“I love the wax; it’s so seductive,” explains Miranda Lake, a New Orleans artist working in encaustic, a medium she made her own more than ten years ago following an extended workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center near Aspen, Colorado.
Born and raised in Connecticut, Lake (b. 1969) grew up immersed in the arts, particularly her father’s Op Art, a form of expression utilizing patterns and distortions. With a degree in Art History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she expanded her creative thinking with studies at the Parsons School of Design and The London College of Fashion.
Her trained artistic eye craved stimulation from an early age. In addition to collecting and creating, she traveled, immersing herself for extended periods in new places, such as Alaska, London, New York, Seattle, and her destiny, New Orleans.
Lake’s preferred medium, encaustic, is an ancient practice blending beeswax with pigment, melted together and then applied with a knife, hot iron, or heat gun. As early as Ancient Egypt, artists painted using this method; however, in modern times, art giants like Jasper Johns use the wax to adhere other materials, such as newspaper and textiles, to a wooden surface.
Miranda Lake embraces this collage type of work in her encaustic creations. With the help of melted wax, she incorporates family photographs, clip art, maps, stamps and other materials onto plywood, arranging these elements to make personal statements and ponder universal truths. Within Lake’s work lie philosophical and spiritual journeys such as childhood to adulthood, life to death, and societal constraints to freedom.
“There is a certain beauty or grace in life’s struggles,” observes Lake. “Oftentimes these engender the best part of ourselves to grow.”
This perspective influenced her work following Hurricane Katrina. Using encaustic, she perches flooded houses on trees, sets a Harriet Nelson-type housewife, gun to her head, in an underwater birds’ nest, and pits children against children with swords.
Ironically, she fuses this tragedy with beauty in both her imagery and titles: the condemned houses resemble spring buds (Sanctuary), the suicidal housewife smiles (There’s No Place Like Home), and the sparring children stand upon stars and a golden moon (Crusaders for a Better Tomorrow).
In much of Lake’s work, animals, “armed and dangerous, but cute and fluffy,” are her mediums and muse. Among other things, she explores humankind’s adoration for the living creature and yet our willingness to place that same creature, following taxidermy, above our mantle.
Lake’s recent series focuses on “Animals for the New Millennium.” This includes not only encaustic, but also dioramas and computer work. With her dry-mount press and archetypal printer she manipulates or creates outright elements for both two-dimensional and three-dimensional work, applying beeswax and oil stick afterwards to “frost the cake.”
Like many contemporary artists, Miranda Lake embraces the computer as a new tool. Using technology, she creates original print designs, such as her bicentennial tribute, Louisiana, the Pelican State (pictured at the top of this post), “a celebration,” according to Lake, “of the natural beauty of our state, as well as a reminder that we must carefully tend our future —- like eggs in a nest.”
In addition to encaustic, dioramas and computer work, Lake’s recent creative projects include house wares, upholstery, and other product lines reflective of her unique vision.
Although represented in galleries nationwide, Lake prefers the personal experience at home, in New Orleans, visiting by appointment with clients in her studio at 2041 Magazine Street.
—Also this week by Wendy Rodrigue: “Read Me the Blues,” thoughts on libraries, books and blogging, a new post for “Musings of an Artist’s Wife,” linked here-
—A similar version of this essay appears on the website KnowLA: the Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana History and Culture and within the upcoming book A Unique Slant of Light: The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana, a project edited by Michael Sartisky, Ph.D., President/Executive Director of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and J. Richard Gruber, Ph.D., Founding Director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, scheduled for publication in September 2012 in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Louisiana’s statehood-