A Sense of Place, Encaustic Paintings by Marilyn Banner, on View at Adkins Arboretum

The color is lush and the countryside is spirited in Marilyn Banner’s small encaustic landscapes on view at the Adkins Arboretum Visitor’s Center through Jan. 27. Her paintings of marshes and farmland (with occasional goats, cows and horses) are built up with vibrant layers of translucent beeswax.

Encaustic “paint” is actually molten beeswax mixed with damar resin (crystallized tree sap), tinted with pigment and heated till it’s molten. The word “encaustic” means “burning in” and refers to the process of fusing layers of wax together into an extremely durable and archival surface. There will be a reception to meet the artist and learn more about the process of encaustic painting on Sat., Dec. 10 from 3 to 5 p.m.

Rhythmic strokes of green and ochre describe tall grasses surrounding a pool of water in “Marsh Rhythms,” a 12”-square panel. Banner built the surface up in layers of colored wax with shades of turquoise and pale green peeking through from beneath. Opaque white marks float on the surface, like sunlight on the reeds, and marks carved into the wax lend a sense of depth and distance.

“I can draw and paint and play with fire,” Banner said, describing how it feels to work in encaustics. “I think it’s magical because it’s beeswax. It’s natural. It’s very different from working with acrylic paint.”

Encaustic is a medium that has to be seen in real life. Its translucent depth and sensuous, luminous quality can’t be reproduced by photography or in print. For Banner, its strong physical qualities help her to hone in on the feelings she has for particular landscapes.

The meadows and foothills of the Shenandoah Valley appear in many of these works. Although Banner normally works in her Kensington studio, not far from her home in Takoma Park, she has had several artist’s residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. There she can concentrate fully on her work while being surrounded by the beauty of the farmlands at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This landscape has become part of her, as have the marshes and beaches on Cape Cod where she and her husband, pianist Carl Banner, often go to visit Carl’s family.

“I can’t paint places that I haven’t internalized,” she said. “I have to feel the resonance of the place, how it felt to be there.“

Banner, who exhibits frequently in New York and in the Washington, D.C., area, sees her interpretations of landscape as poetic or even romantic. She works and reworks her images, often inscribing drawings into the wax and rubbing oil paint into the surface. She may add color or carve parts of the wax away, until the image resonates with her feeling for the landscape.

“That was my training,” she explained. “I was trained by an Abstract Expressionist who worked with nature.”

Taking the advice of this teacher at Washington University in St. Louis, where she earned a BFA, Banner learned to approach her work as an open-ended process of discovery, with much the same philosophy as the Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s. After doing graduate work at Queens College and earning an MSEd at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, she experimented with many media from collage and photo transfers to mixed media sculpture, but since 2004, Banner has been captivated by encaustic painting.

The physical layers of encaustic medium dovetail with her feelings for the multiple layers of meaning in her work. For Banner, making art is a way of coming to know the inner world by exploring the landscapes of the outer world.

This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists, sponsored in part by Caroline County Council of Arts. It is on view through Jan. 27 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or info@adkinsarboretum.org for gallery hours.

In photo: “Marsh Rhythms” is among the encaustic paintings of Takoma Park artist Marilyn Banner on view through Jan. 27 at Adkins Arboretum. There will be a reception to meet the artist on Sat., Dec. 10.

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. Through its Campaign to Build a Green Legacy, the Arboretum will build a new LEED-certified Arboretum Center and entranceway to broaden educational offerings and research initiatives promoting best practices in conservation and land stewardship. For additional information about Arboretum programs, visit www.adkinsarboretum.org or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.