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.”