells, of the comforts of “home.” We tend to think that the interesting things in life are far away, in other cultures and places, when in fact we are surrounded with it right here. I have done commissioned work in the past but mostly enjoy doing a piece and having someone love it enough to choose to have it grace their own home. I have enjoyed other types of art—pen and ink and watercolor—but find myself always returning to batik and the joys it gives me.

Mary Fiore’s artwork is on display July 1–31 at Absolutely Art, 2322 Atwood Ave. For more information, call 249.9100 or visit

Photos are courtesy of Absolutely Art.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The July issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• How Madisonians will be brining in old artwork and objects for appraisal on “Antiques Roadshow” this month.
• A look at a new movement arming artists with business skills.
• Meet a printmaker who counts nature as his primary inspiration.
• The poem “My Walking Inspiration” by Jolieth McIntosh.
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts and exhibits taking place in July.

No comments: