by Marjorie Flanagan
To work with materials one needs a space, just like a writer needs a page.
Papers and piles and jars and wands and brushes and knives and drips. The visual impact of William Geisler’s home studio gives a vivid and lasting impression: encaustic wax medium heated over hot plates quite tempting to touch; colors of a rainbow both vibrant and transparent in tiny bowls, in Bundt pans and on utensils like a kitchen full of simmering spices. Ahead glows a big-screen Mac where Geisler sometimes lays out his intricate patterns and two large tables sheathed in black cloth ready for commencing his art process. Overhead are bright white lights and on the tables paper cutters both big and small. X-Acto knives of every different size and shape line the edge of a table. A bright work in progress, carefully coming together on the table, is displayed like beautiful and elaborate eye candy. And of course, the walls are lined with additional colorful artworks from a variety of Geisler’s different series. Where should the viewer look first?
Peeking into an artist’s sacred space is both exhilarating and a little worrisome. To touch or not touch? Personal or public? Calm or chaos? Creativity is a deeply personal process and each artist seems to do it differently. To work with materials one needs a space, just like a writer needs a page. Some studios feel dark, secretive and extraordinary while others feel bright, open and inviting. Creative spaces might feel jumbled and junky or orderly and exact depending on the needs of the artist. Stepping into Geisler’s studio was no different. A specialized space for a specialized process.
Working many times in a large square format on birch panels, Geisler builds his pieces from the bottom layer up. First, the birch is gessoed so the encaustic medium has something to adhere to. Encaustic painting involves using heated beeswax and pigment. Everything needs to stick and therefore each layer must be heated. The beeswax mixture is warmed to a liquid and is applied to the surface, usually using metal tools and special brushes, before it cools. Typically Geisler applies two layers of differing colors, a costly process on such a large area. He works continuously on each layer of wax until it is complete, moving not from area to area but from layer to layer. Next he references a pattern he laid out on the computer using an Adobe program. After the two base layers have adhered to each other using a heat gun, Geisler goes back into the heated wax with heavy-duty metal restaurant molds to gouge the wax to create the shapes within his pattern—in his current piece, a circle. He repeats this step hundreds of times until the entire panel is filled with a pattern of orderly circles. The pattern is completed in one arduous day. Up and down, side to side, he covers the panel in perfect circles. Then each circle is filled with another contrasting colored layer of encaustic and heated again to ensure all the layers are firmly in place.
His love for pattern and collage is constantly growing. Where does the piece stop and where does it start? How many layers are there? Are the pieces coming together or moving apart?
Next Geisler moves on to the course of adding his collage elements. For some time he has been using a multitude of maps both vintage and new. He has worked using other paper elements as well, everything from photography to Xeroxed phone book pages. His current choice, maps, are brightly colored and sometimes softer shades of greens and browns, each a little different depending upon the location and age of the map. Some areas are fully oceanic and blue, others are filled with brown roads and topographical mountains. Geisler carefully cuts each map into circles to correspond with the existing circle pattern on the waxed panel. After the maps are cut, Geisler lays out each circle on the table to feel out a cohesive and graphically pleasing design. Colors guide him, locations guide him, and graphics guide him in placing each map circle to create a balanced and interesting composition. His technical training as a graphic designer serves him well here. Once the layout is mostly decided he cuts negative space through each circular map piece. Meticulously and methodically he follows a path on the map and cuts away a road, river or border, causing the overall design to become even more intricate. Once all the pieces are cut, he dips the map parts into a semitransparent liquid encaustic and lightly lays them on the previously waxed and scored panel. On top of each circular spot on his panel now sits an abstracted hand-dipped and coated circular map piece. The layers are now sealed together and a new heat tool is used to roughly scrape the edge of each circle, creating yet another layer of thickness, texture and depth. His first layer of wax now shines through this edge, creating a sense of cohesion. It is important to note that at this point he has little control over what bleeds out. Will the colors melt together? Will optical illusions form between the shapes? Will the strength of his gouging form a deep cut or a light one? After a quite controlled process, this part is more open to chance. The edges look organic and rustic, a wonderful contrast to the solid orderly shapes.
Geisler shops Half Price books for used maps and loves the idea of reusing items that are somewhat dated to today’s society. Geisler says, “Maps have three key meanings for me: exploration, direction and knowledge. The maps I use in my work are almost always repurposed. As I sift through the maps, I am oftentimes less interested in specific locales and more in tune to colors and patterns that will help constitute the overall look and feel of the piece. These outmoded and timeworn elements have proven alluring in my work.”
With almost a decade of experience, Geisler’s knowledge of his medium is quite vast. His processes are becoming more efficient as he creates more pieces and grows as an artist. He came to encaustic as a photographer, using his personal photographs and dipping them in wax. Over the years, his work has incorporated the use of these photos, handwritten text and copy from phone books and now most prominently maps. His love for pattern and collage is constantly growing. Where does the piece stop and where does it start? How many layers are there? Are the pieces coming together or moving apart? It is obvious Geisler is quite thoughtful about his craft, both in how he creates and why, and his methodical practice for creating such visually stunning pieces is quite hypnotizing. Viewers are eager to watch Geisler’s pieces and process evolve. His creations bring paper, encaustic and pattern together in new and striking ways.