SEPT 2017: Shelly Hehenberger

Shelly Hehenberger

Cold Wax Is Her Obsession

For Shelly Hehenberger, it all started when a friend gave her a small container of Dorland’s Cold Wax Medium, which lay dormant in her possession for years until Hehenberger started working in oils again and experimented with incorporating the wax into her paintings. “I decided I would get to know this new material and see what I could do with it,” recalls Hehenberger. And the rest, as they say, is history. Cold wax has been Hehenberger’s focus for the last 15 years.

Having grown up in Bloomington, Indiana, Hehenberger remembers a childhood spent in the woodsy outdoors of the Midwest, which triggered a lifelong interest in, and passion for, all things nature. “Since then,” says Hehenberger, “I have studied natural sciences and learned about how things grow and exist in the physical world. That knowledge became a deep influence on my work. This influence can not only been seen in the themes I choose, but also in the layer-based working process I use to make my highly textural and organic looking surfaces.”

After earning a BA in art from Indiana University and an MFA in painting from the University of Cincinnati in 1994, Hehenberger formally began her art and art education career, one that’s been ongoing for two decades now. “During my time in graduate school,” explains Hehenberger, “I became interested in working abstractly. I heavily identified with my abstractionist professors, fellow students and artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Terry Winters and Robert Motherwell.

“At that time I was working in acrylic media, discovering the vast potential of large scale collage. After graduation, I continued with collage but also revisited the simplicity of drawing, all the while teaching art to all ages at the Cincinnati Art Academy.”

In the early 2000’s, Hehenberger and her husband relocated to North Carolina. Having grown up in a college town, Hehenberger says Chapel Hill felt like home. It was then that she revisited working in oils, which she had done in high school and as an undergrad at IU. That was when the old container of Dorland’s Cold Wax Medium reappeared.

“Through trial and experimentation, I grew to know the medium well and have been working with it ever since,” Hehenberger says. “I still use acrylic and drawing mediums, especially in my collaborative work with artist Luna Lee Ray, but the potential of the cold wax medium continues to fascinate me. I’ve used it nearly every day for more than 15 years and am still discovering the exciting potential of this versatile medium.

“Until recently, I knew of no other artists using cold wax, so I learned its applications through my own working and experimentation. Whether I’m mixing it with oil paint, sand, crushed wax, chalk or other materials and building it into deep layers, or if I am carving into the highly workable surface it creates, I enjoy the cold wax, which requires no heating (unlike encaustic) and has a slow drying time, allowing for long-term working.

“I want to continue to create with the cold wax medium, to keep going with my exciting collaborative work with Luna and to expand into other mediums such as clay and autobiographical writing. This current show is a good example of my most recent work, which ties together ideas of process with biology and human psychology. The cocoon-like imagery is most compelling to me for its deeply textural quality, collage based construction and rhythmic patterning. It combines many of the forms and imagery I’ve used in the past and feels to me entirely fresh and comprehensive.”

SEPT 2017: Luna Lee Ray

Luna Lee Ray

Artist, Teacher, Mentor, Gardener

Beloved art teacher (teaching five days a week at the Arts Center in Carrboro) with a loyal following, mentor, founding FRANK artist and curator, Luna Lee Ray moves seamlessly between flora and fauna and abstraction in her paintings.

Her acrylic-based mixed media paintings usually incorporate collage, graphite and charcoal. Explains Ray; “I build up a rich, layered surface, allowing the image to develop a history and a mysteriousness. 

 “My process is a combination of being inspired by the world around me, maybe even having a specific image or moment in mind, and also allowing for the exploration of materials and the element of chance,” she says.

Before landing in North Carolina, Ray led a peripatetic life. She grew up in Queens and Long Island but, at 16, headed west to Portland, Oregon, to live with her uncle. She took art classes there and earned her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts at The Pacific Northwest College of Art, majoring in printmaking and also studying painting and photography. In college, Ray says she was more influenced by her exposure to art studies and learning different techniques than by any particular teacher or artist.

She was, however, inspired by Georgia O’Keefe and Man Ray, as much for their gutsy decisions to move to fertile artistic ground and pursue their art, as for their art itself. For O’Keefe it was New Mexico; for Man Ray, it was Paris. For Luna Lee Ray, it was a small home with a garden in North Carolina.

After Portland, Ray adventured to Kauai, Hawaii, and lived and worked on an organic farm, sleeping in a tent for the six months she was there. “It was heaven,” Ray says - but not so much the sleeping in a tent part.  From Hawaii, Ray successively lived in Eugene, Oregon, and Bisbee and Tucson, Arizona, as well as Albuquerque New Mexico – all the while making art, teaching and working at health food stores as the resident herbalist. She still raises her own herbs and makes herbal tinctures. Ray’s location hopping was in the service of finding the right place to settle and make art. “I loved the desert southwest,” she says, “but I couldn’t garden there.”

“I came to North Carolina,” she explains, “because I heard good things about Asheville.” This was the Asheville of 20 years ago, and Ray was not impressed, so she traveled the state and found her art oasis in Carrboro. Once she bought her Carrboro home with a bit of land, she put down roots, both figuratively and literally. An avid gardener, she turned her yard into a small paradise of flowering plants, shrubs and herbs. Ray’s new NC home inspired her crow and deer paintings. “The crows always came to my yard,” Ray says, “so I started painting them. Usually I have to have an experience with an animal before I can paint it. Sometimes that can happen in a dream.

“I always did botanical and abstract work,” says Ray. But a visit to a Florida bird refuge took Ray in a new direction. She says of one visit, “it was overcast, misty, and the light would be filtered through the air, so my current interest is in air, moisture and light and how these elements interact and change with the weather and the time of day. There are two main explorations in the current show: summer rain, experienced morning, afternoon and evening, and the waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge, inspired by my most recent trip to Portland.”