- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2000

Washington artist Robin Rose is known for his meltingly luminous encaustic paintings. He wants to transmit light through the colorful, waxy medium and does this in seemingly endless ways.

For about 20 years, Mr. Rose has worked with pigmented hot wax, which hardens within seconds after application. "Exhilarate," an exhibit of 19 of his latest paintings, runs through Dec. 21 at Numark Gallery on Seventh Street NW.

Mr. Rose, 54, restricts his art by working with intimately scaled, subtly colored and emphatically edged rectangular and square formats. Though encaustic can exude wild, baroque exuberance, he uses it in these works within strict, intellectualized parameters.

The artist imposes still other limitations on himself with this exhibit. He made all of the works in intense reds. The shades vary from deep rusts to brilliant oranges. "I used red to express the volatility of October 30, 1999, to October 30, 2000, the time span when I prepared the show," he says. "After all, we had the Y2K anxiety of 'Will the world blow up?' "

He also titled the paintings with words beginning only with "Ex." He wanted the names, as well as the colors, to convey millenial excitement.

"Exhilarate" is a 21st-century word for Mr. Rose. He calls it "a hyper, over-the-top expression."

The titles "Excessive," "Exude," "Exhilarate," "Exuberance," "Extremity," "Excursion" and "Exonerate" all carry the optimistic energy that characterizes the show. The medium-sized "Exonerate" greets visitors as they enter Numark's large white space. "Exonerate" is denser than most of the works. The artist also added shiny textured patterns for an all-over raised design.

The painting shows the artist's fascination with the physical properties of paint. He made the pigment look like veins pushing through skin. As with all his encaustic works, Mr. Rose paints on linen mounted on aluminum. The metal keeps the painting from expanding and contracting.

Another work, "Extremity," shows the plasticity and luminosity made possible by encaustic. The painting is a layered web of pigment and wax. Mr. Rose calls the parts of the web "arteries" that weave both within and below the surface.

Arteries can be channels for many things, among them blood, transportation and information. Here they draw energy from the outside and lose themselves in the lighter interior.

Light seems to come from within, more so than in some of the other paintings. This is because wax can conceal and change color and composition as well as reveal it.

Mr. Rose suspends pigment in the wax so it changes with the light. Surface and depth patterns are both hidden and revealed. Images surge up from below, then vanish once more.

The artist first encountered encaustic while studying at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Karl Zerbe, an art professor, admired the medium and introduced it to his students.

Encaustic was an important way of painting in the ancient world. When Egypt was part of the Roman Empire, encaustic was used for tomb paintings. It was almost abandoned, however, beginning in the ninth century.

Mr. Rose is one of few artists anywhere working with the medium today. Jasper Johns used encaustic in his American flag series because he liked the texture of the wax.

Light always interested Mr. Rose. He says he believes it is a metaphor for mystery but also stands for optimism. "The potential of painting is not only on the surface, but also on what's below, where there's also light," he says.

Mr. Rose first painted large Plexiglas panels from the back so light would be reflected from them. He showed them in his first Washington solo gallery exhibit at the Middendorf Gallery in 1977.

He began using encaustic in 1978 by employing bleached beeswax, carnuaba wax, dammar varnish and ground pigments. He grinds metal and mineral colors, which he mixes into the hot waxes.

The artist decided to make this classic medium contemporary. He believes changes, from new technologies to the constantly fluctuating stock market, touch all of us.

His encaustics, too, are volatile.

The life-sized "Exuberance," one of two larger paintings in the show, is made with circles that collect light. The painting intensifies the viewer's experience with its reds.

Circles bubble in and out while enveloping still more circles. Light comes from behind to give an impression of stained glass. Mr. Rose has melted the single dabs of wax until they are smooth. They form a shining surface that combines with the more mysterious layerings of wax and pigment below.

While the artist's irregular bands, spots, dots, pits, blots, ripples and striations create visual fields of great energy, they also impart serenity.

The paintings have a strong physical presence, but their light seems to float them in space. They form strong geometries but imply enigmatic poetry. They're romantic and intellectual all at once.

Visitors do not need to know how Mr. Rose makes the works or what he wants to express about our world — though these are pleasurable additions to enjoying the work. Viewers can simply immerse themselves in the sensuousness of the paint and look at the play of light within and without. These emphatically are paintings created with light.

WHAT: "Exhilarate"WHERE: Numark Gallery, 406 Seventh Street NWWHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, through Dec. 21TICKETS: FreePHONE: 202/628-3810

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