Wandering the riverbanks of the Midwest, high deserts of the Southwest, rugged coastlines of the Pacific Northwest, Eastern European hillsides and Amazon rainforests, Kalk collects her visual sources to result in artwork that is anchored in natural forms, either explicitly in landscape or subtly in abstraction and pattern. Layers of transparency in drawing and painting are often used to allow for multiple views of observation to merge into one artwork. Subtle similarities of growth and decay are the main focus when found objects or ephemera become starting points for her work and include deteriorating or jumbled plant-life and broken electronics and wiring. Imagery shifts from delicate and intricate to bold and invasive. As Kalk’s work alternates between realism, design, illustration and pattern, the medium changes from project to project to include encaustic painting, drawing, murals, photography, video and installation.
Found objects or ephemera are starting points for Kalk’s work: deteriorating or jumbled matter, mold and rust formations, meandering shadows, broken electronics and wiring. Depending on the level of permanence of a situation, found objects are collected and brought back to the studio, photographed or sketched on-site. When people are incorporated into the imagery, Kalk pays careful attention to quiet expressions, understated gestures, wrinkles, tattoos and scars. Form and surface textures are examined and alternately interpreted in both descriptive rendering and extreme simplification. Layers of transparency in drawing and painting allow for multiple views of observation to merge into one work.
Stylistically, the work is a combination and juxtaposition of illustration, design and oceanic traditions of tattoo art. Having been raised in the Saviano tribe of Papua New Guinea, Kalk uses Sepik style patterning and carved line-work to influence her work. Training in graphic design persuades her of the power of bold and simple shapes. And, not least of all, a background in academic painting convinces Kalk to sometimes build up tone and color. She does not deem one way of working more important than another. The project itself deems which method, style, or media will be utilized best.
Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves the use of heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. Encaustic mixtures can be made from adding pigments to beeswax, but there are several other recipes that can be used—some containing other types of waxes, damar resin, linseed oil, or other ingredients. Kalk uses brushes to paint the melted mixture onto a panel, which lies horizontally on her table so that the melted wax doesn’t run. She paints swiftly, often only a few strokes at a time, because the wax cools very quickly. Each subsequent thin glaze or layer is bonded to the one below it by re-melting with a heat gun. She carves into the surfaces and fills the areas with wax and pigments.
Bethany Kalk was born in Canada and raised in Papua New Guinea where she was home-schooled in the Sepik region. She later attended boarding school in the Highlands. Her family moved back to the States where she attended high school and college. She returned to PNG for a time, lived in Peru for 6 months and traveled Europe for a couple of summers in graduate school. Residencies take her to different landscapes of the U.S. Kalk currently lives and teaches art & design at the edge of the Appalachia in the Daniel Boone National Forest area of Eastern Kentucky.