Q&A with Tiffany Bociek

Q&A with Tiffany Bociek

Tiffany Bociek’s solo exhibition, Enduring Exuberance, consists of three series that were born from the artist’s internal exploration of her past, her present state of being, and a vision for her future self. This is the first in a series of exhibitions in 2024 at the gallery that will explore the curatorial theme of “Memories”. Created through encaustic painting, the physical layering of the wax draws a lovely parallel to memories that are passed down from one generation to the next as each is added to the collective family narrative. Below Bociek explains her process of working with encaustic and how its imperfect nature has impacted and changed her perfectionist mentality.

Sparks: Can you explain what encaustic painting is and how you do it?

Bociek: Encaustic is essentially the layering of hot wax. Encaustic means to “fuse” or “burn in”, so each layer gets fused together. I use a torch and heat gun, and sometimes even the sun to create my work.

I start with a porous substrate such as wood. I will typically mark up the painting first, so it’s not blank, and then I’ll go over it with about 3 or 4 layers of clear wax. From there you can do a lot of different stuff. For me this is where I start to work more intuitively. I’ll have my color selection laid out and start making marks and burn in each layer. And it’s a really beautiful process because you have so much that you can do with it. 

One of the things I’ve been enjoying lately is creating a deeply layered background and then taking a knife and scraping into it to reveal some of the layers underneath. It’s wax, so as you’re building up, some layers are going to be taller or higher up, and some are going to be deeper down. So as you scrape, you can let parts of the top remain while in other places scrape down to reveal the layers underneath.

I also like to carve into the work, which is called incising. You can carve into the wax, lay another color in, and then scrape that color back. You can have really fine line details running through it. You can do even photo transfers; it’s a really fun process with the wax because it’s never perfect. When you do photo transfer, it usually does not end up perfectly smooth on the wax—sometimes the photo doesn’t completely adhere. It’s about the process, and for me making the encaustic is about coming to the understanding that achieving perfection is not the ultimate goal. For me it is an emotional expression.

Tiffany Bociek – Down the Upside Turn the World

Sparks: What is the actual process of using hot wax like?

Bociek: The hot wax is used to paint with instead of a traditional paint like oil or acrylic. It has to be wax made of purified beeswax, and tar resin, which is a natural resin that comes from a tree. Basically you pound the resin down and put it into a heated pot and add the beeswax in to end up with this new wax. You can add pigment to it and mix that in to create different colored waxes. Then you heat up the brush (which has old wax hardened in it already) in a pan. The tricky thing is that both the substrate and brush have to be at certain temperatures, because a temperature difference between brush and substrate can create differences in textures (which you may or may not want). It’s a fun process. 

And regarding storing these, the melting temperature of the wax is about 180 to 210 degrees, so unless your encaustic artwork is in your front window and the sun is beaming at it, which you shouldn’t do in the first place, it will be okay.

Tiffany Bociek – When You Come to the Beginning, Start (Detail)

Sparks: What is the theme of the exhibition?

Bociek: To me Enduring Exuberance is a playful way of thinking about life. A lot of my work is centered around the idea of daydreams or memory. So some of the pieces are reflections on stories that I grew up with.

My mom was a genealogist, and on our family vacations we would travel across the country looking at cemeteries and learning the stories of my family. And I would learn and remember those stories as if they were my own memories. I remember sitting down and listening to my Nana and Pops talk about their childhood, their parents and grandparents, and knowing those stories as if I could tell them myself. And so much of my work is based off a kind of inward self reflection and feeling that connection with family.

Tiffany Bociek – The Creation of Good and Evil on This Journey of Freedom as We Forge to Our Destination (Detail)

There is a noticeable feeling of nostalgia, I think, in certain pieces. My “Wandererers” series centers around this idea of questioning who I am, and how I got here. When the series started, I began with questions that I had in my head about how I got to this point. And then I made characters and put them into certain little situations to help go through that. And then as experiences changed, my answers changed, or my question sort of changed. I started looking more inward, and found myself through time spent in the garden. Listening to all the sounds around me, it’s amazing how many sounds that we have in this hustle and bustle of life that can go unnoticed, such as how the sounds of the flapping of a bumblebee differ from that of a honeybee’s. I take those memories of the garden and translate them into my work as a way of dealing with a transition that I was going through.

I also created a “tear and share” series, which was essentially about breaking my own personality, which is very perfectionistic. And that really, really forced me because that project was about building a single piece and then tearing it apart. You have to use a hot knife to cut through the wax, and you don’t always know exactly where things are going to join together. So when you tear it all apart, portions of wood get stuck to the wrong side and you have to cut it apart. But because it is wax, it’s really fun. You can use the heat in your hands to rejoin it back together, or use the heat gun, either way you have added a new mark to the existing piece. I got to really play with these elements and just explore and have fun.