LEELA | Encaustic on Panel | 48 x 60 inches

Shawna Moore: Nature filtered through a human lens

Their texture furrowed from heat and wax, ironed, then marked, Shawna Moore’s encaustic paintings ignite conversations between herself and the world, each a culmination of a life spent in contemplation and exploration. “My work comes from my life as an outdoors woman and trying to make sense of things,” Moore says, looking out toward Whitefish Lake as the water in front of her ripples. “Where the water meets the land there’s a stark line and the sky undulates in a wave pattern. So when I look at stuff like that, I see those patterns, and my work becomes more organic.”

THE TIDE | Encaustic on Panel | 40x 30 inches

Working in wax — a process involving heating beeswax, adding color, creating solid blocks, then melting the colored wax, brushing it on wood panels in layers, tilting the panels, scratching, and scraping into the viscous cooling materials — she tricks her art into behaving like natural processes, “like rain or the swell of the ocean, the way gravity affects liquids: I sort of mimic nature. With encaustic, I’m going from solid to liquid and back,” she explains. “We see the freeze-thaw cycle in nature and the results of die-off and regrowth. I’m heating things up and letting them cool — replicating seasonal patterns as I work.”

DOLPHINA | Encaustic on Panel | 60 x 40 inches

Moore’s work appears abstract at first glance, but, upon further observation, a close intimate dialogue ensues, reflecting the ebb and flow of land and water. “I can’t say that I came up in any kind of landscape tradition, although I came to learn about art in a classical contemporary way — portraits, still life, landscapes,” she says. “I think about [Richard] Diebenkorn’s evolution from abstraction to figure to minimalism. The pattern-language of looking at an object, a horizon line, matching it with internal observations, and letting that settle with the materials.”

LEELA | Detail

Monica Pastor, owner of Underscore Art Gallery in Whitefish, Montana, has been exhibiting Moore’s creations for years. “I love that her work is dynamic, that it’s non-representational, but still accessible to most people.” Pastor also appreciates the quiet nature of Moore’s current body of work. “People can see the light on a totally different kind of surface, it’s a transporting kind of thing. They’re something you could spend time with and appreciate the way she reveals layers. It feels like they continue through the piece to places you cannot see.”


Moore doesn’t use photographs or sketches when she works in her studio, mostly because, as she explains, she doesn’t do well with scraps of paper cluttering her space. Instead, the artist relies on her internalized connection to the environment. “The older I get — and the more time I spend in nature — the more I find myself immersed in the air, forest, mountains,” she says. “And so when I’m painting, those patterns come out in the work. That makes the work much easier, and more sublime in the process. It’s not a set-up, with a model or lighting, it comes from an internal, personal response. I spend so much time in the outdoors, I can notice the color of an ocean, and where the waves come in. Sometimes, I will take notes, but it’s really embodied in me.”

PARADISO | Encaustic on Panel | 60 x 40 inches

Maren Mullin, the owner of Gallery MAR in Park City, Utah, features Moore’s work in the show Movement Patterns, which will be up through the end of August. However, as Mullin says, “We always have paintings hanging from Shawna. She’s been with us since 2009.”

Mullin sees Moore’s work as having evolved from mark-making. “She continues to work in encaustics, only now it’s more objective/abstract work that deals with landscapes, especially water, and a deep layering of colors,” she says. “We ship her work all over the country, and I see the work resonating with a wide range of people, especially when they find out about her process and her attention to detail.”

Moore’s paintings emit a sense of peace and nuance, Mullin explains. “There are little mysteries to discover between the layers. She’s bold and takes risks in the way she excavates, digging into the top surface to reveal previous layers. She mars a perfect surface to create something even more interesting. She also has a beautiful sense of balance to her work, which reflects her life of yoga, surfing, motherhood, and lasting friendships. It really shows in everything she does.”

LAND LIGHT (study) | Sketch for Miasma | 12 x 9 inches

Due to the nature of encaustics, Moore works on wood panels and gets “a bucket of honey and a bucket of beeswax” from a local company. Before she begins a piece, she may look through her sketchbooks, or just sit in her chair and consider her previous bodies of work and how she can come to her studio and be present in a painterly way. “My work doesn’t come alive until I start getting my hands dirty,” she says. “I’m a hands-on kind of gal, to the point where my hands and elbows are a wreck.”

LIVE WIRE | Encaustic on Panel | 60 x 40 inches

She compares her practice in the studio to her yoga practice. First, she shows up. Then, she thinks about what she needs to do. “I start dripping paint. I start looking at some images of water I’ve collected, or sketches, or even other people’s work,” Moore says. “Waves aren’t always the same, there’s a lyrical quality. I don’t need to draw every single line — I’m trying to find the in-between. I’ll drip all this wax down the panel and it runs down, just like you’d imagine. Then, I’ll raise one side a little and run the wax at an angle. Then I’ll take my torch out and work the angled drips.”

Like faults in the landscape and the water-etched crevices along the flatlands, Moore’s paintings seek the interruptions in nature. “Then, chance comes in,” she explains. “The vertical and diagonal come into play, and it gets interesting. Observing the places of two opposing forces meeting — that will spark my attention and engage me for six months — until I change my mind about how true it is. The studio becomes a laboratory for testing out ideas. I just go into my studio and try things. Just show up and see what happens.”

SNOW GHOST | Encaustic on Panel | 40 x 60 inches

The second step involves color. “I’m feeling super minimal right now,” she adds. “I’m feeling variations on white or the new blue I just ordered. How simple can I keep things and still make a painting that’s not boring? I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel; I’m trying to be authentic. To take on the challenge of art through being human, that’s what keeps me going.” For Moore, “Art continues with and through human interactions. Life gets flat sometimes; if we’re paying attention there are little bits that make us feel, and bits we want to share.”

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