By Gina Malone
There’s a lot of science behind Jim Waters’ art: in the theories that inform his composition, in the mixing of the colors he puts on surfaces and in the things that inspire him to create. “I’ve always been interested in the natural world—sunlight and shade, plants and animals, the ancient elements, earth, wind, fire and water,” Waters says.
A Wisconsin native, he was encouraged by his mother as a child to be artistic and he made drawings, paintings, sculpture and woodwork. From his father, he gained a love of tools and shops, which led to a career as a contractor. After retiring 16 years ago, he began working full-time as an artist.
“My lifelong interest has been to understand more deeply what underlies this world, ourselves and our universe,” he says. “I’ve always had a fascination with archetypal symbology and the mathematical formulas that guide the construction of universal patterns found everywhere in forms large and small.”
Waters is guided by the golden mean, a ratio found universally in the natural world and often used to eye-pleasing effect by artists and architects. “I often use it in the composition and hidden meanings of my paintings,” he says. “For instance, a number of my recent abstracts are named PHI, another name for the golden ratio, since the starting point for them is the division of my picture plane into parts reflecting that relationship—a simple, yet profound, method of basic composition.” A composition based on this principle is not only aesthetically pleasing, he adds, but provides a “connection to the universal mystery of the creation of all things.”
Four studies within the field of quantum physics—the Double Slit Experiment, Quantum Entanglement, the Higgs Boson Discovery and the Schroedinger’s Cat thought experiment—also play into his creativity. “I make paintings based on these ideas and I enjoy it greatly,” Waters says. His Particle Dance paintings from 2017 are based on images from electron colliders and his current work references quantum entanglement and the double slit experiment. “I don’t think explaining what these experiments are in detail could be accomplished in a brief article,” Waters says. “However, the concept that subatomic particles may not exist until we measure them poses profound questions for our world. Does the world exist when we are not looking at it? What is consciousness? A tiny world of unanswered questions.”
As an abstract painter working exclusively in encaustics, Waters is unique in the area. He works in encaustic wax, a mixture of purified beeswax and damar crystal used in Greco-Roman Egypt nearly 2,000 years ago. Some of the ancient funerary portraits created with encaustic wax still survive today and, Waters says, “are still luminous and beautiful, as though they were painted yesterday.”
He uses Utrecht oil paints and some powdered pigments that, mixed with the wax and damar crystal, create cakes of colored wax that can be used as molten paint. He employs propane torches to fuse the wax that is applied in layers. “My paintings are filled with circles and squares, golden rectangles, arcs and grids,” Waters says. “The paintings are many-layered, incised, scraped, cut, painted-over fields of motion and color, hidden and revealed again, as an allegory for the history of the world.”
Ideas for paintings come from images and daydreams he has when reading, working or going about his daily life. Meditation helps him prepare himself mentally for creative work. “I tend to work intuitively, and, once inspired by an idea or image, I set to work with very little preparation save a basic compositional armature and just begin with a few shapes and colors, usually ones I’ve used before. I try to let my direction run freely for a while, then assess what I see.”
Feelings and emotions are part of the process of creating honest and pure art, Waters believes. “It’s important to somehow include everything in a painting, but in considered measure,” he says. “It has been said to, first, make it beautiful, then make it ugly, then make it good. Since overworking a painting is a common and easy thing to do, the first two come naturally. The making of a good painting is something else again.”
To learn more, visit jimwatersencaustics.com. Find Jim Waters’ work at Penland Gallery in Penland, In Tandem Gallery in Bakersville and Toe River Arts Council galleries in Burnsville and Spruce Pine. His studio, Buzzard Rock Studio, 311 Murphy Branch Road in Burnsville, is open year-round and will be open during the Toe River Arts Council Studio Tour Friday, June 1, through Sunday, June 3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On September 1–2, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., his work will be featured in a show, 10 Friends in Their Element, at Toe River Arts Council Spruce Pine Gallery’s upper level.