Enough is not Onuf

If your chosen medium is encaustic, as is the case with Kristin Onuf, you make art by layering hot wax. As Onuf helpfully points out, the word, “encaustic” derives from a Greek root, which means: to burn in. Onuf has not only borrowed the definition for the title of her exhibit, but has also used it as inspiration of sorts for her work. In fact, much on display at the McGuffey’s main space this month reflects an artist who has mused on the potential in encaustic– a medium with the ability to hold foreign object in its layers, or obscure shapes and colors in its layers of semi-translucency– as well as the layers of meaning in its name.
Onuf claims to be interested in violence– certainly an apropos subject matter for a technique with a name derived from a form of burning– and that interest surfaces in works like “Beirut.” Taking for its title the name of a city with a charged history and reputation, Onuf surrounds images (magazine clippings?) of buildings with undulating waves of red and white wax like flames. But like many artists who work in wax, the potential for palimpsest is the bigger draw. In works like “Memento Mori” and “Great Joy in Camp,” Onuf layers scraps of paper covered in handwriting. Leaves and flowers, set beneath the layers of wax, give the impression of a scrapbook-like artifact.
Elsewhere, sketches of the human form permeate Onuf’s layers of wax, as in the pink, blue, and black drawings of “Measured Man.” In “Down by the River,” and “Floater,” human shape recedes farther and farther into the thick, muddy surface. In the former, the silhouettes of children (?) holding hands is buried in wax and edged in string knotted in nets. In the latter, only the outline, in red, of a body survives in a blotchy field of algae green and blue. This trend points to a final few, completely abstract works, messes of wax and contrasting color. It’s pretty far removed from Onuf’s interests in violence/handwriting/human form, and also less interesting.

Kristin Onuf’s “Burned In” runs through June 30 in the main display space at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. N.W. 295-7973.

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