Why bees make beeswax is a long story. So as not to bore you with how fascinating the mirror glands on an Apis bee are or how the wax is mainly fatty acid esters and long alcohol chains, I’ll suffice to say, beeswax is neat stuff. It’s in our foods, cosmetics, chewing gum, lip balm, adhesives, waxes, candles and, more importantly, when mixed with damar varnish and pigments, it becomes the painting medium known as encaustic.

The history of encaustic is another long story that I’m not going to get into either,  because I want to focus my attention on the work of Jennifer Terpstra and why she chooses encaustic as the medium to express her thoughts and ideas.
First off, I feel the title of the show needs a little more explanation. Webster’s dictionary defines transcendence as the state of being transcendent, and immanence as the quality and state of being immanent. OK, since we’re clear on that let me reiterate; transcendent = beyond comprehension and immanent = existing within the mind or consciousness. Now that we have this tautology under control, let’s take a look at her work.
Encaustic painting is really a layering process, which first conceals then reveals. It is a slow and methodical approach to expressing an idea or feeling. Terpstra’s forms are radial and slightly irregular, some resembling crustaceous spores that you would expect to see under a microscope lens, others are patterned after doilies that can be likened to mandalas, and others are playful abstractions. Terpstra starts with an ink drawing and then lets the process direct her. When the waxing begins, layer upon layer is brushed on and then reheated, smoothed, shaped, etched and carved. She explores gently. Positive space becomes negative, negative space becomes positive, but it is her intuitive alertness to what is going on between the layers, as she carves into them, that gives her direction.
“I like the ambiguity and unsettledness that comes as the image develops,” Terpstra explains. “It’s not a linear process and often I have several drawings going at the same time. My images, in a sense, exhibit a spiritual quality. As I apply new wax, the image disappears and as the wax cools it reappears."
Much of her work is inspired by common crocheted doilies that she scavenges from Goodwill. This curiously, is related to her grandmother, who loved to crochet doilies, even after losing her sight.
“I feel it is about family, her pieces are heirlooms, the 'matter' that is handed down to new generations.”
It was this “woman's” work that interested Terpstra, the idea of creating place. A year ago she saw Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” and became fascinated by the idea of place settings and women who created them. So the paintings in this show are like that: place settings created from fragmented images sealed in beeswax that bear titles such as “Scatter,” “Trajectory,” “Multiple Truths” and “Healing Circle.” These titles are not so much descriptions, but sign posts that lead on.

As I watched her working in the studio, I was struck by how involving a process encaustic painting actually is. Terpstra melts blocks of colored wax on a flat hot plate. You smell it, you see it melt. You hear the sound of the brush moving across the paintings surface, then the sound of the heat gun as it re-melts the wax, then silence. It is a very Zen-like experience, calming, meditative. It’s about adding layers and prying under layers looking for something mysterious and in that search you come upon yourself and realize that you are the process, you are the “matter” handed down. Terpstra's art work takes you on a journy, so pack a lunch and spend some time looking for the mysterious. The bees are at work in the hive.

The show runs through Sept. 14, with a closing reception from 4-6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13. For more information, visit www.uwlax.edu/art.