Deedra Ludwig: Gestures in Nature

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Southside Gallery, in Oxford, Mississippi, features the work of Deedra Ludwig, an encaustic collage artist representing Port Townsend, Washington. Her work has been described as Â?poetically abstract paintingsÂ? and featured in galleries throughout the United States. The exhibition runs February 7 through March 4. An opening reception is set for Friday, February 11, 6:30 Â? 8:30 p.m.

Last month, Southside Gallery featured the encaustic collage work of Miranda Lake. In a gallery talk with Lake, the artist mentioned the use of encaustic in early Egyptian paintings, which have over time retained their vibrancy and visual appeal. The current show on at Southside Gallery features Deedra Ludwig, an encaustic collage artist from Port Townsend, Washington, who is a kind of hybrid artist-preservationist-botanist, grounded by a pleasant demeanor and alacrity for art. While Lake and Ludwig share their choice of medium, the end result of their creative processes is strikingly different.

The divergence begins with how Ludwig became acquainted with the archaic medium of encaustic. Rising up like small mountains, the Great Pyramids of Egypt provided the backdrop for the experience that gave life to the work on display at the gallery. The image of Ludwig traveling to this ancient land conjures up thoughts of Howard Carter, archeologist of King Tutankhamen’s parched grave. Like the renowned archeologist Ludwig discovered something, except in her case, it was something that she could legally take home with her.

The tombs and temples of Luxor, also known as Thebes, are covered with honorific encaustic paintings. Since their creation, they have remained intact despite exposure to the elements and the effect of time. Ludwig’s research of the painting techniques of ancient Egyptians formed the basis of the direction of her current body of work. Beeswax, she discovered, was associated with imagery in religious rites, and like the imagery it created, it sustained a mythic longevity. Moving beyond Egyptian mythology, however, Ludwig chose to focus on the natural quality of beeswax and its ability to preserve nature. “I see my work recording natural surroundings,” says Ludwig, “I want to create archival statements that may well outlive some of the endangered plants that are my subject.”

In Sassafras, Ludwig is a dutiful botanist. Lying like a fresh sample plucked from willing branches, the specimen for which the painting is named, resembles a plant fossil. The leaves, desiccate and warped, form a well of darkness in contrast to the eerie glow of the lush vegetation of leaves and a Bordeaux blossom that surrounds it. The glow, a result of layers of mica, gold and copper metallic pigment is not gaudy but luminous. Ludwig reminds us that Nature is not ornate, but wistfully understated. On the surface, one sees a naturalist’s scrapbook, yet careful examination reveals a place.

“I explore the place where I work by walking and surveying,” explains Ludwig. To make several of the encaustic panels, Ludwig’s studio begins in Washington and has extended to the South. Sassafras finds a place in the collective memory of Southerners beyond its arboreal existence. As a drink, its taste has been compared to a diluted root beer soda. But in cooking, especially in Louisiana, the leaves are used as a condiment in sauces, and also for thickening the ubiquitous gumbo. Without sassafras, a key ingredient in the file powder that lends gumbos its distinctive taste, an iconic dish may cease to exist. By making this connection between vegetation and humanity, Ludwig has accomplished her goal of creating a sense of symbiosis.

Symbiosis is at the core of the show’s theme, “Gestures in Nature.” For Ludwig, “gestures refer to the literal movement of man moving through landscape.” This body of work explores the cycle of the natural world and serves as a reminder that what we see under the hazy gauze of the encaustic wax is a moment in time. Humans alter the landscape as they move through it. Ludwig wants to preserve plants that are suffering from contamination and may, as a result of their weakened status, disappear into oblivion.

In the collage, Gestures in Solitude, oblivion resembles the smoldering white sphere at the center of the composition. Even without a background of concept, viewers can embrace Ludwig’s attention to balance and beauty. Layers like sediment expose the skeletal veins of leaves, some still green and misleadingly alive. Viewers will reflect on the tenacity of the plant to live, but be reminded of its eventual decay as their eyes move to the lower right corner of the composition to the brown decay of death.

This visual cycle is a common element in Ludwig’s oeuvre. Using delicate brushstrokes and subtle layering of pigment and washes, viewers cannot overlook the transient feeling of the natural world, as well as in their own lives. While this idea is simple, the work is not. Overall, the collages resemble the complexity seen in the flush of colors that cover the worn banks of the road. If you look close or long enough, Ludwig’s paintings could be that very place you drove by yesterday.

Deedra Ludwig’s show, “Gestures in Nature” is on from February 7 through March 5. An opening reception is set for February 11, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. -Mary Helene Warner.

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Mary Warner